A Brand Is A Friend

Brad VanAuken The Blake ProjectJanuary 30, 20076693 min

People often ask me, “What is brand equity?” There are many ways to answer this. Some would say it’s everything associated with the brand that adds to or subtracts from the value it provides to a product or service. Others would emphasize the financial value of the brand asset. Still others stress the consumer loyalty or price premium generated by brand equity. Some even talk about the permission and flexibility a brand gives an organization to extend into new product and service categories. While all of these are very important parts of brand equity, I think a story is the best way to illustrate what brand equity is.

Imagine you are having lunch with a long-time and very good friend. Several times throughout the lunch, she makes disparaging and sarcastic remarks that make you feel bad. You think to yourself, “This just isn’t like her. She must be having a bad day.” You meet with her again a week or two later, and again she acts ornery and negative. You think to yourself, “Something must be going on in her life that she’s really struggling with.” You might even ask her if everything is all right. She snaps back, “Of course it is.”

Your interaction with her continues in this vein over the next couple of months. You continue to try to be supportive, but she’s definitely getting on your nerves. After many meetings and much interaction, you finally decide that she’s a changed person and someone with whom you prefer to spend less and less time. You may get to this point after a few months, or perhaps even after a year or more. She doesn’t change, and eventually the relationship peters out.

Now consider for a moment that the person you first had lunch with was the same person as before, with one exception: she was a total stranger to you.  You hadn’t met her previously and she was not your dear friend.  I would guess that after enduring many caustic comments and being insulted a few times at that lunch, your first impression wouldn’t be very positive. In fact, you’d probably be inclined not to get together with that person again. You’d probably walk away from that lunch thinking, “What a miserable person. I hope I don’t run into her again.”

In both of these scenarios it is the same person behaving the same way in the same situation.  Yet in the first scenario, you are very quick to forgive the behavior. In fact, you feel a lot of concern toward her. In the second scenario, you can’t wait for the lunch to be over and you hope never to see her again.

In the first scenario, the person was a long-time good friend. She had a lot of equity with you. In the second scenario, she had no equity at all. You see, if people or brands have a lot of equity–that is, if you know, like, and trust them–you will “cut them a lot of slack” even if they repeatedly fail to meet your expectations. If a person, product, service, or organization has no equity with you, no emotional connection, no trust, then you are much less inclined to forgive unmet expectations.

Brand equity creates a relationship and a bond that grows over time and is very strong. It is often so strong that it compensates for performance flaws: an out-of-stock situation, poor customer service, a product that falls apart, inconvenient store hours, a higher-than-average-price, etc.

In the end, you want to deliver good quality and good value, innovation, relevant differentiation, convenience, and accessibility with your brand. However, we must never forget that building brand equity is like building a close friendship. It requires a consistent relationship over time, trust, and an emotional connection.

The Blake Project Can Help: The Blake Project’s BrandInsistence Brand Equity Measurement System

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Brad VanAuken The Blake Project


  • David Carlson

    January 30, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for an interesting post. I still cannot understand why so many (in other ways) talented business executives still don’t understand that your brand is no more that the expectation in the mind of your (future) customers. And if we hold this as true, it is a mystery why being the best friend with your customers is on the top of every business agendas.

  • Michael Wagner

    February 1, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I really like this illustration.

    Brands we have come to know over time engender a kind of “brand empathy” were customer and clients are willing to forgive more and try to understand more.

    Now you got me thinking – great post. Thanks for enlarging the conversation.

    Keep creating,

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