You have a brand and you want it to be successful. You know that brand image is not something that successful brands “get” from somewhere, it’s what they create by themselves. So, you need to create a brand image that comes ‘from the inside’, that reflects your company’s values and standpoints.
But where to start? What should your brand be like? “Best”, “excellent quality”, “providing great value for consumers”?
Here are 9 values that describe the world’s most successful brands: Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. We researched for the core values of these brands and picked out the ones that they have in common.
1. Quality as top priority
Apple: We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company
Coca-Cola: Quality: What we do, we do well
The world’s most successful brands value quality as their top priority. They know that perceived quality is also one of the main elements when measuring brand equity, and also one important factor which makes consumers select a particular brand in front of its competitors.
Although quality can be measured in different scales – high quality vs. shoddy quality; best in category vs. worst in category; consistent quality vs. inconsistent quality; finest quality vs. average quality vs. inferior quality – it is worth aiming to be associated with only the best results on those scales. Perceived quality level determines consumers’ attitude to the brand and also the brand’s general equity.
2. Focusing on innovation
Apple: We are constantly focusing on innovating.
IBM: Innovation that matters – for our company and for the world.
Research shows that firm innovativeness influences product innovativeness and instrumental brand benefits. In addition, it has positive effect on symbolic brand benefits and partnership value as well. Innovation is an advantage, but in today’s markets you can even say that it is a pure necessity for every company.
Some scientific research indicate that brands that are perceived as being innovative, make the company look more credible and expert, more attractive and trustworthy.
Thus, brand innovativeness has much wider impact than just on the one side of brand image. It significantly enhances consumers’ attitudes towards the brand in general.
3. Knowing the importance of customer experience
IBM: Dedication to every client’s success.
McDonalds: We place the customer experience at the core of all we do. Our customers are the reason for our existence. We demonstrate our appreciation by providing them with high quality food and superior service in a clean, welcoming environment, at a great value. Our goal is quality, service, cleanliness and value (QSC&V) for each and every customer, each and every time.
Research has found out that customers who had the best past experiences in the transaction-based business (like Apple or Coca-Cola), spend 140% more compared to those who had the poorest past experience. The same applies to subscription-based business (like Netflix and Spotify) – a member with the poorest experience has only a 43% chance of being a member a year later, while a member who has one of the top experiences would have a 74% chance of remaining a client for at least one more year. In conclusion, several studies confirm that in today’s world it is all about creating the customer experience.
Of course, the number 1 brand mastering the art of customer experience is Amazon, outperforming even luxury brands like Moët & Chandon, Mercedes-Benz and Tiffany.
4. Being self-critical and ready to change
Apple: We have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.
Microsoft: Self-critical, questioning, and committed to personal excellence and self-improvement
McDonalds: We strive continually to improve.
Being self-critical (viewing your brand honestly) and developing yourself constantly is a central issue in personal branding – among the smallest brands who often need to fight hard in order to survive. However willingness to change is important in case of big and already-successful brands as well.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, has said that “Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while”. He seems to be right.
The willingness and ability to respond to market changes, challenges and opportunities is one of the core characteristics of successful global brands. The Interbrand Best Global Brands 2013 study has said it nicely: “The brand should have a sense of leadership internally, and a desire and ability to constantly evolve and renew itself.”
The world’s most successful brands seem to know and accept it.
5. Doing rather less, but doing it well
Apple: We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.
As a famous Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr has said: “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field”, narrowing down your field of operations is a first step in becoming an expert.
Specialization leads to well-defined focus and requires staying in your core business, developing yourself in this certain area, researching the specific customers and their needs and expectations, and being thus more productive. Last but not least – it allows a brand to ask a price premium.
6. Not afraid of challenges
IBM: IBMers love grand challenges, as well as everyday improvements. Whatever the problem or the context, every IBMer seeks ways to tackle it creatively — to be an innovator.
Microsoft: Willingness to take on big challenges and see them through
Most successful brands don’t take thoughtless risks, but they aren’t afraid of new challenges either. Microsoft expresses its willingness for challenges, IBM claims to LOVE grand challenges.
But what kind of challenges? Starting from small, everyday-challenges that employees have to solve in their jobs, to the wider ones that have to be dealt with on the company level.
A study from February 2014 indicates that the biggest challenges facing executives in the current year include customer experience, employee engagement, deploying strategies, and skill development for leaders and managers.
7. Being honest and ethical
Microsoft: Integrity and honesty
Coca-Cola: Integrity: Be real
McDonalds: We operate our business ethically. Sound ethics is good business. At McDonald’s, we hold ourselves and conduct our business to high standards of fairness, honesty, and integrity.
Just like in other relationships, honesty and trust are in the heart of customer relationships with companies as well. Honesty towards company’s own workers, towards its clients and wider audience – this alltogether creates a perception of integrity and honesty of a firm.
As Michael Lowenstein has said: “Trust has become an essential, differentiating element in creating customer loyalty behavior. In fact, trust may well be the only truly sustainable competitive advantage for an organization.”
Being sincere, trustworthy and ethical often leads to positive feedback and referrals from the customers. “Without trust and authenticity, companies can quickly find themselves back to square one with their customers, where everything they offer – price, design, convenience, service, etc. – can easily replicated by competitors.”
It is thus essential for a brand to communicate its nature and values honestly, and that’s what the most successful brands have done.
Microsoft: Passion for customers, partners, and technology
McDonalds: We are committed to our people.
Coca-Cola: Passion: Committed in heart and mind
Probably the last value is the key why truly successful companies have got so far. Being passionate about what you do is the number one thing customers notice and what separates great brands from the average ones. People notice passionate brands and that inspires them becoming passionate and loyal towards these by themselves as well. All the other values (innovation, quality, ethical behavior etc) lost their meaning when a brand is not committed to its work (or to its vision, employees, customers and significant others).
However, some marketers doubt if companies should use this p-word to differentiate themselves from others. Passion alone doesn’t guarantee quality, and thus the word is often exploited by companies who may have a lot of energy and dedication for their work, but who still lack expertise, tools or something else to fulfill its customers’ needs.
When everyone claims to be passionate, the word loses its meaning and becomes a clichè. Passion is something that consumers should notice in your eyes and behavior by themselves, and be then positively surprised.
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Of course, it can be argued about how well these most successful brands have managed to respond to these values in reality. For example: has IBM always been focused on innovation? Has Coca-Cola always been acting honestly and ethically?
However, a brand image in consumers’ minds may be and often is different from the values that brands communicate by themselves in their brand identity. In addition, values meant for company’s employees and organizational functioning may differ from those that are visible to the consumer side. Nevertheless, the values that are expressed loudly, have their impact on the brand, and thus it is always benefitial to take a look at the success stories in the market – even if it is just to get some inspiration 🙂