How to build an
iconic brand By DOUGLAS HOLT
Brand nirvana is to build an icon – to create a brand like Coke, Harley or Nike that generates huge market value over long periods because it serves as a container for cultural ideals. But the path most companies follow in the pursuit of the iconic grail is a dead end. Marketers misunderstand how icons work, because, for over three decades, they have been taught to think in terms of what the author calls the ‘mind-share’ model.
Mind-share principles are irrelevant in the building of icons. Instead, as Snapple shows, marketers wanting to build icons must think in terms of ‘culture share’
Market Leader Summer 2003
HE ‘MIND-SHARE’ branding model took off in the US in the 1970s. In a series of articles in Advertising Age – later expanded into the best-selling book
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind – Al Ries and Jack Trout put forward a simple argument: for a brand to succeed in a society in which the volume of mass communication far exceeded what consumers could digest, it must own a simple, focused position in the prospect’s mind.
This position should be based upon what was important in the product category, usually a valued benefit or aspirational identity.
This provocative image – of brands contesting for scarce mental real estate, staking out adjectives in the customer’s mind – has been the foundation for the most influential writings on branding ever since.
Douglas Holt is a professor at the Harvard Business School.
Management books on branding today seem to push the subject into new (and often new-age) territory, flaunting terms like brand essence, brand soul, DNA and brand identity. But they too are rooted in the taken-for-granted principles of mind share.
While the new breed of brand guru emphasises the softer, emotional, more personable side of the brand, the idea is the same.
Marketers are told to act as stewards of the brand’s timeless abstracted identity: learn the transcendental truth of the brand, and then stay true to the course, consistently communicating these associations in everything the brand does.
Stripped of the new-age rhetoric, these ideas are no different than the positioning statements that have filled marketing textbooks for decades. The essence of the brand is the strength of associations between the product and its benefits, personality and user imagery. Some variation of the ubiquitous onion model, in which ‘hard’ product attributes at the core of the brand are attached to valued category associations and feelings, is today found in virtually every brand strategy document used at the world’s largest consumer marketing companies and advertising agencies. The problem with the mind-share model is that it’s a one-size-fits-all solution.
Branding experts throw all brands together and call what their managers need to do
However, the catch-all term ‘branding’ hides considerable diversity in how customer value is created, and therefore how brands should be managed for success. For lowinvolvement, functional brands such as
Colgate or Gillette, mind share works reasonably well. But for brands in ‘lifestyle’ or
‘identity’ categories – such as food, clothing, beauty products, soft drinks, alcohol and autos – mind-share thinking is irrelevant at best. These brands compete for ‘culture share’.
They vie with other popular culture products – films, books, music, television, sports, video games – to create stories that people will identify with and use in their everyday lives. To understand iconic brands, we must leave the consumer’s mind and enter the
world of culture and society, for this is the realm in which iconic brands create value.
The myth economy
Consumers place such high value on iconic brands because they play a crucial role in society. Iconic brands use their products and consumption occasions as a platform to perform a special kind of story – a myth. These myths are