“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. That quote is from L.P. Hartley, and never a truer word was written when applied to the world of brands. Keith Newton, one of Australia’s leading authorities on brands, has just released a report comparing the leading brands of 20 years ago versus today. And the difference is remarkable.
Newton heads up Brand Asset Consulting*, and he drives a research tool called Brand Asset Valuator (BAV), which is the world’s largest database of brands, dating back to 1993. As a young strategist in London, Newton was one of the team who set up BAV, so there are few people in the world who are as well qualified to talk about how things have changed.
In the Australian version of the study this year, Newton surveyed 5,060 consumers on their perceptions of 1,396 brands and then assembled a list of the leaders. “Only four of the leadership brands from 1993 still make the top 20 today,” Newton told me. “Coca-Cola, Disney, Vegemite and Cadbury. All the rest have slipped or disappeared.”
In 1993, according to the BAV study, we were shopping at Grace Bros and David Jones, munching our Arnotts biscuits, wearing our Reeboks, and putting our leftover Coon into Tupperware containers. The Internet was still for academic nerds and it carried only 1% of global two-way telecommunications traffic (by 2007 it was 97%).
Twenty years later, the geeks have taken over. “Digital is culture now,” commented Newton. “Brands like Google and Apple have completely redefined the brandscape.” Today, we shop on eBay via our iPhones or Samsung Galaxies and pay via PayPal (still chomping away on a Cadbury chocolate bar though.) In 1993, Google was still three years away from launching.
Newton also contends that the way successful brands are made in 2013 is entirely different to the past. “It used to be that brands were built on ‘knowledge’ and ‘esteem’ over time. These days, it’s more important to be ‘relevant’ and ‘differentiated’ and you can start to build a brand overnight.”
The defining attributes of differentiation also have changed. Newton notes that “dynamism” and “innovation” have been added to “different”, “distinct” and “unique” as two of the more critical characteristics today.
To illustrate a contemporary leadership brand in action, you only need to look at Google’s recent US$258 million purchase of car-hailing app company Uber. The latter brand has disrupted traditional taxi and hire car services in the US, and is starting to do the same in Australia. Instead of calling a cab and hoping for the best, you hit the Uber app and it shows you in real-time via GPS the Uber cars that are in the vicinity, sends you a quality vehicle and driver, and automatically charges your account at the end of the trip, sending you a receipt via email.
That’s pretty innovative, but it’s not the end of the story. As reported in the Australian Financial Review, Google’s real game with Uber may be to marry up the search engine giant’s driverless car technology. Imagine the near future when you call up an Uber/Google car without a driver to take you cheaply and safely to your destination.
Now extrapolate that further to the world of bricks and mortar retail, and picture a Google-driven smart store, staffed by automatons or perhaps the ultimate in self-serve technology. Robot retail may be closer than we think. And someday soon we’ll look back at 2013 and smile at how quaint and “foreign” things were.
What can you learn from the BAV research? No matter how powerful your brand is, things change, and you need to constantly evolve to stay relevant or be consigned to history. And to be a leading brand in 2013, take a cue from the technology brands and strive to differentiate via the qualities of dynamism and innovation. Those are Newton’s Laws.