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Brands that Get it Right

Sep 4, 2013 12:01 AM   By Lara Ewen
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RAPAPORT... From coherent identity strategies to palpable emotional connections with customers, stock-holders and employees, these ten brands know who they are and aren’t afraid to show it. Below, experts’ top choices for companies that could teach a course in branding.

   “Apple is getting it right,” says Daniel Rosentreter, chief strategy officer at FutureBrand. “Everybody is looking at Apple because they have a higher-order purpose. They want to make technology accessible to everybody. And they’re very, very consistent everywhere — their packaging, their user interface.”
   Apple has created an emotional connection with its customers that is the envy of most brands. “Few companies 
have captured our imagination, inspired devotion and revolutionized the way we live quite like Apple,” says Interbrand’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jez Frampton. “While we may assume it’s the products that define Apple, it’s really a certain kind of thinking, a certain set of values and an unmistakable human touch that pervades everything Apple does — which is why our connections to the brand transcend commerce.”
   The challenge Apple faces going forward, according to Dr. Alexander Haldemann, CEO of MetaDesign, is that “Today, everyone has an Apple, and a brand that has been defined by ‘you are unique’ suddenly has a problem. They are no longer unique. They have become the most commonly used product in the digital space.” As a result, the company may have to come up with a new brand identity for the future.

   “The whole notion of family entertainment? Disney owns that concept,” says FutureBrand’s Rosentreter. “They’re so consistent. They’ve kept this one story over the years, and they’ve expanded and grown, but always stayed true to themselves, and they’ve stayed true to the idea of fun.”
   Philip Durbrow, chairman and CEO of Marshall Strategy, says, “When we went to work for Disney, they were on the ropes. This would have been just before Michael Eisner came in. And I said to the board, ‘Congratulations. You have created a brand that stands for something. It stands for family entertainment. The problem is only 20 percent of people go to family entertainment. Eighty percent go to see movies that have nudity and hard language and violence. And if you put your name on those films, you’ll destroy your name, and if you don’t make those movies, your stock will continue to go down.’
   “So the identity strategy for Disney was to protect the Disney brand by maintaining the brand, but also creating another brand for a more mature audience,” continues Durbrow. “So you can have one single overall identity, Walt Disney, which is an entertainment icon, but they can have multiple 
brands…their theme parks, their Imagineers, Hollywood Pictures. The cool thing is that you can go to any Disney employee, even a janitor, and everyone in the organization knows what that name means. Everyone knows that Disney is wholesome family entertainment.”

   “Zappos could be in any business,” says FutureBrand’s Rosentreter. “They have a very special and unique corporate culture, and it’s all focused on making the customer happy. They take care of customers. If you want to return your shoes, you just return them. And they’re very human. That’s the experience of branding, too. They treat you like a person versus certain cable companies, who treat you like an account. That’s old branding. New branding is thinking about customers as people.”

Patek Philippe
   “Patek Philippe is one of the oldest brands of watches,” says MetaDesign’s Haldemann. “It’s the Himalaya of watches, and their whole brand promise is, ‘You’re not owning it, you’re merely keeping it for the next generation.’ In Switzerland, we say, ‘You never buy a Patek Philippe, you merely inherit one.’ To buy a specific Patek Philippe, you have to wait for years. So one of their corporate values is rarity, and that rigorous standard is reflected everywhere in their brand. When you buy one of their watches, you have a rare piece.”

Fresh Direct
   “They provide an integrated experience to the new consumer,” says FutureBrand’s Rosentreter. “If you think of ‘fresh’ and ‘direct,’ that’s their name and their experience. And they completely deliver on their fresh and direct mission. They’re really on your side and they understand that you can’t go to the store and complain. If something isn’t fresh, they will make it right.”

W Hotels
   “The W caters to a distinctive audience, and they’re able to charge more because of their brand’s promises,” says MetaDesign’s Haldemann. “In launching their brand, W Hotels thought, ‘Is there some audience in the world not being serving by the competitors?’ So they found a young audience, a wealthy audience that cares about design, music and that lifestyle.”

