Monday, September 30, 2013

Breakaway Brands #2: Truth

What are the keys to making a brand stand out? Better yet, how can brands not only stand out, but break away from all others in their category?

This is the second in a series of posts inspired by the thinking in Breakaway Brand, a book by marketing veterans Francis Kelly and Barry Silverstein.


What does this word mean to you?

Is it broad and bloated, with so much meaning that it reveals nothing? Or is it crystal clear and extremely simple?

The same kind of questions should be asked when thinking about a brand's truth.

What does it mean to people?

What does it stand for?

What would it fight for?

Is its truth broad, or simple?

The answer isn't as in the clouds as it may seem. A brand's truth is known to everyone who's loyal to it, from those who wear it as a badge to those who would use it and nothing else. It's what makes the brand special, worth paying for, and in some cases, worth rallying around.

Without a brand truth, there's nothing that will keep consumers loyal other than familiarity and the desire to stick with what works. The product or service has no meaning to them other than what it does and what it provides.

There's no relationship, there's no alignment of values. It's a transaction.

A strong truth, on the other hand, well defined and understood, and inherent in everything a brand is and does, can work wonders. Loyalists buy into it and adopt it as their own. Non-users envy it. Competitors try to copy it. It can even define the entire category that the brand is in.

And when well-protected, through consistent marketing and execution, a strong truth can help brands break away.

Three brands with truths that I admire:
Porter Airlines

Starbucks has a broadly defined truth that now goes beyond coffee. (The brand has even removed the word "coffee" from its logo.) It stands for premium — beans, upholstery, prices, real-estate. With that comes some semblance of cache — Starbucks is not the brand for the everyman. It also stands for an experience, a "Third Space" that you can go to between work and home. That experience includes music, lighting, food, the tables, everything. The combination of premium, cache, and experience will always set Starbucks apart, no matter how many competitors (Second Cup, Timothy's) copy it. It's a truth they invented and still stand for today.

BMW — the ultimate driving experience. This brand's truth is all about performance, but not performance in the way that Mercedes or Lexus might talk about it. There's something visceral, something mean, about a BMW's performance that sets it apart. You can feel it in the brand's appearance in the Bond films and in its "Bullet" internet short (see above). But you can also feel it on the road, during a test drive. The sound of the engine, the feel of the wheel, the way a BMW comes out of a corner and blazes down a straightaway, that's the truth behind the brand.

Porter, a challenger brand that pits itself against Toronto's other big airlines, Air Canada and Westjet. Because of that, Porter's truth is positioned against them as well. "Flying refined" promises a different flying experience than what customers are used to. Free beer and wine, free snacks, comfortable seating, and a spacious Wi-Fi ready lounge for everyone delivers on that promise and then some. But Porter's truth is also present in how it talks, how its employees behave, and what its customers expect.

What brands do you admire for their truths?

Breakaway Brands Series:
#1: Consistency
#2: Truth
#3: Innovation
#4: Leadership

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