September 06, 2017

  by Nigel Hollis

A while back the MSI series ‘5 Things I Know About Marketing’ featured Scott McDonald, President and CEO of The Advertising Research Foundation. One of his five things was that brand equity is hard to build and hard to shift – except in a negative direction. But is that always true?

Here is what Scott had to say in a bit more detail,

“Brand equity is a deep repository of consumer thoughts and feelings, built up in very slow accretions. This is a laborious process, accomplished through communication and advertising and, most importantly, by delivering on your product promise.”

The last point is a fundamental truth that often seems ignored by many marketers. The product experience will always speak louder than advertising. Remember what David Ogilvy had to say?

“Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”

Even if you have a good product, great marketing simply amplifies what the brand stands for and helps shape how it is experienced. If the experience is not what is expected, or simply bad, then the slow interaction between what the brand says about itself and how it is experienced is undermined.

But what of Scott’s assertion that brand equity is asymmetrical – slow to build, easy to lose? Scott further states that the asymmetry is exacerbated by social media. It feels like these assertions are true but only a few brands seem to suffer the sort of swift decline suggested. I looked at data on over 5,500 brands measured across a five year time frame in BrandZ and only a fraction of brands declined in a big way. Biggest loser? Nokia. To Scott’s point, the brand was built over time by experience and communication but got sidelined when a new product redefined the category and Nokia failed to keep adapting.

If a strong brand is built on a strong business then that business has to screw up pretty badly for many people to change their minds about it. One of Scott’s other points is that people, at best, pay partial attention to brands. He is right. The sad truth is that people do not care that much about most brands and only think about them when something goes wrong. But that something has to be personal. Something that affects the individual in a way they care about. Then they will complain about their poor experience but until others feel the pain as well the damage will likely be limited.

I believe strong brands built on a great experience are more resilient than Scott suggests but what do you think? Can you suggest brands that really did screw up and went into decline? Please share your thoughts.


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