The Five S’s of branding beyond product

by Nigel Hollis | November 11, 2019

Last Thursday I gave a presentation at the launch of the BrandZ Top 50 Most Valuable Japanese Brands in Tokyo. My subject was how Japanese brands can find increased success in the global market and, as one of the criteria for success, identified the need for Japanese companies to think beyond just producing a quality product.

Japanese brands have traditionally created and sold good quality products but, unfortunately, that is no longer enough to be successful. Many established product categories have evolved to the point where the products are virtually identical to each other: same specifications, similar look and feel, easily available. When functional needs are met with equally good quality products, the emphasis for competition must shift to additional benefits to help create an emotional connection with the brand.


I would summarise the opportunities to do so into the five S’s:


Some of the most successful brands today are based on systems not products; think Uber, Airbnb and Amazon. From the user’s point of view the primary benefit is convenience. But product manufacturers can also play that game. By providing content though its TV, Music and Podcasts apps Apple locks users into its ecosystem.


Faced with slowing growth and a plethora of equally good quality products, many companies are looking to add value through additional services. Your car can connect you to a 24 hour help centre, act as a wireless hub, and can be insured through the manufacturer. For years, Rolls Royce has monitored the performance of its engines and notified airlines should they need attention.


Brands have always been social currency, something that we talk about based on a shared understanding of what they stand for. But many brands are seeking to push beyond simply being talked about, to creating a community – think of the DTC cosmetics brand Glossier for instance – or trying to create a movement to change the wider world for the better.


From Adidas making shoes from plastic recovered from the sea, to Unilever announcing it will dramatically cut the use of plastics, sustainability is finally beginning to gain some mainstream traction. And while many people are not willing to do the right thing on their own, they feel some degree of appreciation when brands make the effort on their behalf.


This one is a plea from the heart and in many cases is more a subtraction than an addition. It seems to me that in the race to create a more innovative and ‘better’ product companies are rushing to add extraneous features that simply layer on complexity and marginal functionality that simply confuses and annoys most users.

But that is enough from me, what additions might you add (or subtract) from this list? Please share your thoughts.