   “Coca-Cola is a great example of a brand that is able to offer an array of products that are relevant and vital to today’s consumer while staying true to the brand’s core promise,” says Heather Stern, chief marketing officer for Lippincott, a global brand strategy and design firm.
   Stern is not alone in her assessment. “Coke’s brand promise of fun, freedom and refreshment resonates nearly everywhere,” says Interbrand’s Frampton. “The company excels at keeping the brand fresh while maintaining a powerful sense of nostalgia that unites generations of Coke lovers and reinforces their deep 
connections to the brand. Yet, despite its enormous size, Coca-Cola has proven nimble and innovative, adapting to local markets and new eras without diminishing its legacy. This includes different flavor profiles in each country and shrewd distribution models in fast-developing markets, such as from carts in India. As a result, it feels as though the Coca-Cola brand is always moving and always living. A large part of this is due to the richness of its visual vocabulary. The script, red color, the wave symbol and even the ribs on its original bottle shape have all been with the brand for over 125 years.”

Red Bull
   “One recent success is Red Bull,” says Haldemann from MetaDesign. “They are the only company Coca-Cola fears, because they have had early and incredible success. The product failed in every single market entry test, but the product founder introduced it anyway with a brand idea,” he says, adding that “Red Bull was not a product people were looking for, but it was a brand people wanted.” That brand idea was essentially that an energy drink could be extreme and over-the-top, much like the sports its target customers watched and participated in, which made a real connection between the audience and the adrenaline-fueled lifestyle the brand encourages and represents.

   “Dove is a key brand, and they have an attitude about real beauty that can be applied to 15-year-old girls and 65-year-old women,” says Ian Stephens, principal at Saffron. “Dove has found an angle that appeals to that market, but they’re not trying to be something they’re not. You’ll always get found out if you do that. Consumers suss out when a brand isn’t authentic. It’s slightly counterintuitive, but the more you focus on something clear, the more appealing you become to a wider demographic.”

   “A company that’s totally nailed it in the luxury car market is Audi,” says Ted Page, principal and creative director of Captains of Industry. “They really know who their customer is. By knowing who their customer is, they’re able to convey that this is a thinking person’s luxury car. They’re not trying to be testosterone-driven. They nail what their experience is with that car, and it is about the total experience. The number one thing about a brand is, it has to be true. In order for a brand to be really, really successful, it has to come out being true and authentic.”

Plus, four brands that could use some help

TGI Friday’s
   “A brand that’s done reasonably well over the years that needs help today is TGI Friday’s,” says Saffron’s Ian Stephens. “It’s one of the best-known brands in that market, but it’s completely lost its saliency from when it was cool. It has the ability to fit into that place between everyday and bespoke, but it stopped standing for anything. It’s not upscale, but it could be resurrected. It could be a great brand to create and experience.”

   “I think Yahoo! needs a lot of help,” says Natasha Jen, partner at Pentagram. “I know that they’ve been acquiring several different companies, and I’m optimistic about their future. But there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between the parent company, Yahoo!, and the children, like Tumblr. And they’re still using the old Yahoo! logo. There’s an opportunity to set forth a clear visual agenda that expresses the entire brand.”

Capital One Bank
   “Think about Capital One bank,” says Sagi Haviv, partner and designer at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. “It’s bought up many other banks to become one of the largest banks around. And that swoosh. Swoosh logos in general have become a cliché since Nike first did it. It became iconic for Nike. But for Capital One, they have the resources to really develop and present a great brand image, but their logo now looks like a hybrid between Citibank and Nike. Is it supposed to be a boomerang? It’s not becoming of an important financial institution.”

   “Chevron’s campaign is all about repositioning themselves as a company that cares about clean energy, and not just about oil,” says Captains of Industry’s Page. “And they’re showing stock photography of ethnically diverse people, and it comes off as so fake and self-serving. People have good detectors these days when they’re not hearing the truth, and we’ve really moved on from these slick ads that are just not true.”
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