Every year, Interbrand releases its list of the best 100 global brands. While the list does change from year to year, many of the brands develop remarkable staying power. For example, despite a PR scandal over emissions last year, Volkswagen remains in the list. This proves that a strong business brand can help your business survive even the worst.
What can you learn from the world's top brands? Here are eight lessons.
1. Find your niche.
Trying to be all things to all people will weaken your brand. Instead, focus on what you do best. For example, when online retailers Zappos first launched, it only sold shoes. But instead of focusing on the product (such as what brands it offered or how many types of shoes it sold), Zappos emphasized amazing customer service. Overnight delivery, free shipping and returns and friendly customer service reps earned Zappos publicity and customers. Today, many other websites sell shoes—many of them for less--but Zappos’ customer service is still unmatched, making it the destination of choice for customers who want convenience.
2. Build a relationship with your customers.
Apple is a great example of relationship branding. Although Apple advertises consistently, do you ever see an Apple ad touting a sale or discount? Instead of focusing on the transactional aspect of the customer relationship, Apple’s advertising and marketing focus on the value of the Apple product and the benefits its customers enjoy. As a result, Apple customers are intensely brand-loyal, and Apple is consistently in the world's top 10 brands.
3. Tap the power of emotion.
Branding is all about feelings — even if you sell industrial turbines, you can still conjure emotions in your prospects, such as the satisfaction of buying a reliable product and the pride of making a good purchasing decision. Of course, emotion is even more important in B2C products and services. Consider Coca-Cola, which has built a legendary brand on emotions such as fun, joy, relaxation and nostalgia.
4. Be consistent.
Repetition of a consistent message is what gets your brand to stick in customers’ minds. Bring consistency to all elements of your business brand, from the customer experience and customer service to product packaging and advertising. McDonald's has benefited from a consistent customer experience no matter which location customers visit, as well as a familiar menu. In fact, when this brand has stumbled, it's usually because it diverts from its core brand (for example, by trying to add too many healthy menu items).
5. Deliver on your promises.
Your brand won’t mean anything if your business doesn't deliver what customers expect from it. BMW, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz consistently land in the top global brands because their vehicles deliver quality and reliability year after year. Particularly if what you're selling isn’t very "sexy" (as with UPS, another top global brand), this type of reliability is key to successful branding.
6. Make your employees brand ambassadors.
Your employees are the face of your brand, so train them carefully. Develop systems and processes that deliver the brand experience you want customers to have; then make sure employees follow them consistently. No detail is too small to think about: Consider Disney theme parks, where well-groomed employees are always smiling and pleasant, and street sweepers whisk away trash before visitors can even see it.
7. Be persistent.
Developing a strong brand doesn't happen overnight — it takes repeated exposure before your brand has a place in customers' hearts. Use a variety of marketing and advertising methods to convey your brand in appropriate channels. If you're getting discouraged, think about Facebook. Originally marked as a flash in the pan fad run by a hoodie-wearing entrepreneur barely old enough to shave, today it's one of the world's most valuable brands thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s patience and persistence.
8. Protect your brand.
Your brand is valuable, so protect it with trademarks and guard it vigilantly. Keep an eye out for companies using similar logos or company names or launching copycat products. (Think about Kleenex, which fights to prevent its trademarked name from being used as a generic term for tissues.) If a competitor can engender confusion about your brand, they can irreparably harm your business's reputation.