After 25 years as a brand consultant, it strikes me that a surprising number of managers are unable to quantify the value of their brand. This value is first considered and taken into the balance sheet in connection with mergers and acquisitions. I am convinced that this value is critical when stakeholders assess an enterprise's financial situation and the figures should be included in any company's balance sheet.

Let me first share some research results from Harvard Business School with you. Harvard has researched 20 different sectors and identified three common denominators which characterise the 250 most profitable enterprises that they studied. Year after year. These common denominators are ‘identity’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘culture’. These companies have described their identity in a way which contributes to an effective storytelling which ultimately builds a culture which both employees and customers want to be part of.

The hardcore documentation is that these enterprises score better on critical parameters, such as bottom line growth (4x), job creation (7x), growth in share price (12x) and profit performance (7.5x). I often use this example when I meet conventional MBAs, engineers and lawyers on the other side of the table, who perhaps perceive brand-building to be the logo, profile and colours on packaging, and a PowerPoint template.

“Your brand is what people say about you, when you are not in the room.”

Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

The difference between a trademark and a brand is feelings
There is a general misunderstanding that feelings only apply to certain categories, such as perfumes and beer. Managers with good brand understanding know that it is feelings which reduce time and insecurity when their customers make a purchase decision.

Deep down, most managers probably feel that what the most attractive enterprises do is good. Very good, and everyone would like to be there too. “But, the most important thing is of course to make money; after all, so we stick to safe waters and we can then invest in values, visions and that sort of thing gradually.” This may not be expressed directly, but when everyday life draws us in, it is very easy to focus on the short term.

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision,
passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.“

Jack Welch - Chairman & CEO of General Electric (1981–2001)

Is it possible to succeed with feelings in a B2B market or as a utility company?
Successful brands ‘connect’ effectively with the rational half of the brain; an instinctive consideration which extends far beyond rational reasons for making a purchase. It is these feelings, or irresistibility, which enables both B2B and B2C brands to charge more than their competitors. This happens when one delivers on more than hygiene factors and do more than simply meet functional needs. In order to be able to meet the functional needs, it is necessary to work very hard, and it is this that most content themselves with. However, the companies which really succeed are so attractive that it is considered socially attractive to choose them. They know that a hygiene factor does not have a positioning effect at all. Nevertheless, it is strangely enough that which most enterprises communicate: basic hygiene factors. They give me no reason to choose them over their competitors.

Brands are like friends; we don’t have room for that many in our lives
Irresistible brands must not only make a difference; that difference must be important for the target group; courage is therefore vital. This is because differentiation means that many people will also reject the brand. My advice would therefore always be that you must reject some customer segments when you want to communicate. This does not mean that they are not allowed to choose you, but you will never get them to be proud of choosing you. It is unfortunately not possible to be something for everyone, but you can be everything for some people.

Do you dare to have people form an opinion about you?
Differentiation leaves behind clear footprints amongst individual archetypes/personas. All irresistible brands have such footprints. They offer precisely what their target groups are looking for. This means that they deliver on three levels of conscious and sub-conscious user needs: the functional, social and emotional. This is also most certainly true in a B2B market.

When a brand makes a strong and natural connection across these layers, it is convincing and irresistible because the feelings it creates are reflected both functionally and socially. If you are able to achieve and maintain this, you will gain not only sustainable irresistibility, but also maximum payback on your marketing budgets.

“The reason it seems that price is all your customers care about,
is that you haven’t given them anything else to care about.”

Seth Godin, American author and former dot com executive

The pyramid of attractiveness
Imagine a pyramid, a bit like Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the very bottom, you will find electricity, banking, broadband, insurance and all the other utility companies. A little higher up, you will find the odd favourite store, content providers and perhaps a media actor. But it is not until you get to the three highest levels that things start to get interesting. In my opinion, the next level consists of various gadgets, and Apple is my favourite. The next highest level for me is cars and Audi is my favourite. Right at the top is my life-long love of Arsenal. If Arsenal ever wanted to sell me electricity, I would buy it, no matter what they charged. For me, Arsenal represents what we might call “sustainable irresistibility”.

“From the moment I got to Manchester United,
I thought of only one thing: building a football club;
producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit."

Sir Alex Ferguson, honorary doctor, Harvard Business School and former football manager

The common thread out from the control room and into the market
All forms of successful positioning are characterised by the ability to reject something. Your business concept must therefore deliver on this. It must describe not only what you do, but also why you do it and who you do it for. Based on such a business concept, it is natural to formulate a vision and values.

Your gadgets are easy to copy. The only thing that is worth anything is what you are known for.

Stein Opsahl, Strategic Consultant

Hardcore feelings
Your brand is the sum of what people think about you, every time they experience you. You could call it a ‘gut feeling’. The mechanisms behind influencing this feeling, building and managing a brand, remain the same today as they have always been, but digitalisation and other technology are creating a far more fragmented and complex range of channels. The value of strategic brand-building becomes more and more important when one is also compared with the best user experiences in the world, thanks to the cloud-based platforms and ecosystems of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and others.

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