Jim Huebner
24 August, 2021

A while back, I had the opportunity to sit in on a live webinar hosted by the Marketing Science Institute. To be honest, I typically don’t have time (or at least don’t make the time) for webinars. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of webinars I’ve attended in the last ten years.

But this one was different, because David Aaker was the presenter.

David Aaker is my branding hero. He’s written 15 books on the subject of branding. He’s consulted with some of the biggest companies in the world regarding their brands. He’s recognized by others as a foremost authority on brand building. And most important, he’s originally from North Dakota, which can only mean there’s some salt of the earth in those ivory towers at Cal Berkeley (where he’s Professor Emeritus). Being a Great Plains boy myself, I rather like that notion.

Aaker’s presentation was called “Three Branding Trends”, and it was based on the approaches he sees more and more companies taking today to separate their brands from their competitors.

The first trend is the development of subcategories within a brand. Aaker says Subcategory Competition can be won by either reframing a subcategory, creating “must-haves” in a subcategory, or preventing competitors from being considered.He pointed out that Toyota’s Corolla has plenty of stiff competition and tight margins. However, the Prius brand and its “must-have” hybrid technology continues to hold 61%of the hybrid market, limited competition, and good margins to boot.

He also discussed the way Pamper’s “Golden Sleep” campaign ingeniously reframed the product from simply being a solution for a dryer baby to a product that ultimately improved the baby’s quality of sleep. Genius!

The second trend Aaker sees is one he referred to as Sweet Spot Communication He said connecting the brand to the customer’s interests and activities has never been more powerful, and the best way to do it is through storytelling.

With examples from LL Bean, John Deere and Google, Aaker described how each used the power of storytelling to successfully endear customers to the brand. And this is a technique ANY brand can use, as every company has some type of story to tell.

Aaker called the third trend Higher Purpose. Today’s consumer is looking for much more than a solution to their problem. They’re looking to perhaps even SOLVE problems as they navigate their way through their consumerism. He used Walmart and the way the company has taken on aggressive sustainability efforts as a good example of a company embracing the higher purpose trend and customers responding favorably to it.

He mentioned two books Firms of Endearment and GROW that both studied multiple public companies who have shown a commitment to the higher purpose concept. The books reported that over a 10 year period, the average stock performance of these higher purpose companies was 4 to 8 times that of the Standard & Poor’s averages. And THAT’S win-win-win.

If your company’s ready to consider the trends as you plan your own brand strategies, here are some great questions to ask your management team first:

What are some “must-haves” that our markets are demanding but not finding?

How could we reframe a current category we’re in, and address a need our competition is not?

Are there any patentable products or services we offer that would keep competitors away from offering something similar?

What is the most powerful story we have to tell about our brand? How and where can we tell it more effectively?

Is there an authentic and meaningful higher purpose we can communicate to our customers about our brand? What is it, or what could it be?