Greed is good

“[Brand de­sire]… is the pas­sion­ate feel­ing for ac­qui­si­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence of a prod­uct or ser­vice which is driven by a set of con­nected fac­tors that are in­trin­sic and also ex­trin­sic.” Nicholas Ind, co-au­thor of Brand De­sire: How to Cre­ate Con­sumer In­volve


Which brand do you de­sire most? It is a ques­tion that we have asked peo­ple time and again. There are some sug­ges­tions that come up fairly con­sis­tently, such as Ap­ple, sports brands such as Adi­das and Nike, car brands such as Audi and Porsche, and fash­ion brands such as Prada and Levi’s, and also some unique ones—for ex­am­ple, one per­son told us about his ex­pe­ri­ence of a patis­serie in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal. What are as in­ter­est­ing as the choices though are the ex­pla­na­tions—link­ages back to fam­ily and child­hood, the sen­su­al­ity of ex­pe­ri­ence, and the way that brand re­flects who you are and who you would like to be­come. Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, the lan­guage peo­ple use is of­ten emo­tional. For some, there is a sense of as­pi­ra­tion but lit­tle fan­tasy for the unattain­able. This re­search led us to won­der whether de­sire for a brand (not a ‘need’ or a ‘want’ as is of­ten used in mar­ket­ing, nor ‘love’ which is more en­dur­ing) was im­por­tant and could it be nur­tured and man­aged by brand own­ers?

To val­i­date our ideas about brand de­sire, we drew on an at­ti­tu­di­nal study of some 8,000 con­sumers that has been re­peated reg­u­larly since 2010. This work demon­strates that the value of a brand is built on two pil­lars: brand pres­sure which is con­cerned with aware­ness of a brand and its avail­abil­ity; and brand de­sire which is con­cerned with per­for­mance, per­son­al­ity, and emo­tional con­nec­tiv­ity. Not all brands score high on these mea­sures—some are good at pres­sure but weak in terms of de­sire and some are niche play­ers (through strate­gic choice or lack of re­sources) that are strong on de­sire but weak on pres­sure. Lead­ing brands though (what we call ‘de­sire lead­ers’) ex­cel at both pres­sure and de­sire.

An in­ter­est­ing il­lus­tra­tion of a de­sire leader is Coca-Cola. It might seem an ob­vi­ous choice, but what Coca-Cola ob­served was while it is strong on brand pres­sure, there is a con­stant need to boost brand de­sire. To re­tain its po­si­tion as a de­sire leader, the brand has been work­ing to bet­ter align the de­sign of its sub-brands such as Coke Zero and Diet Coke with the core brand and has in­tro­duced a new, more emo­tional cam­paign around the theme of ‘taste the feel­ing’. Sim­i­larly, fash­ion re­tail brand Zara is strong on brand pres­sure, due to its ex­ten­sive net­work of stores and a busi­ness model that fo­cuses on cost lead­er­ship and at­trac­tive prices. Yet, Zara has also in­vested in gen­er­at­ing brand de­sire. Its clothes draw on the same in­spi­ra­tions as lux­ury brands, its stores are lo­cated in prime re­tail lo­ca­tions in ma­jor cities, and the in­te­ri­ors are de­signed to con­vey a sense of ex­clu­siv­ity.

how to build a de­sir­able brand

De­sire lead­ers such as Zara and Coca-Cola have con­scious strate­gies to build brand de­sire. They rec­og­nize that con­sumers like both the cer­tainty of the fa­mil­iar and the sur­prise of the new, and ac­cord­ingly they use the frame­work of their brands to pro­vide con­ti­nu­ity while at the same time de­liv­er­ing en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. This re­quires in­sights into con­sumer be­liefs and be­hav­ior, but it also re­quires a struc­tured ap­proach to cre­ate and then main­tain de­sire. By an­a­lyz­ing the way de­sir­able brands do this, we de­vel­oped a model com­pa­nies can use to make their brands de­sire lead­ers.

At the core of de­sir­able brands are prin­ci­ples that are deeper than pur­pose and values, and rep­re­sent the en­dur­ing ideas that guide the or­ga­ni­za­tion over time— of­ten against the grain. Prin­ci­ples are not static, but nei­ther do they flip-flop at the whim of man­agers; are en­dur­ing ideas that come from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sense of be­ing; are im­por­tant for the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­cause they pro­vide di­rec­tion and also mat­ter for con­sumers. Prin­ci­ples help gen­er­ate both clar­ity as to what a brand stands for and a sense of au­then­tic­ity that makes it de­sir­able.

