The value of distinctive, memorable, and famous brands has been proven repeatedly.
Before the 2008 recession, the rapidly growing S&P 500 market capitalization was driven by intangible assets like Brand Value, 5X more than in 1975. 90% of the S&P 500’s market cap now comes from intangible assets, up from 17% in 1975. Brand Value has been calculated to make up 20% of a company’s market cap, though this is far higher for some brands. What’s driven this change?
A strong brand is the ultimate competitive advantage. Data from Kantar examining a 13-year period found that while the S&P 500 grew at an impressive 128% rate from 2006 to 2019, the BrandZ Top 10 Powerful Brands – characterized by qualities that will be discussed shortly – dramatically outpaced them, with a 317% growth rate.
Strong brands are resilient and better equipped to weather the disruption of a changing world. Kantar’s 2020 analysis found that top-rated brands had experienced 5.9% growth despite the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong brands - defined by the meaningfulness of the brand, its uniqueness, and salience (spontaneous awareness) - recovered nine times faster than the S&P 500 standard following the 2008 economic crisis.
Regardless of how the industry chooses to define a “strong brand,” one thing is clear: brand consistency plays a deterministic role in how brands grow.
Brand consistency refers to the consistent application of a brand identity, which includes – among other things – Distinctive Brand Assets (DBAs), brand values, and tone of voice. It’s different from other forms of consistency, such as campaign consistency, which speaks to the more granular applications of creative and messaging devices that link one campaign to the next.
Brand consistency applies to any sensory device that cues a brand association. In advertising, marketers usually focus on visual and audio assets, particularly in the form of Distinctive Brand Assets. Before discussing why brand consistency or Distinctive Brand Assets are important, it is worth mentioning why brands should “brand” at all. Professor Jenni Romaniuk, author of Building Distinctive Brand Assets and How Brands Grow 2 (both essential reading material), writes,
“There are three primary reasons for branding. First, to stamp ownership – so the category buyer knows the originating brand of the advertisement, post, etc. Second, to anchor a message – so the category buyer knows where to put the message in their memory and the link between the message and the brand is freshened. And third, to act as a bridge between stimuli – so the category buyer links together this advertisement, post, etc. with other stimuli from that same brand, whether in a multi-platform campaign or over time. These roles are not exclusive or competitive: the best branding does all three at the same time.”
Brand consistency reinforces brand ownership, brand messaging, and brand linkage, a trifecta that helps drive salience and preference in buying situations. Increasing brand consistency helps deliver branded communication that can better capture attention and cut through the clutter – environmental distractions like mental clutter (e.g., ), media clutter (e.g., ), shopping clutter (e.g., ), etc. Distinctive Brand Assets are a powerful tool for increasing brand consistency in the marketers' toolbox.
Distinctive Brand Assets (DBAs) are sensory devices that come in various shapes, sizes, and sounds that help brands brand their communication when not using their logo (or to increase branding by combining with their logo). Some of the world’s leading advertisers are now tracking and measuring their brands’ Distinctive Brand Assets at scale and in real-time. These brand cues include, but are not limited to:
Distinctive Brand Assets should not be confused with other creative elements like creative devices and messaging devices. Creative devices are creative elements that capture attention (like sound), increase positive feelings (like humor), and drive action (like CTAs) to achieve a particular objective. Messaging devices are creative elements that link the ad to the category. For example, melting chocolate would help consumers associate an ad with the chocolate category instead of a particular brand.
DBAs, however, can act as multiple creative devices. For example, the Geico gecko can help capture attention as it is fluent (or recognizable) or drive positive feelings as it is familiar. Ads that feature these creative elements but not DBAs will lift the entire category, favoring the most salient brand in the category.
Kantar found that strong brand cues increase brand saliency by 52%, while also sharing that ‘Neuro’ indicators such as instinctive perceptions, emotional connection, and brand imprint drive brand equity 55% higher than brands with low ‘Neuro’ indicators. Brands are more likely to have gained new customers, increased market share, boosted profits, and reduced consumer price sensitivity when consistently using fluent devices.
But they are also massively underused.
Research from Ipsos reveals that, aside from logo and color, less than 50% of ads use a Distinctive Brand Asset. Moreover, their analysis shows that two of the most effective forms of brand assets are also the least used. Characters (or fluent devices) are 6x more present in high-performing ads but feature in 14% of communications. Despite being 8.5x more present in high-performing ads, sonic devices feature in just 6% of brand communications.
Arguably the most important marketing book ever written is How Brands Grow. In it, Professor Byron Sharp sets out empirical rules for brand growth. These include, but are not limited to: reach all category buyers, get brands noticed, refresh and build memory structures through DBAs and Category Entry Points (CEPs), and be consistent. Myth-busting what does and doesn’t deliver brand growth Professor Sharp writes, “The key marketing task is to make a brand always easy to buy for every buyer; this requires building mental and physical availability. Everything else is secondary.” He continues, “Building mental availability requires reach, distinctiveness (clear branding), and consistency.”
Brand consistency isn’t just effective, a missed opportunity, or a scientifically-proven driver of brand growth. It’s an essential component of not wasting a media budget. Professor Romaniuk writes,
“Remember that you pay for every exposure, whether the brand was processed or not. Every brand-deficit exposure is a revenue-deficit exposure – that still costs you money to generate. The financially savvy of you will recognise that engaging in activities that cost you money but do not generate revenue is a good way to go broke.”
Most advertising fails because it fails to brand. One of the best ways to waste a media budget is to ensure ads are poorly branded and inconsistent. But branding, especially at scale, is challenging. As Professor Romaniuk writes, “just putting the brand on something does not guarantee it will be noticed.” Marketers that maximize their DBAs give their audiences more signals to recognize who is advertising.
Most marketers responsible for their brands are missing out on essential levers of effectiveness - rooted in empirical laws of consumer purchasing behavior.
This is a multi-part, weekly series exploring — through data — the ways marketers can deliver brand consistency and some of the common pitfalls to watch out for.
Part one spotlights data on the value of brand consistency, part two explores the science of brand consistency, part three explores the value of Distinctive Brand Assets, part four unpacks how to develop brand consistency, part five highlights why brands are adopting Creative Quality, part six looks at brand alignment, part seven breaks down the importance of scale, part eight reveals how brands are managing scaling challenges, part nine looks at how brands are scaling their marketing efforts.
The next article in this brand consistency series explores the Science of Brand Consistency. Read to learn more about why brand consistency is vital for building famous brands.