Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies
(Crown Business, 2011)
Brand Real: How Smart Companies Live Their Brand Promise and Inspire Fierce Customer Loyalty
The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge
(Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)
There is always a lot of noise around marketing. And marketers listen to it religiously in their search for the new, new thing and the edge it can confer, especially in highly competitive sectors such as consumer packaged goods. But sometimes the noise can drown out core messages about the essence and essentials of a successful product, service, or brand, and obscure our view of its future direction. This year’s best business books on marketing — all from veteran practitioners — rise above the twittering crowd by delivering the kinds of insights that make for compelling listening.
An Ideal Brand
Jim Stengel, whose name is as widely recognized among contemporary marketers as the names of the Procter & Gamble brands he helped build — Pampers and Jif, among others — is a retired executive who is not content to rest on his laurels. His first book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, which took root from ideas seeded during his career, is an ambitious, groundbreaking effort to define the future of brand management, supported by a study of tens of thousands of brands put forth by companies around the world.
In Grow, Stengel examines the extraordinary power and performance that can be harnessed when a brand’s purpose is defined by a distinctive, fitting “ideal.” A brand ideal is focused on improving the lives of customers, and is managed by a company that passionately identifies with the beliefs and values underlying it. Stengel claims that defining and activating a distinctive brand ideal is the most powerful lever a business leader can use to achieve competitive advantage.
Although business scholars may challenge his claim in degree, they are unlikely to challenge it in concept. After all, Peter Drucker pegged marketing as one of only two results-producing functions in a business (the other was innovation). And the importance of aligning organizational design, culture, and capabilities to the company’s vision and strategy is well known, as is the potential of a company pursuing an inspirational ideal to unleash exceptional power and commitment in its employees. Until Grow, however, little had been done to put a value on a brand ideal, and limited practical guidance had been offered on how to identify one and make it central to the company as a driver of focus, growth, and competitive advantage. Stengel addresses these questions directly.
The assumption that brands can make a sizable contribution to shareholder value is foundational to Stengel’s thesis. In fact, brand and business success are synonymous to him because “a brand is what a business is all about in the hearts and minds of the people most important to its future.” To support this thesis, the author cites Millward Brown Optimor’s body of work, which calculated that brand value now accounts for more than 30 percent of the aggregate market capitalization of companies in the S&P 500.
Further, Stengel (in partnership with Millward Brown) designed a new research study of brands, the “Stengel Study of Business Growth,” which analyzed 10 years of data from more than 50,000 brands. It found that the 50 companies whose brands were most strongly associated with improving people’s lives — the “Stengel 50” — generated a return on investment that outpaced the S&P 500 by nearly 400 percent.