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Published: November 27, 2012
 / Winter 2012 / Issue 69

 
 

Best Business Books 2012: Marketing

Stengel attributes this huge performance differential to ideals — “nothing unites and motivates people’s actions as strongly as ideals,” he writes. He says a brand ideal defines what a brand is and is not, and illuminates its strengths and weaknesses, as well as current and potential points of parity and differentiation. (One of the best lines in the book is a quote from Discovery Channel general manager Clark Bunting, “Great brands say no.”) A brand ideal creates enduring connections, uniting and inspiring everyone a business touches. It enables a leader to articulate and focus on what is most important in a company. It attracts people who are most suited, energized, and committed to delivering what matters most to customers and transforms an enterprise into a “customer-understanding machine.” And it stimulates innovation, in a never-ending quest to better serve the ideal.

How do you develop a brand ideal? Stengel says that first you must discover how your brand is linked to “one of five fields of fundamental human values” (joy, connection to others and the world, the desire to explore new horizons, pride, and social responsibility), and then activate those links in a distinctive, authentic, and purposeful manner. This process of discovery results in an ideal statement, which the author articulates for each of the Stengel 50 brands. Some examples: “Amazon.com exists to enable freedom of choice, exploration, and discovery.” “Dove exists to celebrate every woman’s unique beauty.” “Google exists to immediately satisfy every curiosity.” “Louis Vuitton exists to luxuriously accentuate the journey of life.”

The final question — how do you make the brand ideal the center of the company? — is addressed throughout the book. Stengel breaks his answer into four broadly stated “must-do” tasks: build a culture around the ideal, communicate the ideal to engage employees and customers, deliver a “near-ideal” customer experience, and evaluate your progress and people against the ideal. These four tasks are highlighted with in-depth case studies of various brands, including Discovery Communications, Pampers, and Zappos, as well as with a plethora of shorter examples.

Grow is the year’s best business book on marketing because it leaves us with a better understanding of a brand as the embodiment of a company and its people. It inspires by helping us imagine the great things that could happen if we united our efforts in service of a distinctive higher-order brand ideal aimed at bettering the lives of our customers.

Brand Aid

If you think of a brand ideal as a promise, Brand Real: How Smart Companies Live Their Brand Promise and Inspire Fierce Customer Loyalty is a terrific companion volume to Grow. It is a pragmatic and comprehensive guide on how to deliver on a brand promise, which is, writes author Laurence Vincent, head of the Brand Studio at United Talent Agency, “a covenant with consumers” in the form of a commitment to deliver value. Communicating and fulfilling this commitment has always been difficult; today it is more of a challenge than ever — in part, Vincent says, because the millennial generation is populated with “highly skeptical, media savvy, and very vocal” consumers who place a particularly high premium on a brand’s authenticity and credibility.

Brand Real tells us in no uncertain terms how to make a brand promise stand up at every consumer touch point. To achieve this, the book covers the wide territory of brand marketing; focuses in on the key issues, such as brand architecture and communications strategy; and provides practical advice for addressing those issues.

“Real brands” are those that fulfill, and often exceed, customer expectations. These brands, according to Vincent, make promises they intend to keep and make tough strategic decisions about what to offer and not offer customers, and they grow without straying from their sense of purpose. For example, he writes, “Southwest Airlines has prospered by not doing some things that other airlines do: no assigned seats, no first-class cabin, no meal service. These omissions…are fundamental service decisions that drive the business model and they contain memorable attributes that make the brand salient because they support the brand’s promise to deliver great value through low fares and friendly service.”

 
 
 
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