Before attempting to answer this question, it’s probably important to define what, exactly, a brand is? For me it’s the complete experience and manifestation that a company conveys and how it is then assimilated by the consumer. The essence of a brand is the experience a consumer has when it comes to product, price, promotion and placement.
It’s not always the biggest, the most profitable or the most well known, but you could argue that it would need to hit those three peaks to be considered “great,” and that’s fair enough.
Let’s make a list of what makes a brand great:
Any more to add?
Candidly, many of the answers that we give to this idea of “what makes a brand great?” feel more tactical and post-purchase, than what got them to be considered great in the first place. Is a great brand one that understands the power of innovation while injecting a lot of money to make their products/services known? That’s not always the case. We have seen countless instances, when the 800 pound gorilla of any given industry has attempted to introduce a new brand… and failed spectacularly. These are companies with hefty research and development teams and the funds to push an idea through to the market and still – crickets and tumbleweeds!
There’s something about great brands that many of us don’t want to/never will admit.
Often what makes a brand great is simply tapping into the Zeitgeist at the time and a lot of luck. Chief Marketing Officers, brand architects and marketing professionals don’t like to talk about it/admit it, because it diminishes their impact, and continues the human narrative that we’re all in deep control of the outcomes in our lives. This is not hyperbole when it comes to building a great brand. It is fact. Why do some rock stars hit the big time and likewise, equally talented musicians go unnoticed? It’s not always tangible, definable or something that went according to plan. Sometimes, it just worked (but most often, it didn’t). When this happens, there is no formula, prescription or reasoning. These bands (and, yes, bands are very similar to brands), just happened to hit a weird intersection between capturing the Zeitgeist and lots of luck.
Building a brand and building a band have the same components in them.
When asked, “what makes a great brand?”, everyone tends to describe the output of the brand (the experience of the brand… the music of a band). Everyone is talking about the end result, and not what it takes to “make a brand great”. Many smart marketers believe that you can see greatness in hindsight, reflect on that, plan against it and leverage another brand’s past success as way to chart a more successful path forward. This will help a brand more than it will hurt them, but this is not the code of what creates a great brand. Look at some of the greats: Led Zeppelin, Starbucks, The Beatles, Disney… why one over the other? Why one entertainment company over another? Why one type of cafe over another? Why one rock riff over another? Consistency? Passion? Quality? Attitude? Pricing? Management skills? Marketing acumen? Or was it something else? Something that looks more like the Zeitgeist and luck? It’s also often not just a question of money. Again, think about how many major corporations have tried to launch a new brand and succeeded? Now, think about how many more often these big corporations wind up acquiring the brands that had Zeitgeist and luck on their side.
Plan but don’t expect brand greatness – and it’s not all luck.
Don’t be depressed. This is not about working hard, planning and optimising with data only to discover that a brand’s success will be predicated solely on hitting a particular moment in time and getting lucky. It’s not entirely the lottery. Still, it would help if more leaders understood the power of capturing the Zeitgeist and how often simply being luckier than your competitors is much more truth than a best laid plan. It’s also important — as you plan for brand greatness — that leaders not look simply at the outcome (what lived up to consumer’s expectations) as the ingredients for what makes a brand great.