Do you have a real brand?

In his inimitable style, Forum columnist John Bradley suggests a reality check for manufacturers (page 59), essentially: 'Do you have a real brand, or just a product with a name?'

In his inimitable style, Forum columnist John Bradley suggests a reality check for manufacturers (page 59), essentially: ‘Do you have a real brand, or just a product with a name?’

Given that his criteria includes ‘worth switching stores for’ there’s likely more in the product-with-name camp than most would care to admit. His shortlist of real brands includes Häagen Dazs and Tropicana – I’d add Tide, Kraft peanut butter, Campbell’s soup and Tostitos to that list – and it got me pondering, what makes a brand worth holding out for these days?

Brand preferences spring from some unfathomable combination of perceived betterness and entrenched beliefs, but certainly visibility, support and innovation get them and keep them on the list. ‘Taste above all,’ while an inspired tagline, doesn’t cut it anymore – it’s not enough to rest one’s brand laurels on superior product alone. In the quest for the holy grail of loyalty, brand managers are definitely trying harder, and on more fronts than their predecessors.

A lot of these efforts focus around being more entertaining. There seem to be a lot of brands that want to be a videogame or a TV show – and for some that works (Burger King, Axe). But it’s tricky; does ‘content creation’ make you want to buy a car, or a coffeemaker? There are also a slew of brands asking consumers to provide the entertainment themselves – submit your photos, stories, jokes, songs, ads even – and I suspect that the effect, if any, is short-term for many. Aren’t consumers supposed to be time-starved? The primary shopper – the working mom – certainly is. So to help explore the secrets of real brands, here’s a few that working moms of my acquaintance are loyal to and why.

Shoppers Drug Mart. Most recently it’s all about the Optimum rewards program. There already was an enviable amount of loyalty just with house brands and the magazine, but now it’s daft to frequent any other retailer when gas coupons and movie passes are to be had. I even bought a video iPod there. And I’m not alone in this behaviour: Canada is miles ahead of the U.S. (51%) in terms of retail loyalty program participation.

Dove. It’s become cliché, but in any category where there’s a Dove product on offer – from soap to deodorant – it’s now my default. Since most of the line is relatively new, it’s meant a switch in many cases. I also hear this from other women, and the sales figures prove it. We reward Real Beauty and the self-esteem messaging.

To summarize: beyond quality, add useful, relevant and interesting to the checklist. Real benefits, real relationships. That’s what real brands are made of. If that includes UGC, so be it.

This issue we’ve put the spotlight on marketers who lead efforts that build true brands. Canada’s top marketers, as nominated by the industry and voted on by our brand management-side readers, include:

Unilever’s Geoff Craig – the high scorer – who ebulliently leads the teams that continue to bring you smart, breakthrough work such as Dove, Axe and Hellman’s.

Ron Bertram of Nintendo, for giving the ever-hot Wii even more heat via programs that reach the whole family, and forged a unique (and more senior) brain health position for DS.

Mario D’Amico, who spearheads global branding for Cirque du Soleil. He juggles foreign market penetration with U.S. growth and new business ventures, and makes it all look easy.

Nancy Cardinal, who is improving on the already impressive LCBO marketing program, adding and reinforcing consumer touchpoints and delving into an educational strategy.

And SDM’s Michele Slepekis, who’s been busily adding incentive partners to Optimum, expanding and upscaling the beauty side, and introducing more to love – like the Boots line.

No individual effort makes it all happen, but this issue identifies the people who have led the savviest, most successful marketing programs and/or the teams behind them. Just because we’re Canadian, there’s no reason not to recognize great leadership. cheers,mm

Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy and Media in Canada