Linking Brand Essence And Growth

Jerome ConlonApril 25, 20164 min

The key to a successful repositioning program is clear thinking about the nature of your brand essence. Many companies skip the brand introspection, purpose, values and philosophy step. Instead they go straight to product line planning and marketing tactics.

The reality is if you haven’t thought deeply about your brand purpose and values and how these might be used to forge stronger bonds with consumers then your still doing planning but it is not really strategic planning in a brand sense.

Here is a solid example of the impact strategic thinking can deliver. In repositioning the Nike women’s brand we used a technique called depth workshops to deeply explore consumer perceptions of the category of women’s sports and fitness and the role it played in their lives. We compared how this was different from how young men perceived the role of sports. We discovered men view sports very different in a number of important ways. This was critical knowledge because Nike’s brand positioning platform was an all male platform. Product design cues and advertising were intentionally all male. This was causing brand dissonance with women prospects and over a ten-year period a 60% decline in footwear sales to women. We learned that by framing the challenge in the right way that we were able to get an accurate read on brand positioning issues in all dimensions and what to do about it. When Nike acted on these findings it quickly turned around the sales decline and grew 400% in the next five years.

The Inner World Of Value Creation

I started my career in the late 1970’s working for the accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand straight out of college. From there I moved into positions in financial management in a government agency and then inside Nike. In finance at Nike I worked on re-building the core financial control and reporting systems. But, none of the budgeting and management reporting inside our accounting systems revealed how “value” was created with consumers. When I became the director of marketing insights and brand planning at Nike however, I entered deeply into the inner world of how value is actually created.

Consumers notice many “intangibles” in how they size up products and brands. They notice price/value relationships, they notice proprietary performance characteristics, design leadership, brand character and imagination, and the inspirational, aspirational and uplifting nature of the way a company communicates, to name a few of intangibles. In this world of intangibles and branding I discovered that some products and advertising campaigns contained “integrated value” that is, they simultaneously delivered functional and emotional benefits. They weren’t simple or one-dimensional value constructs. I also learned that the more human insight into latent and tacit needs and the more layered the values in a product and / or advertisement the more likely it was to deliver exceptional results.

The ‘Just Do It’ campaign for example contained Nike’s brand essence and a layering of ‘integrated brand values’ over time. JDI was connected to Nike’s brand purpose, which was to bring innovation and inspiration to the athlete in all of us. JDI is now in its third decade. It has consistently communicated that Nike believes everyone is an athlete and can benefit from experiencing the joy of sports and fitness participation. JDI is part of a clearly framed brand platform. This platform builds brand-positioning power over time in a way that never becomes tired or shopworn. It codified a brand mantra or essence, which keeps the brand focused on ‘authentic athletic performance’. This mantra provides an important center to the brand for a variety of reasons.

The Benefits Of Defining Your Brand Essence:

  • Locates the source of  ‘identity value’ in a magnetically attractive way
  • Provides “little epiphanies” for consumers that puts feelings on barely perceptible desires
  • Focuses brand positioning power over time
  • Creates creative design, values & brand story guidelines
  • Blocks fragmentation of internal energy, chasing disparate projects
  • Provides a brand fit screen for new ideas
  • Enables brand growth with values and message integrity

Nike’s Just Do It campaign shows how these benefits were simultaneously achieved over a long period of time. Here’s the backstory on the brand brief that led to the creation of the Just Do It campaign. This is one of the best examples that exists in business for how to fight the natural forces of brand entropy.

Brand As The Source Of Growth

In conclusion I’d like to leave you with the idea that your brand is far more than a simple trademark. Your brand is a dynamic symbol, a focusing mechanism and a very powerful tool for discovering business growth related insights. Brands can be used as an innovation vessel that captures the sum total of all experiences and dreams of the people who touch it. Your brand is also a living organism, like a tree. Tree’s start out as seeds and then grow up and out in search of the light. A more intimate understanding of how to use brand planning and innovation tools can help you harness and focus more light (i.e. consumer insight and integrated value) in order to thrive and prosper in good times or bad.

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Jerome Conlon

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