The Four Elements of Brand Power

In a previous post we discussed the differences between power brands and base brands. Obviously, power brands are more desirable to have and own than base brands given the comparative rewards, as described in that post. But how do you build a power brand? And, what are your main control levers to achieving power brand status? These are the questions I will address in today’s post.

There are four main foundational elements to power brands, as you can see in the graphic below. By optimizing your brand on these four elements, you will build a power brand over a base brand. In what follows, I explain each of these four elements in turn.

Saliency

Brand saliency goes beyond simple awareness and includes how readily the brand comes to mind in your target audience(s). Specifically, it is the likelihood of your brand being recalled and being top-of-mind when a target customer is considering a purchase. When prospects are considering a purchase in your category, they are not mentally generating a list of all the options and checking them off one-by-one. Rather, they are choosing among the one or two that come to mind first, because of the inferred level of confidence and comfort that is associated with and conferred upon that fluency of recall.

Building a brand’s saliency is, of course, a central mission of marketing and advertising. But pure awareness or purchase persuasion campaigns are not the only tools to build salience. Branding campaigns have the goal of building perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (PEBAs) among the brand’s target audience(s), as well as reinforcing positive associations with your brand in their minds. Promoting your brand values, telling brand stories and reminding prospects of how your brand is different from the competition are all ways in which you build brand salience. Consistency of effort wins here.

Meaningfulness

Another core element of power brands is meaningfulness. This means that the brand is relevant to your target customer(s)—that it appeals to their needs and wants, their values and their self-image. Obviously, this should start with a really good and deep understanding of who you are targeting and what makes them tick. High-quality market research and constant feedback and analysis are critical to building and communicating a meaningful brand. Customers must see the value in your brand, however defined. Your brand purpose and brand story must fit with customers’ functional, emotional and self-expressive needs and wants.

Increasingly, brands also need to have a point of view that transcends the product or service and speaks to what the brand believes in and cares about the world at large (e.g., environmental or social issues). A recent Havas study found that people would not care if three-quarters of the brands they use every day disappeared and that only a quarter of brands actually improve our quality of life and well-being. The former are what we would call base brands and the latter are power brands. What’s your brand’s reason for being? How is it making the world a better place? Newer generations care about this more and more, as should those wanting to build a power brand.

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Differentiation

Saliency and meaningfulness, while necessary, are not sufficient. All brands have competitors—both direct and indirect. Direct competitors offer the same or a similar product or service. Indirect competitors may woo customers with a different or alternative offerings (consider: Airbnb vs. hotels). Creating brand differentiation (you generally do not “find” brand differentiation) provides your target audience(s) a way to mentally separate and remember your brand easily and quickly from the alternatives. This differentiation should not be subtle or diffuse across lots of little variables. Rather, it should be obvious, clear and, ideally, singular.

Fortunately, brand differentiation need not be based on functional characteristics of the brand’s offering. It can be based on the brand’s purpose or vision (e.g., Tesla), an attitude/social behavior of the brand (e.g., Subaru), a unique experience the brand provides (e.g., Porsche), or what the brand signals about the customer (e.g., Rolls Royce). Brand differentiation is limited only by the brand owners’ creativity, imagination and consistency of execution.

Credibility

The final element of a power brand relates to its behavior over time and its resulting reputation. Does the brand do what it says? Is it consistent and predictable over time? A brand can be salient, meaningful and differentiated but still be impotent if it does something inconsistent with who it is or represents to be. Consider what happened to once powerful brands like Enron or Kanye West/Yeezy, just to mention two brands from a lengthy list of power brands that imploded on this element. Obviously, if you are building a brand into a power brand, failing on this element may dash your success early and often permanently.

It should be clear after reviewing these four elements of power brands that building and maintaining power brands is an ongoing activity that requires continuous attention and resources. Building brands is a long game, but the rewards are undeniable and compelling. For help with your progression to a power brand, contact us here at Six Degrees.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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