Everything’s referred to as a brand these days, from brand Beckham to the Royal Family to Strictly Come Dancing and even Suri Cruise; the term arguably reaching its nadir with the arrival of Apprentice candidate Stuart 'the brand' Baggs.
As a society we have only relatively recently become familiar with the expression, and now we can’t get enough of it. Its overuse reflects the fact that we have all cottoned on; brands are powerful, influential and sexy.
Apple, Google, Skype and Amazon are certainly all those things, but what of the future - will they have the staying power of, for instance, Heinz or Coca-Cola? And how have these household names endured, what are the secrets of their success, and what can modern brands learn from them?
The annual Interbrand survey has just revealed that Coca-Cola has retained the number one spot as the top brand, with relative newcomer Apple taking the number two position. The winners and losers from the Interbrand list tell us, in essence, that what the most enduring brands do is keep their customers happy. Easier said than done, of course.
They keep true to their brand values, listen to their customers and innovate only where necessary - they don’t grab at the latest platform or piece of kit to be first for the sake of it - they concentrate on the core idea and use media cleverly and effectively. Most of them have iconic creative at their heart, and some have a large slice of luck.
First sold in 1901, Heinz Beans was already an enduring brand when, in 1941, the Ministry of Food gave the company a boost by classing the product as an ‘essential’ during the rationing years.
Twenty six years later, the now famous Beanz Meanz Heinz slogan was born, with the product appearing on a Who album cover later that year – cementing its iconic status as a must-have staple.
While astute creative, the right celebrity endorsement and a dose of good fortune certainly helped Heinz, it does not entirely explain its enduring appeal.
What Heinz has done particularly well is hold fast to its core values, communicate its proposition with clarity and engage effectively with its customers in all the right channels. In fact, what is has really done is sustain a really productive relationship.
Victoria Beckham, love her or hate her, said early on she wanted to be as famous as Persil. So not as famous as Madonna or Michael Jackson, but a stable household brand.
She saw the parallel between a valuable brand and a valuable celebrity; monetising the trust, consistency and reputation of the core brand but adapting to the audience (so moving from music to fashion when consumers rejected the former).
Successful human relationships puzzle most of us, most of the time. At some point, we have all scratched our heads in wonder about unlikely unions among our peers pondering: how do such opposites make each other laugh, why is she with him, she’s so out of his league, why do they still spend so much time together when they’ve been together so long?
The majority of happy couples I know overwhelmingly cite hard work as the key ingredient to a happy relationship. Not the grinding, sloggy hard work, rather the hard work you love doing because the rewards are going to be so high.
It’s all the old saws that are as true of enduring brands’ relationships with consumers as they are of romantic relationships - common goals, the same moral outlook, a shared sense of humour, spending time together, even having some shared friends and, of course, liking and loving each other. Simply put, the best couples have the same brand values.
If we look at Coca-Cola’s stated company values of Leadership, Passion, Integrity, Accountability, Collaboration, Innovation and Quality - well, to me, that’s as near to the marriage vows as you can get without actually popping on a white dress. Are they overstating their case; after all, aren't Coca-Cola’s brands just fizzy pop?
They’re not though are they? A brand is not a passive entity; to be truly successful it has to engage and have a proper, grown up, ongoing relationship with the people who buy its products. And, of course, all relationships are unique, be it with brands or people.
For instance Coca-Cola, while remaining true to its core values, has long been a creative and innovative brand. It has put sustainability and the community at the heart of its messaging, and is a market leader in stunts and set pieces, including its stunning Beatbox for London 2012. It moves with its customers and consistently reflects their changing lives and concerns.
This type of innovation is right for Coca-Cola, where it wouldn’t be for Heinz - they’re both in different relationships, but are both equally making their partners happy.
Where brands stumble sometimes is with innovation, or technology for its own sake. Keeping up with the Joneses in this way and not being yourself is folly for any relationship - it’s counter-productive, and usually means you’re going to get dumped.
Ultimately, for brands longevity is about celebrating who you are by being true to your core beliefs.
Brands’ relationships are a dialogue, a partnership, a two-way street - they cannot function well in isolation. But the most important thing is trust - customers must believe in you and have confidence that you have their best interests at heart and will always tell them the truth.
Once you have that, it’s a marriage made in heaven.