Brand attraction is subconscious. If you look at Starbucks versus Dunkin Donuts—if you had them side by side on a street corner—some people would go to Dunkin Donuts and some people would go to Starbucks because, for some reason, it just fits with them. It’s internal. It’s unconscious. They can’t even tell you why. They just gravitate to the thing that feels like them. Now, this is not to be confused with the product proposition. That’s all about, rationally, what does the functional product do? So, the running shoes need to run. The raincoat needs to repel rain. But, the brand is what creates preference for one thing over another when all other things are equal. And that’s the job of marketing, to create economic value in something above and beyond what the function of the product is.
Once we understand the motivators, we can then build a brand that is both differentiating, highly relevant and, resonant with the customer. If we look to the leading brands as models of success, we can find those that have woven themselves into our culture; Coca-Cola, Apple and McDonalds are great examples. These brands show us that you need to understand culture in order to figure out what you hook your brand to. People are fundamentally changing their behavior as our culture evolves in this new economic era.
In retail, what’s winning are the discount retailers, and interestingly, also the premium retailers. The middle is dying. That’s a very different behavior, that’s driven by economic instability and people making different choices, than we have seen in past eras. Now, if you ask somebody, “Why are you shopping at discount, and then going across the street to a premium retailer?” they can’t rationally tell you. But, what’s driving it is the new cultural beliefs around economics. So, the brands that are attracting customers, are those that are culturally relevant.