Clive Rohald: Inside the Living Brand Experience

That means focusing on agile and dynamic design systems, and modern representations of brands.

2 min


Clive Rohald, Executive Director and Partner at Prophet, shares what we mean by the term ‘living brand’ and why creative teams today need to move towards more agile, responsive systems. When it comes to design, it isn’t just about a specific color palette, or how the logo looks – it’s more about the interaction and how a brand fulfills a need or gap in your life.

Becoming a living brand is no longer an opportunity, but an obligation in order for brands to stay relevant to consumers. That being said, this strategic shift must not only be made but also maintained in order to remain a relevant brand year after year.

Learn more about how you can start to make this shift in your brand strategy.


Setting Your Healthcare Business Up for Success

Drugs and devices are important. But holistic solutions bring brand, digital and patient experience in, too.

3 min

How Can You Set Your Healthcare Business Up for Success?

The healthcare industry is continually changing, which makes succeeding hard, so how can your organisation or brands win? Fred Geyer, a Senior Partner at Prophet, shares the importance of bringing digital innovation, patient experience, and brand together in order to create better solutions and cost efficiencies. The relevance of the device or treatment is important, but it’s now about incorporating it effectively into the larger system and creating an experience, that will set winning brands apart.

Learn more about how you can succeed in the healthcare industry, by creating a winning brand.


The Importance of Brand Relevance for Healthcare Organisations

From distinctive inspiration to relentless pragmatism, our relevance research offers healthcare insights.

2 min

Why is Brand Relevance Important to Healthcare Organisations?

Healthcare organisations are struggling to keep their finger on the relevance pulse. Results from the Prophet Brand Relevance Index® show that the NHS and other healthcare providers are lacking in the innovation stakes and are falling behind when it comes to aspects of the patient experience. Fred Geyer, Senior Partner at Prophet, offers advice on where these organisations should be focusing their efforts in order to drive relevance and unlock business growth.

Learn more about how to develop brand relevance as a healthcare organization by consistently improving upon patient experience.


How to Help Your Business Counter Market Disruption

As disruptors have grown into dominators, they continue to flex muscles that come from customer obsession.

3 min

How Can You Help Your Business Counter Market Disruption?

From disruption to domination. Spotify, Netflix and Fitbit all feature in the top 10 of our latest UK Brand Relevance Index. What’s interesting is that each one of them is a start-up and each one has disrupted an entire industry, but it’s one thing to be a disruptive business start-up, and another to turn that disruption into an established global business. In the meantime, those large traditional players that used to be the leaders 50, 100, even 20 years ago, are fast losing their relevance. Tosson El Noshokaty, Partner & EMEA Regional Lead at Prophet, shares his thoughts on how traditional players can keep up, and the long-term strategies needed in order to successfully compete and remain relevant to consumers.

Learn more about the UK’s most relevant brands and how they’ve remained relevant to consumers:


How Brands Are Built

34 min

He’s been called “The Father of Modern Branding.” If you’ve ever read anything about branding or brand strategy, my guest today requires no introduction. I’m talking to David Aaker, author of over a dozen books and hundreds of articles about marketing and branding, Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and Vice-Chair at Prophet, a global marketing and branding consultancy.

Given this season is about positioning and brand platforms, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask David directly about his brand vision model, which most people refer to simply as “the Aaker Model.” We also talked about two of his most recent books, some of his favorite brands, a few books, and his advice for junior people in the branding industry.

Listen to the podcast.


Which Brands Truly Inspire? The 2018 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®

Pixar, Pinterest, Marvel, Disney and Nike move consumers as few others can.

Many brands attempt to inspire their customers by their energy, their purpose or by creating a customer experience that is uplifting. Being inspired is one of the most admired and sought-after brand achievements. What brands have gotten there? And which have disappointed on this dimension? Let’s take a look:

The Most Inspiring Brands of 2018

The new 2018 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), having the strength of 299 top brands from over 39 categories, was conducted by Prophet. Respondents, who were active in the category and familiar with the brand, provided some answers to key questions surrounding brand relevance. One of the 16 measures in the survey was “whether the brand inspired me”.  From here we looked at the “inspiring” brands from last year and decided to take another look using the 2018 BRI data.

“Being inspired is one of the most admired and sought-after brand achievements.”

Pinterest, again, was the most inspiring brand. They are on a mission to help people discover the things they love and inspire them to go do those things in their daily lives. It stretches boundaries by fostering a person’s creativity and desire to try something new with projects—an activity such as cooking for kids, decorating a room in your home, building something new, starting a craft, learning a new exercise, creating a social program, with the list going on and on. One is connected with ideas and people that are also interested in this challenge.

