Brand leadership, like leadership in general, is highly conceptual, often debated and difficult to define unconditionally. How we define a brand leader is mediated by shifting personal and social values, culture, and technology. Furthermore, leadership brands are rarely established by one person or even a single organization. Leadership brands are the result of complex ecosystems that include the interrelationship of communications, distribution channels, customer service, research and development, suppliers, and many others.
For many years, innovation was enough to secure a brand leadership status. Today, new is the new normal. And as technology and technological improvements have become intrinsic to daily life, it's not surprising that being known for technological advancement, making bold choices, being imitated by competitors, or creating new product or service categories are not essential elements of brand leadership. Research indicates that technological advancement -- often reflected by the idea of “new and improved” -- is becoming a hygienic factor for all brands, regardless of the category. Brands are simply expected to keep up. So what is the basis for brand leadership today?
Evolution of leadership
After years of seeking inspiration and aspiration from leading brands, people are focused on the basics -- something that we can easily hypothesize is the outcome of a prolonged recession. Respondents specifically tell us that brand leadership first and foremost is characterized by product and service excellence offered at a fair price for quality. Attributes such as product durability/reliability, customer service, and value for quality are decidedly the most important. A good product is unequivocally the basis of a strong brand.
The data also indicates that brand leadership is also categorized by elements that are strongly associated with favorite brands and good corporate citizenship. Products and services that simplify daily tasks are integrated into daily routines and reflect the things that are important to us define both brand leaders and favorite brands -- and that product reliability, value for quality, treating employees fairly, and being associated with ethical business practices are among the top attributes that characterize both brand leadership and good citizenship.
With this knowledge, it should not be surprising that a large number of the top brands are also cited as favorites. People value productivity in brands as they do in life. Respondents tell us that favorite brands help them in their everyday life, that they can't imagine their life without them, and that they help them accomplish their goals. In the same way that Millennials have been telling us “the best friends are those that serve more than one purpose” since 2007, people now state that favorite brands easily transition with them across different tasks and address their changing needs throughout the day.
Favorite brands are like friends
People also tell us that like friends, favorite brands mirror their personal values: They are inspirational to me, make me a more responsible citizen, make me feel connected to the rest of the world, cross generations, and help me give back to society -- all characteristics of good citizenship. Clearly, to be a favorite, a brand should positively use its prominence and influence first to enhance the lives of individual users and then connect them with communities and society at large. More and more, leadership brands will be expected to advance society by evolving our lifestyles and setting new standards.
The blending of brand leadership with favorite brands and good citizenship clearly creates a new psychology for leadership -- one that must incorporate an effective dialogue with audiences about what a brand stands for and the behaviors and values it embraces. Importantly, today's brand leader must project an identity that simultaneously mirrors its stakeholders' identities and shapes them.
As people's relationships with favorite brands become more intimate, the brands they choose are extensions of themselves, and as such they seek qualities that align with their interests and values. More and more, people are choosing their brands the same way they choose their close friends -- through forming connections based upon shared beliefs and mutual benefit.