At the core of de­sir­able brands are prin­ci­ples that are deeper than pur­pose and values, and rep­re­sent the en­dur­ing ideas that guide the or­ga­ni­za­tion over time.

The re­nais­sance of Dan­ish toy com­pany LEGO is an apt il­lus­tra­tion of this. Twenty years ago, to com­bat the emer­gence of on­line games, LEGO moved away from its core prod­uct of plas­tic bricks and the idea of a sys­tem of play, to em­brace a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent forms of toys and ex­pe­ri­ences. With some ex­cep­tions, most of these in­no­va­tions were in­ef­fec­tive and in 2004, the com­pany posted its third an­nual loss in five years. En­ter a new CEO—Jør­gen Vig Knud­storp—and the re­newal of its tra­di­tional prin­ci­ples based around the brick. Pe­riph­eral prod­ucts were sold off and joint ven­tured, and the com­pany be­came more fo­cused. When LEGO was aim­ing for scale, it was un­suc­cess­ful but when it con­cen­trated on be­ing true to its prin­ci­ples and pro­vid­ing its mostly young con­sumers with an en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence through rel­e­vant brand-aligned in­no­va­tion, it in­ad­ver­tently be­came big. In 2014, LEGO emerged as the largest toy com­pany in the world, with mar­gins of over 30%.

The other driv­ers of brand de­sire all feed from prin­ci­ples. Most of the brands we fea­ture (ex­cept the re­ally high-end lux­ury ones, whose ap­peal lies in their rar­ity) aim to be ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple and some even go fur­ther and en­cour­age the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of con­sumers and other au­di­ences. This makes peo­ple feel closer to the brand and helps en­sure it re­mains rel­e­vant and ap­peal­ing. How­ever, for par­tic­i­pa­tion to work, com­pa­nies need cul­tures that are built on trust and en­cour­age em­ployee par­tic­i­pa­tion. Lead­ers need to en­sure that em­ploy­ees un­der­stand the prin­ci­ples of the or­ga­ni­za­tion but then set them free to de­liver com­pelling and au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences. For ex­am­ple, ho­tel chain Ritz Carl­ton has a com­pelling brand story that it sum­ma­rizes in what it calls its Gold Stan­dards. These stan­dards are vis­i­ble in ev­ery one of its ho­tels. How­ever, what re­ally sets Ritz Carl­ton apart is that em­ploy­ees are com­mit­ted to the stan­dards and re­al­ize them in ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion they have with cus­tomers.

A brand that has used the driv­ers to be­come highly de­sir­able is Ne­spresso. Since its launch in 2000, it has had a fo­cused po­si­tion­ing as a lux­ury brand. This idea of cof­fee as lux­ury is not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous but drink­ing good cof­fee can feel like an indulgence. In­ter­nally, Ne­spresso de­scribed the brand as the Louis Vuit­ton of cof­fee—an am­bi­tious idea, but one that gave them a clear di­rec­tion. The idea helped them decide how to man­age the brand ex­pe­ri­ence through its dif­fer­ent touch­points, to bor­row the codes and lan­guage of lux­ury brands (for ex­am­ple, call­ing their lim­ited edi­tion va­ri­eties Grand Crus) and to pay at­ten­tion to the small de­tails of de­sign. It also meant that like lux­ury brands, Ne­spresso would have to think be­yond sim­ply sell­ing the cap­sules and the ma­chines (which were ex­pen­sive) to rit­u­al­iz­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence by cre­at­ing a sen­sual, bou­tique-style en­vi­ron­ment.

At Ne­spresso, there is con­stant in­no­va­tion in terms of prod­uct and de­liv­ery but it oc­curs within the frame­work of the brand. It also brings its cus­tomers into the fold by invit­ing them to join the Ne­spresso Club—in­deed it was the club that rec­om­mended ac­tor George Clooney as the face and voice of the brand. The brand has clear, fixed prin­ci­ples, but it also in­no­vates con­tin­u­ously; it en­cour­ages par­tic­i­pa­tion, but it also has a clear idea of what it wants to achieve; it cre­ates a lux­u­ri­ous brand ex­pe­ri­ence, but it also makes the brand open and ac­ces­si­ble to all. Some­times, brands seem to strug­gle to bal­ance these com­pet­ing needs, but Ne­spresso shows that when they are well man­aged they can cre­ate and sus­tain brand de­sire. ■

At Ne­spresso, there is con­stant in­no­va­tion in terms of prod­uct and de­liv­ery but it oc­curs within the frame­work of the brand.

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