What if I told you that one of your core beliefs about brand equity is wrong? If you’re like me, you were trained to believe that as a brand manager, you should define your key brand equities, develop marketing programs to communicate these to consumers, and over time, “own” these attributes. If you believe that, you’d be right, but not totally so. It seems there’s a special kind of equity your brand needs to own these days. And one that very few brands understand, much less drive.
Brand Market Value vs. Brand Consumer Value
In recent years, brand value has climbed inexorably higher, as measured by Millward Brown’s Brand Z Most Powerful Brands and others. Using the Millward Brown data, brand value climbed from 5% to 30% of the S&P market cap over the past 30 years. Brand experts cheered; it was an implicit endorsement of the great brand building efforts across companies.
But, a curious thing was happening. Brand equity measures, as measured by consumers, were falling. Traditional measures such as awareness, trust, etc., were eroding based on surveys by Y&R Brand Asset Valuator (BAV). How could this be? How could market driven brand values be going up, while consumer driven brand equity scores were going down?
Causes of Declining Brand Equity
John Gerzema and Ed Lebar of Y&R think they know the answer. The markets were wrong. Brands and branding are in a serious state of disrepair. In their excellent and well researched book, “The Brand Bubble,” they cite the following for the deteriorating health of brands. They are declining because of:
- Excess Capacity– There’s been an explosion of choice. Consumers are drowning in more products and services than ever. There is less differentiation and greater commoditization.
- Lack of Creativity – With more choices, consumers increasingly look for creativity and unique experiences from brands. Yet most brands today are highly similar, and deliver modest incremental improvements.
- Declining Trust – Brands considered trustworthy have eroded from 52% in 2007 to 25% in 2006. Why? Public scandals, corporate misdeeds and institutional crises. Perhaps more important is transparency of information on the web—no brand can hide or say things not consistent with reality – authenticity counts.
You may or may not agree with these causes. What seems inarguable is this – key brand equity measures have generally declined over the past 20 years.
Growing and Successful Brands
There is a small minority of brands that are growing both market brand value and consumer brand equities. Companies as disparate as Google, Subway, Lego, Dove and Axe have shown it can be done. When Gerzema and Lebar searched the data to understand what was driving this growth, they identified a new factor – “brand energy.” They describe energy as “the consumer perception of motion and direction in a brand.” They describe brands with energy as being irresistible and differentiated because they:
- Move with innate purpose and conviction
- Constantly reinvent themselves
- Engage consumers on their own terms
- Compel devotion
- Move culture and categories
Branding Implications – From Current to Future
What’s interesting about their learning is the following: it refocuses marketing from what the brand currently delivers—a static state–to where the brand is going. Motion and direction mean the brand is going somewhere. Consumers want to be with brands that are on a compelling journey. They want brands that:
- Create a sense of mission. Dove is about redefining beauty.
- Continually surprise and delight them with new products and services. The iPhone and apps.
- Engage them in a conversation, not talk at them. Subway’s fresh, healthy tips for parents.
- Creatively use new communication channels. Best Buy people on Twitter.
These are behaviors consumers expect from great brands—now and in the future. There’s an implicit “contract” these brands have with consumers that says: we will be dynamic and ever changing in meeting your needs. And the brand is as much about the future as it is about the present.
This change in orientation from the current to the future is a huge mindset change for most Marketing organizations. Going forward, brands will still need to stand for important functional and emotional equities – bigger, faster, better, etc. What’s different is that to be successful, brands will need to spend an equal amount of time and effort communicating and delivering what they’ll be in the future. Because the most successful brands will provide energy–direction and motion that helps take consumers forward to where they want to go—not just stay where they are.