Oriol Iglesias – Associate Professor at ESADE and co-author of the book “Brand Desire: How to Create Consumer Involvement and Inspiration” published by Bloomsbury
The large majority of the leading brands in their markets sustain this position due to the enormous pressure they place on their potential clients. This brand pressure is based on three key levers: investment in communications, trade efforts and promotional offers. The main disadvantage of this approach is that, unless the brand is also capable of generating sustained desire among its clients, maintaining a position of leadership is more and more costly, meaning that mid- and long-term profitability is severely weakened. In short, the most profitable leading brands that are also able to maintain their competitive position over time are those that invest in brand pressure, but also brand desire.
Many brands work reasonably hard on the three levers for generating brand pressure mentioned above, but very few also work well with the brand desire levers: (1) principles, (2) storytelling, (3) experience, (4) leadership and culture, (5) participation, and (6) innovation.
- Principles: Principles are the ideas that guide an organisation over time and that give meaning to its business activity. Principles are not static, but neither can they be constantly changing. Principles are ideas that emanate from the history and heritage of a company, but at the same time project it into the future. When brands act in line with their principles they are perceived as authentic by stakeholders. LEGO illustrates the importance of principles very clearly. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy in early 2000 due to disproportionate growth. When the new CEO took over in 2004 he stated that his main challenge was to rebuild the company’s identity in line with its heritage, but at the same time adapting it to today’s context. The LEGO principles were those that needed to give focus to the company’s entire future activity.
- :Storytelling: Stories are a fundamental instrument for connecting with consumers as they appeal to their emotions and lead to inspiration. Stories give us rational and emotional reasons to desire a brand. Stories are also the main tool that senior management has to align the organisation with a number of shared principles and to generate change. But in order to achieve this, a brand needs to build up a narrative goal inspired by its inheritance and at the same time project the organisation into the future, inspiring consumers and stakeholders.
- Experience: One of the keys to generating experiences that attract and foster customer loyalty is paying attention to every single detail and being extremely consistent. But, at the same time, the most desirable brands are the ones that regularly surprise us in a positive way. The most desirable brands are also those that design and offer experiences that appeal to our sense and transmit authenticity. Nespresso is a brand that offers a superior experience. Their coffee capsules are designed and presented to customers as if they were a luxury item. Their stores also reflect this sophistication. The brand also regularly brings out Grand Cru limited editions to surprise customers and delight even the most exclusive palates.
- Leadership and culture: In essence, brands are made up by the employees working for the organisation and who interact with customers. It is their beliefs, principles, attitudes and behaviours that determine the success of the brand-customer relationship. So, on one hand, leaders first need to develop all those initiatives intended for employees to understand and share company principles. But, at the same time, directors also have to offer empowerment and the capacity for manoeuvring to front line employees so that they can decide how to offer more value to their customers at all times. In order to achieve this it is essential – as can be seen in the Ritz Carlton hotel chain – to work with the teams on a daily basis to review the application of the brand principles and share best practices.
- Participation: The large majority of the most desirable brands (except super luxury ones, whose desirability lies partly in their exclusivity) aim to be accessible to their customers and some even actively try to encourage them to take part in many of the organisation’s processes. For example, since P&G promoted their collaborative innovation strategy with clients and other stakeholders known as “Connect+Develop”, the success rate of their innovation has tripled. This is also advocated by the chef Ferran Adrià, who says that an essential part of the creative process are the conversations he has with his customers. The most desirable brands are brands that are committed to co-creation.
- Innovation: Successful brands that want to grow sustainably need to weigh up on one hand the preservation of identity through consistency, while on the other they need to innovate and change to remain relevant. Consistency generates trust, but when combined with the surprise element and relevant innovation they generate desire. The problem is that most brands do not invest in appropriate innovation typologies. They normally obsess over line extensions, when what they should really do is reduce them and focus on renewing their core brands and products, those that provide positive cash flow for the organisation and that allow them to invest in more disruptive innovations to create new categories.
In short, the most desirable brands are the ones that are built up around inalienable principles that give them focus; develop a narrative goal combining all storytelling activities; offer an experience consistent with the principles of storytelling, but at the same time surprise their clients and constantly innovate; have committed employees with the ability to act, and who embrace customer involvement and the development of communities.