19 Feb 2018 13:12 IST

Is a successful brand a great one?

Great brands evoke loyalty from customers that goes beyond functionality, design or advertising

We live in an age of superlatives where the smallest of gestures can create a huge wave of excitement. Soon, even that is forgotten until, of course, it resurfaces on our newsfeed some time later. But by then it would have lost its significance.

What is this quality that makes something great? And what is greatness with respect to a brand?

I recently watched Darkest Hour, the movie about Sir Winston Churchill, starring Gary Oldman. The gripping film conveys the challenges faced by Britain in its darkest days of 1940 and the struggle that the infamous man went through which led to his well-known speech that mobilised the country to stand against Germany. Belittled by his own party, the heavy drinker and bully pursued what would have seemed an unwinnable war. Had there been a poll on brand preference and brand likeability, there is no chance Churchill would have scored well.

Any rational person would have settled for a peace agreement with the Nazis. This was certainly an option then. A price would have had to be paid but his parliamentary contemporaries seemed prepared to do it. And it would have guaranteed Britain’s safety while Hitler went on a rampage to occupy Europe. There is an impressive line by Churchill in the movie: “You cannot negotiate with a tiger when your head is already in its mouth”. Here, we begin to see him build up a convincing argument to turn down any offers of peace negotiation.

Greatness of brands

In retrospect, we can agree that Churchill was a great man. In the course of five years, the Allies beat an invincible enemy. Can brands be like that? Is Apple a great brand? Google? Amazon? Tesla? Or are these just successful brands? Is greatness just a title bestowed upon them? Is greatness relevant to a discussion on brands?

Let’s consider Volkswagen. The brand was dying two years ago, and businesses and critics gleefully wrote its eulogy in the wake of the emissions scandal. But great brands have the capacity to bounce back. Volkswagen’s recent rise to number one in terms of global sales is proof that it has truly recovered from its near-fatal downfall.

Consider Coca-Cola’s recovery after the failure of New Coke. Or Apple after Steve Jobs’ return. Great brands induce loyalty based on factors that are much deeper than the functionality, design, or advertising, although those are important factors.

When brands speak to us at a much deeper level, they become a part of us. So, when there is a slip-up, or a glaring error, we are likely to absolve the brand of blame. Great brands have the ability to draw such emotions from their loyalists. Even if they cover up their mistakes, or are sluggish to accept the responsibility for faults, we are willing to give them a second chance.

Inspiring greatness

If Churchill galvanised people then, he inspires us even now. He is a brand of immense depth, valour and intelligence, and his ability to use language to inspire and mobilise people was impressive.

Marketers must remember that a brand’s greatness lies in its ability to inspire greatness. A company will succeed if it invests in building such a brand.

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