Seven Secrets to a Successful Brand

By Jaime Fraser.  Jaime is alumni from the Brand Leadership course.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the EMEA region SABRE Awards in Barcelona with my company, Cohn&Wolfe. SABRE stands for Superior Achievement in Branding and Reputation, and the awards are a fantastic opportunity to get a glimpse of the outstanding and creative public relations work coming out of the region. Ahead of the ceremony, Paul Holmes, editor of The Holmes Report (which produces the SABREs) led a ThinkTank discussion alongside industry leaders.

At the ThinkTank, we discussed Holmes’ seven essential elements of any award winning PR campaign. While true they form a neat checklist for a PR professional looking for a SABRE-worthy creative platform, they are also fundamentals of any brand that hopes to stand out in today’s crowded market. For companies to make an impact with consumers that are bombarded with brands and to increase brand awareness, loyalty, and ultimately sales, they need to stand for something much bigger than themselves. That is how they will make an emotional connection with consumers – the holy grail of effective branding.

But whatever it is they stand for needs to live outside of the manifesto on the corporate website’s “About Us” page – it needs to be evident in every way the brand communicates with the world, whether that is online, in-store, or through advertising, public relations, or direct contact with consumers.

Easier said than done, of course, but a good starting point is by following Holmes’ simple, yet essential guidelines. Here is my take on them:

1)      Courage: Amazing ideas don’t come to life by playing it safe. It requires courageous leaders to take a risk, try something new, and be willing to fail. It’s scary – I can look back on my own career and still feel deflated thinking about awesome ideas that never saw the light of day because a worried marketing manager pulled the plug in the 11th hour – but the results can be tremendous.

A recent example, which was featured at the ThinkTank, is Xbox’s launch of its Halo 4 game. The company transformed a whole country – the Principality of Liechtenstein – into a real life replica of the Halo universe for over 70 media and super fans. Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong with spending who knows how much money to transform a country into a brand experience, but the risk was worth it. Besides generating loads of media coverage, it was the highest selling game in the franchise to date.

 Halo 2

2)      Authentic: Never try to be something you’re not. In business, as in life, people will see through your façade. But be proud of what you are, and tell your story openly and honestly. McDonald’s, as the market leader in its category, is constantly under fire by groups protesting everything from childhood obesity to animal welfare. In response, the brand launched its See What We’re Made Of initiative – proving that it is so confident in the high quality of its products and suppliers that it challenges you to see for yourself.

3)      Engaging: How can you compel people to want to get involved with your brand? You can start by seeking inspiration from Coca-Cola. One of their most recent initiatives was to install high-tech vending machines in shopping malls in Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India – two cities torn apart by political tension. People from both countries who engaged with the screens were encouraged to complete a friendly task together such as wave, touch hands, draw a peace sign or dance before they shared a Coca-Cola. The effort didn’t just engage people with the brand, but it united nations at the same time – no small feat!


4)      Shareable: The power of social media means if one person likes what they see, millions can then see it with no more investment than a bunch of Facebook posts and Tweets.  Last year, I saw a video that a friend posted on Facebook advertising a California start-up company called By the time I arrived at my office the next day, most of my colleagues had seen it and were buzzing about it. The fact that the video was simple, hilarious and cool made it a viral sensation – leading to over 10.5 million views on YouTube and $9.8 million in Series A funding.


5)      Sticky: It’s great to get some attention, but it’s not worth much if people don’t keep coming back to you. A brand that has stickiness down pat is Innocent. Consumers love their quirky style and tone of voice as much as they love their smoothies, and this is evident on their Facebook page. Thousands of people “like” and comment on everything they post. The key to Innocent’s success is that while everything they post is on-brand, it’s not all about the brand. This keeps people coming back to the page to engage with it – they want to see what silly, off-beat post is next.

6)      Ethical: Enough said. If it’s not right, don’t do it.

7)      Change behaviour: A truly powerful brand does this in two ways – by changing behaviour commercially (i.e. gaining market share) as well as culturally (i.e. changing society’s perceptions). Who does this better than Dove? Dove’s famous “Campaign for Real Beauty” resulted in estimated profits of $500 million after it launched in 2004. At the same time, it has led the way in giving women more self-confidence and changing society’s view of beauty. Their most recent Real Beauty Sketches campaign is just brilliant, and shows the brand isn’t getting complacent just because it has seen so much success over the past decade.



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