By Ian Kirk, Partner at Prophet
A brand’s relevance is key to survival. Yet, what makes a brand relevant in one country, does not necessarily translate to another. The challenge: how can brands become relentlessly relevant around the world?
In our Brand Relevance IndexTM (BRI), we polled 45,000 consumers in the US, UK, Germany and China about 800+ brands. Six were revealed as clear favorites by those surveyed - adidas, Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Samsung and Visa. Interestingly, not one is among the top 15 largest global advertisers. Yet many companies that vastly outspend them, including Procter & Gamble, Volkswagen, and ABInBev, fell behind in our Index. So, what makes these six so special?
Whilst some of its competitors struggle with slower growth, adidas is tearing up the turf, gaining market share in key regions and categories. adidas’ success is due to more than its performance in footwear and apparel, or even its marketing partnerships with the likes of FIFA, the NBA and the Olympics. It performs so well because it’s constantly innovating.
Like its competitors, adidas continually honors the hard work that drives athletes with its well-known “Impossible is nothing” tagline. But it also highlights the innate dichotomy of sport, saluting what’s fun and playful, as much as what is difficult. Alongside its roster of high-profile “spokes-athletes,” it collaborates with pop-culture superstars like Stella McCartney, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
Across the four regions we surveyed, Apple is consistently relevant. It scores extremely highly in all four characteristics of the BRI, performing best in customer obsession, which is measured by the number of consumers who say “I can't imagine living without it” and “it connects with me emotionally.”
With each new product iteration, Apple introduces loyal followers to new functions, new aesthetics and new ways of interacting with other Apple devices. Fans can endlessly tap into this ever-expanding ecosystem.
Lesser technology companies brag about functions, speed and data volume. Apple, however, continually reminds the faithful that its uncompromising vision is what makes it different. It’s not anything Apple says that makes it an exceptionally relevant company, it’s what its devices do.
Microsoft is everywhere. Many come into contact with its products daily, even hourly. But instead of building contempt, this familiarity increases brand intimacy. Consumers love the software giant’s ruthless pragmatism – it’s reliable and simplifies tasks. Once criticised for acting in a closed manner, Microsoft’s products and services are now available on every major platform.
Microsoft sets the standard in operating systems. The brand has become synonymous with getting stuff done, and Windows 10 is already the fastest-growing system in the company’s history. Not to mention, the growing success of Microsoft Surface.
It ranks highly for innovation too. Inspired to make the world more productive, Microsoft has introduced mobile and cloud-based services that suit ordinary consumers and businesses of all sizes. Consumers trust Microsoft; they also recognise that it pushes the status quo.
Nike means more than a sneaker-and-sweats apparel brand. Right from its founding, Nike knew its power: inspiring ordinary people to nurture their inner athlete. Over the last ten years, the company has evolved, transforming itself into a digital powerhouse, boasting extraordinary e-commerce success and publishing swathes of inspirational content online, from workouts and playlists to high-level training expertise for everyday athletes.
Nike has created a fitness community - from its Nike+ program, which links millions of runners around the world to the running clubs and clinics it sponsors at many of its stores. Few have used social media as effectively, or understood that facilitating conversation is as important as selling shoes.
Nike balances practicality with inspiration. Its ethos of heart and grit comes through with its team of athletes like Mo Farrah, LeBron James and Simone Biles, who continue to inspire consumers around the world.
Even in the midst of the Galaxy defect scandal, Samsung still won new customers for its customer obsession, innovation and inspiration.
Rather than focusing on the premium portion of the market, Samsung has its sights on the whole pie. With 50 phones available at a considerable variety of prices, it offers choice to the masses. An irrepressible drive to be technically superior and cutting-edge has won it loyalty among tech enthusiasts too.
Samsung’s corporate motto is that “Meaningful progress comes from daring to defy barriers,” and the new Galaxy S8 delivers. Reviewers say it’s the biggest shift in smartphone design in years with the introduction of the Infinity Screen, which quite literally “un-boxed” the phone from its conventional frame. Consumer marketing, such as its recent “Do what you can’t” Olympic campaign, as well as its current communication for its virtual reality (VR) headset, moves customers to test their own barriers.
Visa built its reputation in the age of plastic credit cards, but its commitment to digital innovation has brought new life to its old promise to be “Everywhere you want to be.”
Because the payment world is moving so fast, Visa is now a payment technology company. It is devoted to the science of how and where consumers want to spend their money, and then it leverages alliances to find the best ways to help. That includes opening its platform for development with issuers, digital wallets, app providers and others. Its tech prowess is paying off – Visa Checkout, which simplifies online payments, just passed 20 million online subscribers.
Visa continues to deliver on its “Everywhere” promise through its ceaseless sponsorship efforts, connecting with people at their favourite sport, concert and charity events around the world.
Learning from example
If brands want to grow, they need to become an integral part of consumers’ lives. Each of these brands has figured out how. A laser-sharp focus on the customer has shaped how they innovate. At some point, each one has proposed a new and better way to live: Visa’s determination to make commerce frictionless, Nike’s desire to find the athlete in everyone and Apple’s streamlined payment process in its stores, for example. Each challenges convention but remains ruthlessly pragmatic. Their business models and customer experiences are designed to make it easy for consumers to include them in their lives. But it is their willingness to act with integrity and conviction that builds emotional bonds and creates loyal fans out of everyday consumers. That’s why we call them the super six.