A point of view from Bill Faust, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer

March 10, 2013  

Point of View Title

Strong brands should balance insights with intuition.

Changing expectations

Over the past few decades, the concept of choice has changed radically. Selection is no longer something that feels luxurious; instead, we all encounter a glut of options from morning to night. As a result, consumers are inundated with commercial messages and exhausted by pitches for their time and attention.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped buying. Instead, they’ve become savvier, more discriminating consumers. Increasingly, people choose brands that they sense are genuine. They assess both value and values, looking for entities that they can trust. And by transforming customers’ access to information and opinions, social media have also upped the ante.

More than ever, strong brands today must:

  1. Be different.
    Consumers invest in brands that are distinct and offer something unique. Apple has built its successful empire on this premise.

  2. Be relevant.
    Meet consumers where they are. Answer the perpetual question,“Why should we care about your company today?” Netflix’s recent success with original programming reinforces its relevance as an entertainment option.

  3. Be sustainable.
    This comes by offering value that endures over time — even if the message changes. While Burberry has evolved its brand to stay relevant, it has never wavered from its core: fashion and quality.


Marketers who can’t meet these demands increasingly find themselves talking at their customers instead of talking with them—through disconnected campaigns and experiences that people might like, but that don’t connect to the brand.

Balancing insight with intuition

In today’s environment, how can you be both authentic and heard above the noise? Surprisingly, the answer may be to stop listening to your customers.

Consumers have had a strong hand in shaping brands for decades. Sure, it was in focus groups instead of on Facebook, via traditional research and not Twitter, but one way or another, customers have been weighing in for a long time.

And there’s where the danger lies. If the latest research says consumers want a brand that’s simple, then your next campaign is about simplicity (even if what you’re best at is being perceptive). Or if the market wants innovation, then your new website focuses on high tech (even if your strong suit is high touch). These reactionary campaigns cause companies to stumble, especially in new media. With no simple, compelling truths to work from, even the best creative teams end up trying to build buzz instead of building connections.

It’s easy to construct the story you think the market wants to hear. Telling the story that’s true? That’s taking the hard road—the road that leads to the greater reward. And that requires knowing who your organization is at its core. And that, in turn, requires some intuition on your part.

Don’t misunderstand: we’re not suggesting you ignore research, data, and analytics, and all the insights they reveal. We’re talking about a balanced view, from the inside and the outside. So delve deep into your organization’s history, philosophy, and vision. Talk to associates on the front lines about what clients and customers value about the brand. Identify the things that make your organization what it is.

In most cases, the story is already there; you just have to uncover it. Then invest in communicating it memorably and meaningfully, and use it to guide everything you do.