The 3 Habits of Highly Effective Brands

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This is Part Four in The Atlantic's report on brands. Read the previous installments here:

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Marc de Swaan Arons is the chairman of the global marketing consultancy EffectiveBrands. We discussed this week's ranking of the most valuable brands in the world (the top ten are listed to the right). Marc started things off with a long explanation of the "three characteristics every successful global brand has in common." The transcript below begins with a condensed version of his description of those three characteristics.

DEREK THOMPSON: Were you surprised by the results, which named Apple the most valuable brand in the world followed by mostly technology companies? 

MARC DE SWAAN ARONS: The brands I saw at the top of the list matched up closely with what our research has shown to be the most effective brands in the world. Successful brands have three common characteristics:

1. The Universal Truth. The brands that travel successfully have discovered what universal truth they appeal to, and it's something that goes across nations. Lets take Google, which represents information. Wherever I am, if I need information, Google helps me find it. For Apple, the company used to be the preferred brand for creative people. But they've repositioned around making tech easy for everyone. Easy is something that everybody understands, and Apple is focused on doing that one thing well.

2. More Than a Business. Even more important than finding that universal truth is doing something purposeful. Effective brands are about something bigger than just making a lot of money. Look at GE with "ecoimagination." This company has fundamentally decided to make eco-friendliness the corps of its business.

3. Total Experience. Leading brands used to be in the product market. Now they're in the experience market. Think about Nike, for example. It's a shoe company. That's a product. But online, they are a service company. They help you find places to go running, find a running mate, find somebody to race against. A lot of brands are going beyond their product to offer consumers an experience. Look at IBM and its consulting practice. Look at Apple and its businesses in music and entertainment. Apple is really a company that wants to be part of your life. It's not about share of market anymore. It's about share of consumer experience.

What is "share of consumer experience" and why would it be important to a company?

In the early 1990s, Coke made a massive marketing leap of faith. They used to measure market share against other sodas. Then they said: Anything you pour down your throat is now a competitor. When they redefined the market to be all drinks, their market share went down from 50 percent to 10 percent, because they were against juices, sports drinks, and so on. But that helped Coke think outside the box. Now Coke owns juices. It owns sports drinks. And its growth is extraordinary.

So this is the next big thing in marketing and brand management?

More and more brands are thinking like Nike and IMB and Apple and Coke. They're all about share of experience. They want to be a part of your life, not just a product in your life.

Can you name a company that is not following this trend? That is failing to insert itself into people's lives?

BlackBerry. I really think they're dead meat. My niece picks up a BlackBerry and she is completely bored. If she picks up an iPhone, you can't get it out her hands. That's a big difference.

BlackBerry markets itself around adults. That's the fundamental pitch to consumers, that it is the grown-up's brand. You think it's a bad strategy for BlackBerry to focus on professionals?

I saw their new advertisement ["Amateur hour is over. The BlackBerry PlayBook is here."] That's just sad. They have this enormous market share in the corporate world but nowhere else to go. And now Apple is making inroads.

What does Apple understand that BlackBerry doesn't?

Apple products are not about the piece of technology. Apple products are about what you access through the technology. I'm looking at my iPad now. It has my favorite movie, my email, songs for stress and celebration, and apps for travel. It is everything I need. It's me. This brand has an incredible share of experience for me. I never thought Blackberry wanted to get to know me. It's just a piece of technology my IT department accepted.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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