building great brands

Becoming a Great Brand

When times are tough, people look for brands upon which they can rely. People look for brands they can trust. This is why now is an excellent time to aim for brand greatness. 

Grand greatness has several basic components. Without these, the brand cannot be on the road to greatness.

First, be popular. Great brands are the popular choice. Marketing is a popularity contest. People prefer to buy books that are best sellers. They seek movies they think their friends are seeing or likely to see. People frequent restaurants that receive great reviews from their peers. People talk about popular brands. They recommend popular brands. They voice their opinions about popular brands.

Second, be a leader. Great brands represent undeniable leadership. Leadership is not about how big you are. It is about how big you act. It is not the number of stores or hotels or offerings or the size of the brand’s sales. Brand leaderships is about size of your ideas.

Third, have great aspirations. Great brands have great aspirations. Leading brands aim high. A great aspiration is the guiding force that provides the direction for all thought and all action on behalf of a business. 

Fourth, Be relevant. Great brands stay relevant. To remain relevant in a changing world is essential for brand health. Relevance is a key driver of purchase intent.  When a brand is no longer relevant, customers think the brand does not understand them anymore. Your brand’s promise is the contract with the customer. Make sure that you know what that contract entails.

Fifth, be consistent. Great brands stay consistent. Consistency is a hallmark of a great brand because consistency leads to quality. Quality is all about consistency. Quality is the consistent satisfaction of customer expectations. This means brand leadership must know what are the promised customer expectations. Brand leadership does not leave quality to chance. Inconsistency is ruinous. This ability to change (be relevant) and be the same (be consistent) is a marker of great brands. It is about being new and old – familiar and contemporary – at the same time: a critical, paradoxical element of astute and successful brand marketing.

Sixth, Be trustworthy. Great brands are trusted. A great brand is more than a trademark: it is a trustmark. Even though we live in an instant culture, trust cannot be earned instantly.  Trust cannot be bought. It must be earned over time. Being a trustworthy brand is not an advertising claim. Trust is built through the everyday reality of how brands behave toward all stakeholders, toward the communities in which they operate, toward the environment and so on.

These six elements are the table stakes for brand greatness. But, there are more components of a great brand. Our world has changed. People require a moral, principled set of commitments from a brand.  It is no longer acceptable to think only about the brand you are building today: it is an imperative to think about the brand’s social impact on tomorrow. 

A great brand must commit to a four-point ethical framework: 1) It must commit to being a Credible Source; 2) It must commit to a Reputation for Excellence; 3) it must commit to being a Pillar of Integrity; and, 4) It must commit to a Responsibility Ethic.

Being a Credible Source means consistently providing true, trusted information about itself and its actions.  All stakeholders should have confidence in what the brand communicates. And, all stakeholders should believe that the brand would answer questions accurately and truthfully. When stakeholders perceive a brand to be a credible source, they use the brand’s past actions to predict the brand’s future behaviors. 

Social media is struggling with the fact that a lot of what is posted is not credible but, in fact, misleading. Facebook has changed its corporate name to Meta hoping to distance its VR vision from being tainted by its social media brand’s issues. Google is positioning itself as a credible source with its corporate ads touting its safety and its enterprise services such as Google Workspace.

Having a Reputation for Excellence means continually behaving in the same quality manner each time, every time, across geography. Reputation signals past accomplishment. Reputation is the amalgam of the brand’s past behaviors, and past results. Reputation describes the brand’s current and future ability to deliver valued outcomes across multiple stakeholder constituencies. Having a reputation for excellence is a competitive advantage.  Because a brand’s reputation is the collection of stakeholder perceptions over time, the brand manages its reputation but is not the creator of its reputation. Toyota has an excellent reputation in automotive, a reputation that extends to its Lexus brand. 

Being a Pillar of Integrity means making sure that all actions and behaviors, internally and externally, have stakeholders’ best interests at heart, for today and for tomorrow. It means that external constituent groups perceive the brand as fair, impartial, honest, open-minded, truthful, and just.  Apple has taken on users’ concerns about privacy by offering the ATT framework. The ATT framework, launched in 2020, gives users a choice on whether they wish to be tracked or not across apps and websites owned by other companies. 

Having a Responsibility Ethic means the brand behaves as an aware, effective global citizen acting and reacting positively on behalf of people, communities, nations, the planet, and society in general. Patagonia is a prime example of a brand with a responsibility ethic. It has an activist commitment to the environment and social issues.

Recently, Google has been enmeshed in a discussion of sentience within its LaMDA project. A researcher on the project believes he is speaking with a sentient being. Google is repudiating this. LaMDA, (Language Model for Dialog Applications), is one of several large-scale AI systems that has been trained on large swaths of text from the internet and can respond to written prompts. They are tasked, essentially, with finding patterns and predicting what word or words should come next.  

What is Google’s ethical responsibility? 

In a statement, Google stated that LaMDA went through 11 “distinct AI principles reviews,” as well as “rigorous research and testing” related to quality, safety, and the ability to come up with statements that are fact-based. “Of course, some in the broader AI community are considering the long-term possibility of sentient or general AI, but it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient,” Google concluded.

Being a popular, leading, trustworthy, consistent, relevant brand with great managerial talent and processes along with innovation and renovation are all critical elements. But, in today’s world, these alone will not take the brand from good to great. 

Great brands are not only defined by the quality of their products and services. Great brand leadership must not only ask, “What is the future we wish to create in which our brand will win?” Great brand leadership must also ask, “What is the impact my brand will have on that future world in which my brand will win?” 

In order to journey onward to that world, brands must commit to the ethical framework of being a credible source, having a reputation from excellence, being a pillar of integrity, and having a responsibility ethic.