From Brand Pyramids To Brand Building

Jeff RosenblumJanuary 5, 202255534 min

The traditional marketing process still works in categories like soap and toothpaste, where a small increase in market share can translate into millions of dollars in extra revenue. But exponential brands are outperforming those traditional brands by focusing on what they do, not what they say. They’re finding smarter ways to bypass the brain’s filters, embrace transparency, and live up to a higher purpose. Then they’re developing immersive, empowering content to bring that purpose to life.

To participate in this revolutionary approach, brands need to augment the brand pyramid with an approach that drives changes in brand behavior that are commensurate with changes in consumer behavior. Let’s call it a brand building instead of a brand pyramid. That building needs a strong foundation to keep the structure upright, solid pillars to create the frame, and an appealing exterior to attract attention.

The foundation of this building is built on empathy and empowerment. Empathy is about listening to your audience and understanding what they really want. It’s about using the unprecedented data at our fingertips to go beyond demographic research and identify the unmet emotional and functional needs of customers. Empathy turns insights into opportunities. Empathy enabled charity: water to understand the huge proportion of people who don’t trust charities. Great brands are empathetic. Great brands start with great listening.

Empowerment, on the other hand, is about turning that empathy into action. It’s about ensuring that a brand is rooted in improving people’s lives, one small step at a time. charity: water empowers millions of people by giving them proof that their donations aren’t being wasted and making it easy to amplify their impact through technology-fueled fundraisers. Empowerment requires a shift away from projecting an image to creating meaningful experiences that positively affect people’s lives. It’s about investing in being great, not simply saying you’re great.

Above the foundation are three key pillars: inspiration, aspiration, and education. Inspiration is at the core of every exponential brand we’ve discussed so far. They help us envision a better version of ourselves and empower us with tools to make it happen. Apple inspires us to be more creative. Nike inspires us to be more athletic. charity: water inspires us to be generous.

The difference between inspiration and aspiration is subtle but profound. Inspiration is about motivating someone to do more: to be more creative, more athletic, more charitable. Aspiration is about showing them the destination of that activity. Apple shows artists creating groundbreaking work. Nike shows us athletes flying through the air. charity: water uses beautiful photographs of water gushing out across the dry African plains. Aspiration helps us hope, dream, and visualize how we can be better tomorrow than we are today.

The third pillar, education, may be the least exciting but most important of all. Education turns inspiration and aspiration into reality, giving the audience practical tools and information to help them reach their goals. For Apple, it’s the Genius Bar in each retail store, teaching people how to get the most out of their products. For Nike, it’s apps and videos that help people become more fit or more skilled in their favorite sport. For charity: water, it’s online content that explains the hidden tragedy of dirty water and how to fix it. Education can be powerful at both a macro level by addressing issues that affect people in the totality of an industry and at a micro level by helping people understand the features and functions of a product. It can be as quick as an Instagram photo or as deep as a long-form video series. The key is to provide demonstrable value.

The exterior of the building is based in transparency and simplicity. As we’ve seen throughout this book, transparency is now inevitable—the only question is whether a brand hides from it or embraces it. Consumers today see right through any attempt at obfuscation, duplicity, or superficial messaging. Brands must find the nexus of what they stand for and what their audiences really care about. Nike succeeded by cleaning up its supply chain and helping its competitors do the same. charity: water succeeded by providing technology that enabled donors to see exactly where their dollars were going.

The other part of our new brand building’s exterior is simplicity. Even the most beloved brands and the most appealing products will suffer if there’s friction during the shopping process. If people can’t find the information they need—ratings, reviews, features, technical specs—or if they can’t easily complete a purchase without jumping through frustrating hoops, they will be lost. Maybe forever. Research shows that brands that don’t provide simple experiences lose over $80 billion in potential transactions. The competition is always one click away. Brand purpose may create interest and momentum, but friction can create an insurmountable barrier.

When you put it all together, our new brand building gives people both emotionally satisfying and intellectually appealing reasons to make the journey from prospect to customer, and then from customer to evangelist. The brand pyramid will always be a powerful tool for creating a brand identity, but the brand building is what drives exponential results.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jeff Rosenblum, excerpted from his book Exponential: Transform Your Brand By Empowering Instead of Interrupting, published by McGraw Hill

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