Ever notice how some brands become part of our daily life so seamlessly that we don’t even think about them until something goes awry: like when Waze fails to detect massive roadwork, a Starbucks barista mixes up your order, or an Ikea table is missing a part?
At Prophet, we know that’s because these brands represent more than a product or service we buy – they’re an integral part of our lives: it’s what we call relentlessly relevant brands. Achieving this level of relevance is no easy feat given the current state of brand-building. For one thing, customers are more in control than ever, and their expectations of brands continue to rise. Technology, from mobile to wearables to internet-embedded homes, further disrupts those expectations, allowing people to perceive and interact with brands in new ways. Brands that aren’t evolving get lost in the shuffle.
Relentlessly relevant brands engage, surprise, and connect. They are genuinely modern, finding new ways to delight and deliver. They push themselves to earn and re-earn customers’ loyalty – and they continually redefine what’s possible.
Building a relentlessly relevant brand starts with three essential commitments. First, brands must find a strategic purpose that creates shared value. It’s the only way to inspire people, both internally and externally. Next, companies need to engage customers through living brand experiences. And finally, brands need to be powered from the inside-out through culture, capabilities, and engagement.
Relentlessly Relevant Brands Have a Higher Order Purpose
These brands know who they are, moving beyond positioning and into purpose. They are centered on a strategic purpose that creates shared value. This brand purpose is the fundamental binding agent between the assets and aspirations of the business and customers’ motivations.
Starbucks, of course, sells coffee. But people love it for its bigger ambition, which is to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. Starbucks is trying to move society while still selling a great blonde roast. Their strategic purpose inspires employees, consumers, and shareholders alike. The same could be said for LEGO, REI, Apple, State Farm, and countless others.
It’s not that these brands don’t have a positioning; they do. But what gives them life is that instead of seeing positioning as a static definition of a singular benefit, they understand their purpose to be fluid, participatory, and a platform to create common ground beyond the next transaction. Strong purposes ignite innovation and growth, while also allowing the company to inspire, attract, and retain the best talent.
Relentlessly Relevant Brands Create Living Brand Experiences
Brands that are relentlessly relevant are those that enlarge the universe and engage customers in a living brand experience. That means constant, real-time engagement between customers and brand stewards, giving companies the ability to anticipate, adapt, and respond in the context of customers’ lives. It’s what allows brands to create offers that are hyper-personalized, to leverage data in a way that extends experiences and relationships within customers’ lives, and to combine human empathy with tech-enabled intelligence. As a result, every interaction delivers greater business impact.
Think of the way Disney keeps making visits to its properties more magical, by using technology to help guests unlock hotel rooms, make a playdate with Snow White, or even pay for a turkey leg. Or Spotify’s uncanny ability to follow you into an Uber, work with Tinder and Bumble to help you find better dates, and crank out playlists made up of songs you’ve never listened to but instantly love.
Customers are fiercely loyal to these experiences. When Samsung faced the massive recall of its Galaxy Note, pundits expected customers to defect in droves. The brand’s mobile phones have come back stronger than ever, precisely because people love the way they perform across devices, including smart watches, tablets, and, increasingly, virtual reality.
Relentlessly Relevant Brands Are Powered from the Inside
Relentlessly relevant brands aren’t managed by a marketing team. They are powered through a company’s culture and belief systems. When leadership is aligned around a common brand purposes, they can catalyze change and empower employees throughout the organization to create a self-generating business, balancing customer needs and corporate goals.
Southwest Airlines, the only airline to rank in the Top 50 of our US Brand Relevance Index, recognizes that delivering outstanding customer experiences has to be a company-wide commitment. To deliver on its promise, which it sees as serving passengers with warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and a sense of humor, starts with a commitment to treat its employees the same way. From ticket agents to baggage handlers to pilots, customers have come to expect a personal connection they don’t get from other carriers.
Relentlessly relevant brands are growing, thriving brands. They have a meaningful role in peoples lives and one they need to earn each day. This is why they use purpose as the North Star, engage with customers through living brand experiences, and power brands from the inside through company culture.
Written by Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet
Edited by Crystal Chow, Medill IMC Class Of 2018