The basics tenets of brand building have been true since long before David Aaker wrote Managing Brand Equity. That's because brand – reputation by another name – is a natural phenomenon. Human beings are incredibly sensitive to patterns, whether they be consistently fresh burgers at In-N-Out, or bad customer service on the 1-800 number of your least favorite airline. Twenty years ago, building a national (or global) brand was a multi-year, multi-billion dollar proposition. And that's not just because word traveled slower. Everything traveled slower. Today's digital and social technology has ushered in new opportunities for brand building that operate under a different construct, defined by different expectations.
Despite these new opportunities and expectations, the four key traits of good brand remain the same. The best brands personify core values, offer unique experiences, are remarkable, and deliver consistency, consistently. Surprisingly, the familiar traits and patterns of great brands become more accessible (and more fragile) in a digital age:
- Connecting your core values with a community. A great brand is driven by a set of core values. Knowing what a brand stands for, and seeing those values manifest in its everyday behavior, helps like-minded consumers create meaningful connections. The internet allows brands to find and connect with shared interest groups (communities that value the same things they do) in significantly more efficient ways. From MeetUp.com to Facebook, major platforms are bringing people with shared values together.
- Creating an experience unlike any other. A great brand is noticeably different from its competition. In a world of choice overload and decision fatigue, brands need to take drastic action to stand out, particularly in categories where product parity is high. One area many brands have yet to fully explore is the digital functionality they add to their experience. The Weight Watchers iPhone application is a dramatic value add for a user. Every brand has an opportunity to exceed their category competition here, but only by evaluating their users' unmet needs and going out on a limb to invent something new.
- Finding out what is worth talking about. A great brand is remarkable. As Seth Godin has been saying for years, people talk about brands that are doing something worth talking about. The unparalleled transparency and immediacy of the web means that brand builders can (if they ask/listen) get an honest perspective on what is or isn't remarkable about their brand and plan accordingly. The recent McDonald's #McDStories Twitter debacle demonstrated that many people's most remarkable story may not be a winner for the brand.
- Delivering a repeat performance. A great brand experience is consistent, no matter the time or place. People come to count on their favorite brands as a bastion of reliable delight – note the almost cavalier certainty of the Apple fanboys waiting to buy the iPad 3 sight unseen. What's amazing about the era we live in is that our collective timeframe orientation has been drastically shortened by technology. It is possible, through a series of smart moves in the digital space, to build an incredibly valuable and trusted brand in very short order – perhaps less than a year. It is equally possible to drive a massive brand into the ground just as fast.
What this all means is that your brand, any brand, is just a few months away from a major reputation boost. You can identify the audiences that share your values, listen to them talk about your brand or category to find out what's worth talking about, develop a clear strategy for setting yourself apart, and make a series of quick successive digital investments that will dazzle your customers. We've seen State Farm take similar action recently, and the future looks bright for them.