How to Build a Powerful Brand

Recently, CoreBrand has released our annual Top 100 Most Powerful Brands report. In reviewing our rankings – and the data that supports them – we’ve discovered some consistencies among those brands in the top 100. We find it’s not about doing one thing well, but about finding a way to do implement an integrated plan that addresses awareness, reputation, confidence in management and performance.

From those that are doing it well, here are some tips for how to build (and maintain) a powerful brand.

1. Spend more

Great brands spend more on advertising and more aggressively market in general. According to a recent report from Kantar Media, while advertising expenditures declined overall in 2013, spending among the ten largest advertisers for the first nine months of 2013 increased by 6.4 percent. While not a stand-alone strategy, advertising more is a way to help increase a brand’s power.

With advertising, a brand is able to control the message and therefore has the ability to drive toward more distinctive, emotional benefits. While other companies may be able to mimic product/service attributes, the combination of an organization’s culture, personality and approach inform how those products/services are delivered – and create an inimitable differentiation. As the foundation of an advertising messaging, this more emotionally-driven messaging helps create favorability and lock-in.

2. Say less

After suggesting you spend more on advertising, simultaneously suggesting that you say less may seem counter intuitive to building a powerful brand. But bear with us for a moment to explain. Increased advertising helps you speak in more places – in magazines, on billboards, and online. But saying less enables you to focus what you are saying in those places on the pure essence of your message. Hone your communications to just a few clear, simple and believable statements. And repeat them consistently and with frequency in all outreach.

Strong brands have high familiarity, meaning stakeholders understand what a company does in totality. Consider PepsiCo as an example. Currently #7 on the Top 100 Most Powerful brands, PepsiCo was for a long time perceived as purely a beverage company, an easy mistake as the word Pepsi is in the corporate PepsiCo name. However, recent communications have made a concerted effort to communicate the company’s better-for-you strategy that in part, includes its very successful snacks division. Clearly, this powerful brand understands that familiarity must go beyond name recognition to achieve more comprehensive understanding of the organization as a whole.

3. Build trust

Our most recent Top 100 Most Powerful brands notes that while distrust in brands is “lessening,” trust has been slower to recover. This is especially true when it comes to trusting management, a key factor in helping to build and maintain the favorability necessary to becoming a powerful brand.

Nowhere is this trend more apparent that within the financial services sector. Financial services buyers indicate that what’s most important to them when making a purchasing decision are softer variables, such as trust, transparency and accountability. In an industry crippled by controversy and distrust, there has been a keen understanding of this buyer tendency and a collective effort by the industry to rebuild the trust of consumers through communications. Perhaps as a result, companies including Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and American Express all saw advances this year in terms of their brands’ power.

4. Perform well

Here, we speak not only of your financial performance, which most certainly comprises a large component of the favorability required to being a powerful brand, but also your operational performance. Strong brands are about more than communication; they are about follow-through and building the internal processes and culture that enable your employees to live the brand and to deliver it consistently to your customers. Are your employees empowered to perform well?

New to the top 100 list and improving 25 positions to rank #91, Amazon was the highest gainer in part because the company understands performance. Always known for its superior customer service and for giving employees the freedom to make the right decisions for customers, Amazon has recently topped itself. Take for example, the company’s “Mayday” feature incorporated in its latest Kindles. With the press of one button, customers can access a real person, in real time with real answers. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

5. Be transparent

In the absence of a proactive message, customers will create their own based on experience and in many instances, based on hearsay. In today’s age of social and viral media, arming your customers as brand ambassadors has become alarmingly more important. Delivering consistent and pervasive messages is the first step. Taking responsibility and offering up a track record of honesty increases trust and favorability among stakeholders – and is yet another means of building a powerful brand.

For instance, consider how Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s has approached the increasingly prevalent GMO labeling discussion. On the company’s website, customers can easily find the following statement: “Ben & Jerry’s is proud to stand with the growing consumer movement for transparency and the right to know what’s in our food supply by supporting mandatory GMO labeling legislation.” Yet, the company goes on to state that this is a process and it will take time. They will not be able to source all non-GMO ingredients immediately, but they are committed to doing so. The ultimate result is that consumers feel heard and valued, and Ben & Jerry’s has generated brand power (and respect) through transparency.

Another of Unilever’s brands, Dove, also exemplifies the power of transparency in its advertising. The company’s Real Beauty campaign eschews model perfection for the physical and emotional beauty of real women. It’s a transparent look at the company and its customers – and a powerful statement from a strong brand.

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