Five Signs of a Power Brand

Clients often ask us, “How will we know when we’ve got a winning brand?” Rather than telling them, “You’ll know it when you see it” there are some guideposts along the way to tell you your brand is moving in the right direction.

At first, it starts small: increased website hits, increased referrals, uptick in positive social media chatter – even anecdotal evidence like more positive comments from customers or partners. You can look at metrics like newsletter signups, store visits, or customer phone inquiries. Obviously, it all leads to “more sales” but, let’s get real: the sales cycle is like courtship. You don’t propose of the first date, but there are little steps along the way that you must take to get to marriage.

If you launch a new brand or rebrand an existing one, you can put feedback mechanisms in place to see if you’re going in the right direction: focus groups, email surveys, sales trends, even just good ole fashioned talking to your customers and partners. Seek out unbiased feedback but make sure it’s from people that matter to your sales. Asking your 15 year old nephew or your spouse what they think is fine – if they are your target audience. Believe me, more often than not, they are not the right people to be asking, no matter how much your respect their opinion.

Here are some signs of a power brand to which you can map your progress, at whatever scale your business operates:

  1. People are proud to say they work, partner or shop with your company: If customer, partners or employees find that they get greater cache when they sport your brand on their website, paycheck or shopping bag, you know you’ve got a winner. Your brand is transcending into a world where people want to identify themselves as part of your tribe and bask in your brand “halo effect” to make themselves or their business look good. Sort of like hanging out with the cool kids at school. Examples” Apple iPhone and iPad, Harley-Davidson
  2. Your customers are advocates, spreading your story: Word of mouth is key and if customers are going around – unpaid – doing your advertising for you, then that is the holy grail of marketing. Are they chatting you up on social media, sharing unprompted referrals with friends (“You have GOT to shop at Zappos! They have the best customer service.”) creating “spoof” videos on YouTube, or even inking themselves with your logo (hello, Harley)?  Then you’re doing everything right. Examples: Disney, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (ie customer-generated YouTube “ads” vs. other airlines)
  3. Some people (outside your target) don’t like you: When you are effectively creating a brand, you have a clear ideal customer target and you serve them. This naturally means there will be those who don’t “get” you. And that’s okay. The Justin Bieber craze annoys me to no end, but it doesn’t matter: I’m not the target audience. Having people who don’t like you means you are not trying to be all things to all people. Examples: Dunkin Donuts v. Starbucks; Hyundai “Beware of 16-year-olds” campaign.
  4. You can elegantly recover from occasional mistakes: If your brand has enough “brand good will” built up, it can withstand some gaffes and missteps along the way. It’s like a bank account: the more you put in, the more confortable you can be withdrawing every now and then. As long as you recover with dignity and transparency, a strong brand can withstand a lot. Examples: JetBlue during their infamous winter flight debacles, Apple’s recent flubs with the iPhone 4.
  5. Articles about your company talk about your impact on the industry and/or the world: Rather that just talking about what you sell, press and organizations seek you out as a thought leader and innovator. Examples: People quote Zappos when it comes to innovative online customer service, not just shoes and accessories. Having transformed the coffee category by emphasizing flavor and experience, Starbucks last year introduced value packs in the supermarkets, which allowed them to stay competitive during the recession.

What are some other signs you look for when it comes to a “power brand?”


Befriend the competition? Mon Dieu! But smart companies are learning how to partner up and play nice to everyone’s business can grow.

My good buddy Whitney Keyes like to cite a story of a local Seattle chocolatier who needed to find an innovative way to incease customers. The solution? Partner with the other local chocolatiers in town (the horror!) and create a Chocolate Tour that would stop at all the stores and educate people on the history of this divine treat. The result was increased business for everyone, and a great press opportunity to ptich to local papers.

When we combine efforts, we can offer much more value to potential customers than we can going it alone. How exciting would a tour have been for just one chocolate company? But when you can offer multiple options and a more robust benefit to people, they will see more bang for their buck and will respond.

Some other local businesses often partner with complimentary companies if they go after a similar demographic. For example, Trophy Cupcake here in Seattle just had an event on Saturday with local boutique Show Pony. The two have similar target audiences and decided to pair up and offer a trunk show, complete with cupcakes and shopping. Similar target audiences, different products = a more robust offering to attract people. Lululemon Athletic here in Seattle often partners with organizations that reach the same female demographic to conduct parties and workshops in-store – life coaches, networking groups, etc.

This might seem like a simple idea, but many companies – large and small – do not take advantage. My guess is because of fear. Fear of “losing” money to “the other guy”; fear of promoting someone else’s product over their own. “But what if they buy his product and not mine?” Wah.

Get out of your own way, people. If foot traffic has gone down to your store or website or your reps are stalled on deals, what do you have to “lose”? It can’t get worse, right? When you can offer a more complete bundle to people, they see more value – maybe they wouldn’t have bought from you or your partner company by itself but together, they are willing to spend even more money combined. Think about it from the customer’s point of view, not from protecting your own fiefdom.

I often do workshops with other marketing consultants. (One will be coming up in late October in Seattle, so stay tuned!). Technically, we are competitors but not really – we all have different stenghts. Together, we offer a valuable workshop to which neither of us alone could have attracted as many people.

Try it. Think about the businesses that complement your goods or services. Are you a roofing company who can partner with plumbers, electricians, etc. to refer business (see the 9/28 WSJ SmallTalk column in print, Section R)? Are you a florist who can partner with a jewelry store or spa around Valentine’s Day? Are you a software developer who can partner with another software company who sells a different product to the same audience as you? Are you perosnal stylist who can partner with a career coach or dating site to help people put their best foot forward? Are you a department store who can partner with a local designer to expand your product offerings at a Preview Party?

I challenge you to put one partnership/coopetition tactic into your marketing plan for 2010 – or even Q409. You will be surprised at how much value you will generate.