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What the most valuable brands in Cannes have in common

IBM, Intel and Coca-Cola.  Three brands that won Grand Prix and Special Awards at Cannes Lions last week, that also appear in all of the world’s most valuable brand rankings.  What can we learn from this juxtaposition of creativity and value?

Stay simple and stay the course.

You can associate all of these brands with one word that defines what they stand for.
Coke: Happiness.  IBM: Smarter.  Intel: Inside.

While all three expand on these notions when they articulate the core of what they stand for (Coke’s purpose is ‘to inspire moments of optimism and happiness’, IBM are ‘driven by the idea of building a smarter planet’, Intel invite us to ‘Look Inside’), they consistently, relentlessly, creatively, use the ideas and literal words of ‘happiness’, ‘smarter’ and ‘inside’ in their marketing efforts, as exemplified in IBM’s Grand Prix-winning ‘Ads with a purpose’.

(Even their advertising is smarter, and asks for smarter ideas to help to build smarter cities).

What they also do is stay the course.  They have built brands from these simple core ideas for years.  IBM established the Smarter Planet initiative in 2008.  Coke have talked about happiness for decades, and explicitly unveiled their ‘Open Happiness’ global campaign in 2009.  The ‘Intel Inside’ cooperative marketing program (and associated branding) launched in 1991.  Their multiple Grand Prix Cannes Lions wins for ‘The Beauty Inside’ last week celebrated the ideal that – with humans and computers alike – it’s what’s inside that counts.

Although Intel wavered in 2009 (they rebranded around the idea of Sponsors of Tomorrow (which was geared to last for three to five years and serve as an overarching theme for all of the company’s branding efforts)), they (re)launched a new brand ‘theme’ of ‘Look Inside’ this year.  As Deborah Conrad, vice president and chief marketing officer at Intel stated,“ ‘Sponsors of tomorrow’ didn’t leverage our heritage as much as ‘Look inside’ does. ‘Look inside’ is a call to action, and ‘Intel inside’ says, ‘Hey, here I am.’ ”.

Whilst it’s very difficult to ‘own’ a simple idea, there’s money (and possible glory) in trying to do so.  A spate of one word rebrands in 2012 suggests that other brands aspire to a similar goal.  Pepsi: Now; Jaguar: Alive; BMW: Joy: Mahindra Group: Rise; Commbank: Can…It will be interesting to see whether they can stay the course, and climb the value rankings.

Where do marketing leaders get their inspiration?

Two weeks ago, Millward Brown released their updated list of the Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands.  In the 8 year period since the study launched, the BrandZ™ Top 100 Strong Brands Portfolio has appreciated 58 percent, compared with a market value gain of only 23 percent by the S&P 500.

These leading brands outperformed the stock market benchmark by a wide margin of 35%.

But what does it take to lead in the market?  Where do leaders look for inspiration and benchmarking?

Laterally, of course.  Leading brands don’t look at direct competitors to understand how to win in their market: you can’t break away from a category by looking within it.   Instead, they look outside their market to brands that are outperforming in other categories.

But don’t take my word for it.  As my blog title suggests, I obviously think this way.  Consider instead the behaviour of Sue Shim, CMO of Samsung:

When asked about companies that Samsung wants to benchmark … the CMO admitted she is spending more time studying best practices at Western companies. “In terms of brand strategies, Samsung should learn from many cases; and so I am studying some brands that saw a large and effective rise in value.’’

Or Sandrine Huijgen, Heineken’s global communication manager:

At no point does she mention competitors, instead regarding the likes of Nike, Apple, Old Spice, BMW and Chanel as Heineken’s bedfellows. “These all have, for very different reasons, a very strong consumer-brand relationship. We want consumers to love Heineken, but we’re not there, yet.”

Or Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.’s global marketing chief:

[Ford] closely studied global brand campaigns used by companies such as McDonalds and Nike to see how they work.

Or AT&T’s, Paul Roth, president of retail sales and service:

 “Our starting point wasn’t, who is the best retailer?” Roth says, “but who has the best customer service?” Roth and his team spent time with Harley Davidson, Ritz Carlton, Starbucks and Nordstrom to see what they could learn. “Our business has nothing to do with coffee or motorcycles. We were trying to understand how to build that type of customer loyalty.”

Or Karen Quintos, CMO of Dell, talking about Interbrand’s top 100.

We use Best Global Brands as a benchmark and look to others on the list as a source of inspiration and creativity. They motivate us to continually improve.

Or Deborah S. Conrad, corporate vice president and CMO for Intel:

I’ve been learning a lot from the automotive industry, from companies like Toyota and BMW, and that’s because I see a lot of parallels between cars and computers. I see that a computer is becoming an emotional and style decision. It’s not just about performance anymore…. I look also at consumer electronics, at companies such as Sony, Samsung and LG. Only a few years ago those companies were making products that weren’t all that exciting. The TV, until recently, was lackluster. But now it’s exotic, and it’s generating excitement. With both cars and TVs, companies struggle to keep the details simple and understandable yet exciting.

But looking laterally isn’t just about understanding how to execute.  It needs to start much earlier  –  with an understanding of who else is in your ideaspace and how to effectively compete against them, as Coke do.

Which brands are your lateral benchmarks?

If you’re struggling, a look at the world’s top 33 brands might be a good starting point.