Brand Book Bites from Aaker on Branding

–  the book:  Aaker on Branding:  20 Principles That Drive Success

–  the brain:  One of the definitive voices on branding, David Aaker.  Dave has published more than 100 articles and 15 books on branding, brand strategy, and brand management, including Managing Brand Equity and Building Strong Brands, two texts that have served as my bibles. aaker on branding

Listen to my conversation with Dave to learn:

  • the Aaker brand vision model
  • how to create brand energy
  • his point-of-view on whether or not brands still have value in today’s age of nearly-perfect, ubiquitous information

–  the best bits:  The whole book is a sort of greatest hits album since it contains some of Dave’s best thinking from the past 25 years.  Five themes are used to organize the brand-building principles:

  1. Recognize that brands are assets with strategic value.

“When brands are considered assets, the role of brand management radically changes, from tactical and reactive to strategic and visionary.  A strategic brand vision linked to both the current and future business strategies and providing a guidepost for future offerings and marketing programs becomes imperative.”

  1. Have a compelling brand vision that guides and inspires.

“All too common is what I call the product-attribute fixation trap, in which the strategic and tactical management of the brand is excessively focused on product attributes and functional benefits…Functional benefit strategies are limiting because they often confine the brand, especially when it comes to responding to changing markets or exploring brand extensions.”

  1. Bring the brand vision to life.

“One of the key challenges for most brands globally is to create energy and visibility…Connecting a brand to a customer sweet spot raises the brand way above the noise emanating from firms shouting ‘my brand is better than your brand.’”

  1. Maintain relevance.

“Creating brand energy should be a priority for nearly every brand; inadequate energy means a reduced chance of being visible when purchases are being made, a perception of being old and boring and not-for-me, and a deterioration of the brand image.”

  1. Manage and leverage the brand portfolio.

“We should not be under the illusion that the goal is to create and protect brands.  Rather, the goal should be to create and leverage a brand portfolio to enable the business strategy to succeed.”

–  the brand story:  Dave highlights Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” as an example of connecting a brand to a customer sweet spot.

“The Real Beauty campaign resonated at several levels.  It connected with an issue of deep concern with the customer base – their own appearance and self-confidence.  Additionally, it addressed the insecurity and self-esteem issues of young women with which customers could empathize.  It struck a chord.  It provided a higher purpose to the brand and a shared interest with customers.”

–  the bottom line:  If you haven’t read Dave’s previous books, this is a terrific introduction; and if you have, it serves as a helpful refresher.  Either way, it’s a resource all brand builders should have in their library.

This is my newest “brand book bite” — check out the full collection of write-ups and author interviews here.

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Denise: Hello, this is Denise Yohn, and welcome to the Brand is Business Bites podcast. The Brand is Business Bites podcast gives you a taste of insights and information about brands, businesses, and the people who work on them. It is available on iTunes. For more stuff for your brain to chew on, please visit my visit at deniseleeyohn.com.

It is my pleasure to welcome back to my podcast one of my favorite authors David Aaker. Dave serves as Vice Chairman of Prophet, a brand building and growth consulting firm, and he has published more than 100 articles and 15 books on branding, brand strategy, and brand management, including “Managing Brand Equity” and “Building Strong Brands”, two texts that have served as my bibles. Dave has a new book out, “Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles that Drive Success,” which is kind of like the greatest hits album, since it contains some of Dave’s best thinking. I’ve asked him here, today, to talk about it. So welcome, Dave!

Dave: I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Denise: Well, I want to start with where your book starts, which is a definition of a brand. You write, “Far more than a name and logo, it is an organization’s promise to a customer to deliver what the brand stands for, not only in terms of functional benefit, but also emotional, self-expressive, and social benefits.” Then you go on to say, “But a brand is about more than delivering on a promise, it is also a journey, an evolving relationship based on the perceptions and relationships that a customer has every time he or she connects to the brand.” So in terms of developing and managing a brand, this definition seems to suggest that there is a task of defining your brand promise, then delivering on it and then cultivating a relationship based on it. Do I have that right?

Dave: Yes, that is definitely right. It starts with a brand vision, and I have a brand vision model. I used to call it the “The Brand Identity Model,” but I got a do-over with this new book. And my model has a certain philosophy, and it can be captured by saying that a brand is not a three-word phrase. It is not a fixed set of attributes. It has often a dozen different elements to it, and those don’t have to be tailored to the brand’s context. So if personality or organizational values or something aren’t important to your brand, there is no sort of box you have to check to put that in there. And also my model suggests you should have priorities. Some of those elements are more important than others. It also suggests you should have a brand essence, essentially a theme. It is optional. It doesn’t work in all cases.

