The factors that separate "great" brands from "also" brands

In today's competitive environment, where brands are constantly fighting for consumer attention, there are certain factors that separate "great" brands from "also" brands.

An underlying piece of the puzzle is a company's ability to connect with consumers on a human difference-making level to make a true, lasting impression. This begins with insight into human nature and the feelings and emotions that motivate people to both buy and engage: passion, conviction, joy, hardship, happiness, fulfillment, and achievement. These sentiments are the foundation of emotional currency and the ability to form genuine consumer connections.

In thinking about emotional currency, brands today are presented with a unique and valuable opportunity to leverage digital platforms, such as social media and mobile, to add value and inspire deep relationships with the people that love them, anytime and anywhere. With digital inventiveness and campaigns that forge a connection through a range of compelling visual language, artful messaging, and emotional sensitivity, great brands separate themselves from "also" brands.

I believe that there are five factors that separate great brands from the rest. Today, in order to thrive, brands must do the following.

Establish defining moments

A great brand knows that it is not just in the marketing business; it is in the business of sharing stories and experiences. With the emergence of social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, we've seen imagery come to the forefront of brand story telling. With Twitter, moments can be shared in 140 characters or less. Real value is in real connections, and by sharing genuine, defining moments, the brand becomes intrinsically linked to the experience.  

Stay true to deeply held beliefs

Brands often go through "re-skinning" experiences such as new logos, taglines, and website redesigns. Think about Gap's logo redesign (and subsequent return to its former logo) in 2010 -- brand identity is more than just font changes and facelifts. A great brand will go through these experiences without negotiating on deeply held beliefs that define it is in the hearts and minds of customers.

Elevate sales and promotions

Delivering a transactional purchase incentive for many brands in a range of consumer segments creates sales momentum, as well as supports the sales organization in its sell-in efforts with the trade. That said, great brands know how to offer deals that also add value to its message, reputation, and category position without ever confusing its customers by over-couponing and discounting. These kind of "strategic" deals are thought of as moment in time opportunities that attract brand loyalists and fence sitters alike. A great example is Apple's annual "cross platform" back to school promotion where the purchase of an iMac comes with a $100 gift card for the iTunes store. Simply, great brands know how to create and reward desire by offering franchise and loyalty-building promotional events.

Create evangelism

Great brands cultivate highly engaged loyalists. These customers not only follow the brand on social media and subscribe to email updates, but they also take an active role in helping promote brand initiatives within their own circles. Authentic, compelling, and easily shared content is the tread many leading brands have found invaluable in facilitating brand adoption or engagement. While there is a fine line that brands must walk between providing customers with both "more of the same" and "more of the different," this balancing act defines a brand's ability to both feed consumer desires and develop dedicated and loyal customers. 

Invoke tribalism

A brand's ability to play a significant role in social affinity is a key differentiator between great and "also" brands. Again, we see human connections as the driver of creating tribal followings -- think of the denim industry, for example, and of brands' abilities to create "affinity users." It is never just about the brand, or even the customer, but about being part of something on a deeper level. Levi's, Coca-Cola, and Twinkies' "The sweetest comeback in the history of ever" (who doesn't wish they wrote that line?) are all part of the community of brands that made serious marketplace mistakes, but because of the relationship consumers have with them and with others who share the love, these brands have all made significant comebacks.

In becoming a truly great brand, there is an ability to foster deeper, more meaningful, and sustainable customer relationships that, in the end, pay off both transitionally and emotionally. It's where digital inventiveness and emotional currency continue to rewire the way business gets done.

Cliff Medney is the chief creative strategist at Flightpath.

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