How to become an iconic, loved brand

Coca Cola, Virgin, MTV, The Beatles….the list of iconic brands is large but not when you consider the millions of businesses worldwide that never reach that special status.

So what makes an iconic brand?

A new study released for Canada Day (1st July) delves into that question and there are some key things that even the smallest business, solo entrepreneur, performer, etc should consider, to become – if not iconic – certainly more attractive to consumers.

Carolyn Ray, managing director of Interbrand Canada says:

Brands become iconic when they build a deep emotional
connection with people’s values and beliefs, and become
inextricably woven into their lives

Sound’s pretty deep doesn’t it! But actually, when you break it down it’s ‘simple’.

Your customers want to feel that you understand them. People are naturally drawn to those that have similar values to them, and the same is true for businesses.

Of course there are times when ‘Brand X’ is the only option, perhaps because it’s the most convenient, the cheapest or the only provider. But as business owners, our goal is to attract loyal long-term followers who choose us because of a shared connection.

This is part of my psyche as a media guy. What a radio station provides for example, is not just a functional product.

Listeners may tune in for music, but playing just anything wouldn’t build a loyal audience. The song choices need to fit with the target audience’s most-likely preferences.

Playing thrash metal on a station aimed at a mass market of 30-year old women is going to fail (although a female-focused thrash metal station could build a niche audience).

Listen to your audience 

Knowing customers’ preferences is key to making any business work.

Increasingly though, as choice increases and people get busier and more selective, there has to be more to a brand than just providing the service or product.

Remember we want to aim for ‘iconic’.

Interbrand’s study says that iconic brands do things for the greater good and are courageous in standing up for what really matters. It says:

And they know what matters
because they go back to the basics of really listening to
their customers, employees, partners and communities,
and sharing their values and purpose.

That is so important if we want to stay relevant to our customers or audience. Things change, people change, and there are challengers entering our markets all the time.

Staying connected to your audience is vital.

M&S – the fall of an icon

Marks & Spencer is a British icon. The retailer is in pretty much every town across the UK and is a loved and trusted brand.

However, around the time of the Millennium, M&S suffered a spectacular slump. Its £20 billion a year revenue and £1 billion annual profit was falling, along with the British public’s love for the century-old retailer.

The firm had lost touch with its customers. Its clothes were no longer desirable, challengers such as Tesco and Next were taking market share and (and this seems even crazier now) it refused to accept credit cards.

It’s worth noting that Tesco had long been viewed as a cheap brand, so its growth at the expense of M&S is testament to the other side of this coin – they listened while M&S didn’t.

Since the dark days of the early 2000’s M&S has regained its customers’ trust – and their cash (often credit card payments!) – but it was looking shaky for a while.

Reflect your customers’ values

One of the consequences of the M&S fail was that its customers no longer felt that the brand was ‘for them’. It had become a brand for their parents or even grandparents.

As with friendship, the brands we love the most feel like a good fit for us and the ones that gain that status work hard to prove it.

Take Coca Cola. It spent around $4 billion on advertising worldwide in 2016 – around 10% of its revenue. But it doesn’t tell us what the product is – fizzy sugar water, we know that – it sells us a lifestyle and tickles our emotions.

The way Coke advertises often taps in to two things: sentiment and aspiration.

The annual excitement on social media when the ‘Holidays are Coming’ is palpable. Coca Cola has created a feeling that once their advert arrives, we will feel truly festive. The same is true of the John Lewis Christmas ads.

When they are not selling us sentiment, they are fuelling our desire for a better life. As with many lifestyle brands, Coke shows us people having fun, being cool and being admired.

Find your own values

Your business or brand may not be targeting the same audience as Coca Cola but the idea of defining your values and what matters to you is just as important.

While you ultimately want to have a perfect fit with your customers, start with your own values.

If the things that matter to you (and your team) are seriously at odds with those of your customers, then you have a choice. Stick to your guns and hope the market comes with you, or adapt to the views of your customers.

Sir Richard Branson is a great example of this. While hundreds of businesses in his Virgin empire have thrived, he has had many failures, often because his vision was not shared widely enough with consumers.

In an ideal world, your brand values will fit with your customers and you can move forward with authenticity. Opting for values that you feel uncomfortable with may catch you out later on.

Say it, do it

However you arrive at your set of brand values, sticking to them is essential.

If you say you do something, deliver it. If you say you believe in something, prove it. We all know companies that over-promise and under-deliver.  Eventually challengers will move in on their business.

We all love a story and your business has one, you have one. Share it and let it shape your brand.

Why did you start the business? What is the thing that drives you to serve your customers or clients? Be passionate and ensure that passion is shown in everything your business does.

Use your content and social media channels to show that you understand and care about your audience. Be supportive of your community and focus on their needs.

You may not achieve iconic status, but your customers will love you a little bit more!


Steve Randall is a media consultant and content creator. His 30 years in media includes radio, newspapers, magazines, events and online. He helps businesses, organizations and individuals to use media and content marketing to grow their audience.



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