Denise: But then it seems like once you have defined that, that is almost, I want to say, the easy part. But that is only the starting point, right?

David: Yes. Then you have to deliver, and one of the things we demand of a brand vision is that each element have a proof point. And if it doesn’t have a proof point, it has a strategic imperative. That means there is a program in place and funded to deliver a proof point. So you need substance behind it. It’s not just something that you think the market will like or makes you feel good. It has to have substance.

Denise: Wow! Okay. Your book has 20 principles that drive success, and again, your book is called “Aaker on Branding.” I want to talk about the principles in your book, maybe through two lenses, like the ways that branding has changed over the last quarter century and the ways that it has stayed the same. Let’s actually start with what has not changed. What are some of the timeless principles that have been key to brand building in the past and will remain key going forward?

David: Well, actually almost everything has changed. I mean, the brand has always needed energy, but today, energy and breaking out of the clutter is more important than ever. If your brand lacks energy, it is not only going to lack an intense relationship with a customer, but it is also going to just lack visibility. So we need energy. Important then and even more important, now, is authenticity and trust. You have to really be sincere and believable, and it helps to have a higher purpose in that regard. And it helps to be able to handle difficulties and controversies well in that regard. So there is a lot that is the same, but it is more intense now. The importance of breaking out of the clutter has always been there, but now, with social media, you really have to have something that is worth listening to and that is worth re-telling.

Denise: So how do you advise people who want to create energy around their brand? How do they figure what is the right way to do that?

David: The best way is to have innovation around your product or your offering. If you make hot dogs or insurance, that’s not even feasible. So what you have to do is to find programs with energy, like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, for example, or find something with energy and attach yourself to it. Coca Cola did recently with their FIFA trophy tour, where they went around the world and exposed the trophy to people in something like 190 countries. And that has a lot of energy, and FIFA has a lot of energy. So that is the fall back way to create energy for your brand, finding something with energy and attaching your brand to it.

Denise: Are there more inherent or intrinsic ways of maybe discovering or unearthing an energy that is more within your own brand?

David: Well, again, the gold standard is product innovation, but again, most people can’t be an Apple and all those talked about products. But there is another way to create interest and something worth telling, and that is the [inaudible 00:07:22] stories. And I talk about what I call “Signature Stories.” Those are stories that are strategic, that really reflect the brand’s essence, as opposed to tactical, that are just helping you communicate a point. Sometimes those stories can have a life of their own, and they can create a form of energy by saying that there is real substance behind the organization. There is organizational value. There is a history. There’s a heritage. And that is another form of energy.

Denise: Okay. Dave I wanted to ask you a question that I get asked pretty often, and it has come up actually in the last year. Because of the nearly ubiquitous, some would say, nearly perfect information that is out there about products, that some folks may suggest that because of that information, the role of brands and the role of branding has diminished and will continue to become much less important than just actual information. Where do you stand on that issue?

David: Yeah, my friend Emanuel Rosen at Stanford wrote a book proposing that. I wrote a blog that gave my response, and basically, it is… If you read his book carefully, he doesn’t really say that. He says that is true in only a limited set of circumstances, very limited. A very small percentage of your purchase and use experience fit into that category. But even for those, most people don’t have the time or the interest to do research, so they will fall back on plans. Even if they do, the relevant brands are those that will get researched. And to be relevant, you have to be visible, and you have to be able to be considered. So there is some truth in the argument, but it applies in a very small set of circumstances. Therefore, I don’t think it is a huge force in today’s marketplace.

Denise: That makes a lot of sense to me. Well, Dave, I want to thank you for continuing your legacy of writing definitive books on branding and brand building with the latest book “Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles that Drive Success.” Would you please tell our listeners how they can find out more information about the book and how they can buy it?

David: Yes, the book is a compact overview of branding. So it is a good way to catch up, and it is a good way to learn, if you have a staff that needs that. It is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and hopefully in the business book stores.

Denise: Great, and I would also encourage everyone to take a look at Davidaaker.com and follow Dave on Twitter. Dave, you are such a source of information, and I always learn something every time you write something. So I want to thank you for being with me, today here, and thank you for being such a great inspiration and teacher to me through the years.

David: Thank you, Denise. I have learned a lot from you, as well.

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