Consumer Brands: Seeking Value That Outlasts Products
By Elan Cole
Everyone needs soap to keep things clean, bandages to cover cuts, and sweets to enjoy every now and then. Consumer brands bank on their unique versions of these products to generate and grow value. But as soon as one brand patents a technology, competitors (and the retailer that sells it) race to copy it, one-up it, or make it in strawberry flavor. The advantage that technology brings to a brand is only as valuable as the window of time that the brand controls the manufacturing and access to it. For consumer brands, that window is narrow. Given that 3-D printers are churning out guns and body parts, how long before consumers will be able to download steaks, cola, and toilet paper—and what’s a brand to do?
Think planned relevance (not obsolescence)
Imagine you could go back to 1971 when Blue Ribbon Sports changed its name to Nike, and you knew the impact that little company was going to have over the coming decades. How would you make sure your competing brand remained at top relevance? If it were up to me, I’d make sure that we stood for something clearly defined and inspiring, a core
idea driving products and features—not tethered to (or limited by) them. We would understand how that idea fit into people’s lives and then deliver through products, brand expression, and total experience. We would have a brand that people could believe in and line up for, despite changing landscapes, cheaper copies, or parity choices. In short, exactly what Nike did.
Stand for this, not that
The challenge is that standing for something means you have to reject the opposite. This notion of exclusion is really scary for consumer brands. But the alternative is not standing for anything. U by Kotex did a great job in standing for giving girls the straight facts about their changing bodies. It took a stand against decades of category norms and took command of an eternal pipeline of new brand loyalists: teens forming new life rituals. The brand is delivering timely products and experiences that live by a clear, timeless standard that connects.
You’ve got to believe
Technology, R&D, operational excellence, process efficiency, and consumer-driven product insights are pillars for a successful brand, but they are not the ownable magic that generates queues and YouTube posts. That lies in the brand belief and behaviors. What gives Nike the right and means to successfully deliver connected biometric bracelets? What gives the brand the ability to maintain leadership in a segment that should be owned by device manufacturers? It stands for something timeless and resonant, and it lives by that stance by acting on emergent values. Nike’s brand leaders define technology and products through the lens of their brand, and they don’t let themselves be defined by it.
— Elan Cole (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Global Executive Creative Director, Consumer Brands, Interbrand