A meaningful brand goes beyond customer need

by Nigel Hollis | October 17, 2018

Reading Joel Trethowan’s articleNeed, culture and experience – three sides to the brand relevance triangle’  reminded me of the lengthy discussions predating the launch of BrandDynamics. The old BrandDynamics pyramid is long gone, and maybe the word “relevance” should be as well.

BrandDynamics was the product of an extensive exploration of how brand attitudes related to success in the marketplace. After reviewing data from Kantar Millward Brown’s tracking studies, along with academic and industry articles, the team and I came up with a five-level pyramid to depict attitudes that were increasingly related to purchase, from the base of “presence” to the peak of “bonding”.


We argued over what each level ought to be called, for instance, was “relevance” the right word and where did it fit in the hierarchy? In the end we kept the word and relevance became the second level of the pyramid. However, it was more a measure of whether the brand was ‘not rejected’ for consideration than an active ‘yes, this is relevant to my needs’, and one of the reasons for this was called out by Trethowan in his point of view.

Relevance is inherently more complex than simply meeting people’s needs. A brand has to be relevant to people’s functional needs, but it also has to be relevant to more emotional needs. As Trethowan notes, cultural relevance is a huge part of why people choose some brands and reject others. We can argue over whether Nike was right to use Colin Kaepernick as a spokesperson and what it might do to the brand (and society for that matter), but there is no argument that the brand increased its salience as part of the cultural conversation in the USA.

I find it interesting that Trethowan includes customer experience as the third side of his triangle, since in the old BrandDynamics framework this would have been “performance”. We felt that there was a difference between expectations that a brand might be relevant to the belief that results from actual experience. However, there is no doubt that experience is the biggest determinant of whether someone is likely to buy a brand, either by checking it out before buying for the first time, or buying it again after owning or using it.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I much prefer the word “meaningful” to describe the three dimensions of Trethowan’s relevance triangle. In the much simplified, updated and improved version of BrandDynamics meaningful captures both functional and emotional relevance and is heavily influenced by customer experience. We find that the combination is the foundation on which a strong brand is built. Meaning alone will not guarantee a purchase, a brand still needs to be salient in relation to specific needs and occasions and different enough to justify people paying the price asked, but it is critical nonetheless.

So while I do not have an argument with Trethowan’s premise that relevance needs to be a whole-of-business pursuit, I cannot help wondering if “meaningful” might be more relevant. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Valerie Navarro, November 01, 2018
    I think illustrations would greatly enhance the substance of your article. 
  2. MV, October 18, 2018

    its would be very important for brands to connect on what they stand & their ability to convey the story , apart from being meaningful

    all points on Need , Culture , Experience , bonding , functional quite relevant


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