Apple topped the list of ‘coolest ‘brands in this weeks CoolBrands  awards, with Twitter dropping out of the top 20, and Instagram making its debut at number 14.  Voters were asked to bear in mind style, innovation, originality, authenticity, desirability and uniqueness when listing their brand selections. 

Traditional brands such as Aston Martin, Chanel and Nike continued to make their presence felt in the top 20, perhaps dispelling the notion that the list is about short term fads. 

But what exactly is a brand? And do brands really matter now? 

It’s a serious question that organisations of all shapes and sizes grapple with, in our world of seemingly limitless desire for instant gratification. Long gone are the days of ‘the brand’ residing in splendid isolation with corporate marketing. 

A quick Google search (itself last years winner of the Ipsos Mori Influential  brands awards) reveals volumes of contrasting opinion and debate around the changing significance of brand.  Most commentators agree on one thing however, that engagement is the critical component for success in any brand management exercise.

According to Ipsos Mori: ‘The key components are trustworthiness, engagement, leading edge, presence and corporate citizenship. The learnings from the most influential brands in the UK are to constantly strive to understand people, innovate and adapt to change, and to use technology to shape behaviour. ‘ 

If we think of a brand as a person then we can appreciate how we learn to relate to one another through our experience and ability to predict behaviour. We are likely to forgive mistakes if we trust and understand the motivations of someone we know; the same applies to organisations. It seems logical therefore to build up engagement through a consistent set of principles and behaviours and seek to accompany customers, without intruding in their lives too much.  

Joaquin Hidalgo, Brand CMO at Nike describes the transformation towards engagement in his quote: ‘We used to put the brand in the middle. Now the consumer is smack-dab in the middle of everything we do. And that means we need to understand who our customer is.’

CCA believes that reputation, brands and of course trust can be won or lost by the approach organisations take to planning and executing customer strategies at the front line, regardless of which communication channels are being utilised.  Our MBA Session being delivered in Edinburgh on 25 November covers this precise topic which includes input from leading academic Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the University of Bath School of Management (view the programme). 

Evidence of this can also be found in testimonials from the financial sector during the early years of the crisis, where customers trusted colleagues at the front line even though they had misgivings about their Boards. Progressive organisations realise that engagement starts with employees, who will serve the brand through thick and thin, and strive to reduce the effort required to serve customers effectively. 

The Which survey launched this week, of more than 3,000 consumers focused on customer service of brands across the banking, telecoms, energy, retail and travel industries, in isolation from the value for money they offer or the quality of the products or services they supply.

Lessons about engagement and trust must surely be learned by the utility companies who were positioned in the lower quartile of results, beneath Ryanair who normally absorb the wrath of consumers.  CCA sectors research (view report) highlighted significant opportunities for those organisations in building better communication and engagement with consumers, not just for today, but in relation to their wider function as asset managers of valuable resources for tomorrow. 

Whatever we believe about the importance of brand in our organisations, I think this quote from Jim Mullen of Mullen Advertising captures it simply: 

‘ When you look at a strong brand, you see a promise.’