Global BrandZ™ Research Director
Kantar Millward Brown
Brand Imprint Index measures collective impact of brand assets on consumers
We should count ourselves fortunate to live in an age of plenty where we are presented with such a plethora of choice in all aspects of our daily lives. Our opportunities to pick, choose and “personalize” these choices are seemingly proceeding forever skyward—there’s truly never been a better time to be a consumer! That said, however plentiful “consumerland” may be, these are challenging times for brand building for the same reasons.
Brands must work ever harder against the competition to truly stand apart and be noticed, while ideally conveying why they are the right choice at a given moment. The language of instant recognition and meaning is vital for brands of all categories and ages to understand, embrace, and mobilize to their advantage.
So how can brands gain an edge and maximize their “mental availability”— their ability to come readily to mind at the point at which a purchase decision is being made? One way is to provide consumers with simple mental shortcuts to cue the brand and activate associated memories that relate to brand experience.
These “brand assets” that help brands come readily to mind include, but are not limited to: slogans, colors, logos, fonts, physical cues (packaging, shape of product), characters, celebrity associations, and other imagery.
Kantar Millward Brown and BrandZ™ have developed a methodology and framework for quantifying the strength of these assets, to understand which are most evocative of their brand and how this compares to competitors. We call the collective strength of these assets the brand’s Brand Imprint, with the best acting as a seamless echo chamber of instant branding and message reinforcement, exerting influence at key moments of decision making.
Building equity and value
The best Brand Imprints rely on cueing the brand via our inbuilt “System 1” of instant and intuitive recognition, which involves fast, habitual decision making, rather than invoking slower and more reflective thought via “System 2,” where the additional time needed for consideration may ultimately lead to a different decision. Incoherent and incongruous Brand Imprints may serve to confuse consumers or simply miss out on this increasingly important opportunity.
Our extensive study comprised a total of 10,565 consumer interviews across 28 categories and eight markets, covering 228 brands and 1,390 de-branded assets. The approach deployed a unique neurosciencebased methodology to gather data on asset performance, but also to collect equity data in parallel, in line with BrandZ™’s long-established and proven framework. Brand assets were tested in the relevant home market of each brand versus relevant competitors.
A key outcome is a one-number summary of the overall strength of each brand’s Brand Imprint, the Brand Imprint Index (BII), in which an Imprint of average strength scores 100. And here’s the critical takeaway: The stronger a brand’s BII, the stronger its Power score (the strength of a brand’s equity in the mind of the consumer) and the more likely it is to grow in value.
So how is a brand’s equity boosted by strong brand assets? BrandZ™’s equity framework includes three elements: Meaningful (meeting consumer needs in ways that are relevant to cultivate emotional attachment), Difference (being distinctive from the competition) and Salience (coming to mind easily at the time of purchase). Strong brand assets exert a clear influence on Salience, amplifying a brand’s Meaningful Difference and increasing the likelihood to grow value. Brands with a High BII have on average a 52 percent higher Salience score.
Investing in assets
One mechanism for achieving high Salience is boosting the strength of the brand’s advertising. Brands with a High BII more than double their advertising strength versus those with a low score.
Kantar Millward Brown data proves that the single best predictor of an ad’s in-market sales effect is branding. A highly-engaging creative with poor branding will not boost the ease with which a brand comes to mind and will not improve consumer motivation enough to deliver value growth.
Consumers will often only partially engage with a TV or digital narrative, meaning there is a clear need to brand before disengagement occurs. Easily recognizable brand assets, which require little or no effort to register with consumers, offer an incredibly powerful and effective way to do this.
However, this Salience boost is not limited to advertising impact alone; rather those brands able to build a varied suite of assets through their advertising, packaging, and brand experience will be best placed to activate them at various touchpoints as part of a virtuous circle of increased salience.
Overall, it seems clear that investing the time and budgets needed to establish intuitive brand assets can prove to be a very worthwhile exercise as a way to maximize a brand’s impact on decision making. In the increasingly important language of instant recognition and meaning, how eloquent is your Brand Imprint?
BRAND ASSET EFFECTIVENESS VARIES BY TYPE, CATEGORY
The strength of a typical brand’s assets showed wide variation by category. Generally speaking, categories associated with short term decision making were more likely to contain brands with stronger assets than those involving longer-term decisions. Brands investing consistently and in a variety of assets are more likely to feel the benefits. Notably, soft drinks and fast food were by far the top performers, with cars, luxury cars, banks, durables, an technology providers towards the other end of the spectrum.
There was also a clear pattern with regards to the efficacy of the types of asset tested. Typically, shapes and patterns, logos, and packaging cues were much more evocative of a brand than slogans, celebrity endorsements, or sponsorships.
Patterns and colors
The building blocks of brand assets, patterns, shapes and colors can combine to act as a powerful cue to consumers and offer a great way to fully connect all assets into a coherent and instantly recognizable Brand Imprint. Color alone is seemingly very hard to “own.” Germany’s Deutsche Telekom is a rare but strong example of the consistent use of a distinctive shade (pink) as a common connection between the brand’s assets and campaigns. The same color is also deployed widely and successfully by subsidiaries of the brand: T-Systems in Germany and T-Mobile in the US and other markets.
The most instantly recognizable logos tend to deploy two main approaches to design: The use of one or two letters from the brand name in a specific font and color scheme e.g. the Google “G” or the use of stylized imagery directly linked to the brand name e.g. the Apple logo—the most recognized asset among brands in the 2018 BrandZ™ Global Top 50.
Though slogans were not comparatively strong in instantly evoking a brand, the most successful summarize the key meaningful difference of the brand using simple words and phrases in combination with a unique font and color scheme e.g. Walmart’s, “Save money. live better.” Or Taobao’s (Alibaba), “I love bargain hunting!”
Celebrities generally performed poorly. Although they can clearly serve other purposes (generating PR and buzz, for example), it seems that few celebrities are instantly associated with particular brands. This suggests that a commitment to consistency is a critical element in building a strong asset, with more transient relationships with celebrities, sponsorships, and campaign-specific slogans likely to be much harder to own as intuitive branding devices, at least without persistent repetition and investment These results also suggest that an appropriate fit with the brand is important, along with ensuring that the chosen celebrity is not involved in similar activity with other brands.
Kantar Millward Brown’s global advertising database shows that while there have been successful celebrity-led ad campaigns, the use of celebrities far from guarantees a successful campaign. On average, using a celebrity makes little difference to the branding and effectiveness of an ad, though consistent use can boost overall campaign effectiveness.
In contrast, brand founders proved to be very strong cues in several cases—Richard Branson scored 137 for Virgin Media in the UK; Colonel Sanders, 131 for KFC in the US; and Steve Jobs, 122 for Apple, also in the US. Clearly, these associations are due to unique and long associations with a single brand, but this does suggest that some brands may benefit from more tactical use of such ambassadors.
The 3 Cs of a Strong Brand Imprint
Clarity requires simple, clean, uncomplicated, connected use of color, design, and phrasing. Strong Brand Imprints often employ a distinctive color palette to connect, amplify, and build a unique and instantly recognizable identity.
Consistently deploy brand assets over time, across channels and products—drawing on heritage where relevant. Think exposure, exposure, exposure at all touch points and opportunities to embed assets and reinforce recognition.
Reinforce relevant brand purpose, principles and messaging. Think of your assets as potential mini opportunities to invoke reminders of key messages to maximize influence at points of decision making.