Many of the other inspiration-led brands also enable a person to do or learn something.  This includes Food Network (#2), Etsy (#3), Lego (#4), FitBit (#10), NPR (#11) and M.A.C. (#15).  The experience of these brands promises to deliver connection with others, discovering the new, and create a feeling of creative accomplishment or meaning.

3 Key Routes of Inspiring Brands

Three routes are suggested by the other top “inspiring” brands.

  1. Providing entertaining stories of role models, real or fictitious, that are inspiring. Pixar at #5, Disney at #6 and Marvel at #9, all provide characters and vicarious experiences that can inspire.
  2. Being inspired by the mood or feelings that are put in place. Spotify at #7 and Pandora at #16 create music experiences that can add inspiration to the enjoyment of the moment and even contribute a mindset that leads to excelling in other activities. It is noteworthy that Spotify and Pandora, like Pinterest, also personalize content.
  3. Earning status for being inspiring with products, personality, message, and expectations for customers, which is illustrated by #9 Apple and #12 Nike.

The Category Effect on Inspiring Brands

There is also a strong category effect. Some categories, such as apparel (Nike, Zara, Adidas and Victoria’s Secret), or electronics & gaming (Fitbit, Electronic Arts, PlayStation, Xbox, Bose), did well.  Brands in other categories such as insurance, finance, and telecommunication, do not seem to inspire.

Most categories contain differences in the ability of brands to be inspiring. Can you explain these differences?  Should the weaker brands attempt to close the gap?  If so, how should they go about it?

Here are a few interesting notes collected from the data:

  • Airlines: Southwest was in the top quarter, while American and United were in the bottom.
  • Toys: In general, the toy brands did well, although LEGO and Fisher-Price were decidedly above Hasbro and Mattel.
  • Consumer Products: M.A.C. and Dove were in the top quartile, while mature, functional brands like Tide, Crest, Old Spice (despite some creative positioning), Ziploc, Palmolive, Windex, and Kleenex, were in the bottom quartile. A sidenote—Method, Band-Aid, and Clorox, were high on purpose, a closely-related dimension.
  • Food: Hershey’s, Betty Crocker, and Ben & Jerry’s, were above or close to the top quartile, while Cheerios, Campbell Soup, Oreo, and Dannon, were found in the lowest quartile.
  • Hospitality: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Marriott were in the top quartile, while Carnival Cruise Line, Westin, and Harrah’s, were in the bottom half.
  • Drug and Grocery Stores: Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were in the top quartile, while CVS, Walgreens, Safeway and 7-Eleven appeared in the lowest quartile.
  • Durables: KitchenAid was a top 20 brand, while Peloton and Keurig were close. Others like Frigidaire were in the bottom quartile, with Bosch, Haier, and Maytag coming in close.
  • Social Media and Internet Services: Although many of these brands have top inspirational scores; Skype, Twitter, Facebook and Yelp were in the bottom half; Yahoo! and Tinder were in the bottom quartile.
  • Beverages: Folgers was in the top quartile but Aquafina, Mountain Dew, Monster, Red Bull, Nissan, and Pepsi appeared in the lowest quartile.
  • Automobiles: Tesla, Toyota, Honda, and Ford were in the top quartile, but Volkswagen was in the bottom quartile with Mercedes close-by.
  • Computing and Software: Apple was a top 20 brand; Sony, Android and Samsung were comfortably in the top quartile. This being said, Huawei, Cortana, Bixby, and Siri were in the bottom quartile.


These data-driven observations should trigger some deep thought and analysis for how to drive inspiration throughout your organization.

Download the 2018 Prophet Brand Relevance Index for more insights regarding inspiring brands.


Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index® – Who are the Innovative Brands in 2018?

Tech brands, led by Apple, Android, Google and Samsung, are perceived as the most modern and inventive.

In most categories, brands aspire to be perceived as innovative. Brands create new value propositions, new brand-driven promotions, and/or new programs to enhance the offering or support shared values. Brand innovation will lend credibility to brand promises and add brand energy, a key element in the quest to be relevant in a dynamic market.

What brands have done just that: created a perception of being innovative? Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) of 2018 provides some answers.

BRI 2018: How Did We Measure Brand Innovation?

In the U.S., the BRI measures the strength of 299 top brands from over 37 categories, among respondents that were active in the category and familiar with the brand.  One of the 16 measures in the survey was “always finding new ways to meet my needs” and provides a measure of perceived innovativeness.

“Brand innovation will lend credibility to brand promises and add brand energy, a key element in the quest to be relevant in a dynamic market.”

Of the top 20 “innovative” brands, 15 of them come from high-tech categories involving computing, software, social media, Internet services, electronics, or gaming.  These brands include, in order, Apple, Android, Pinterest, Google, Samsung, PlayStation, Xbox, Spotify, YouTube, Electronic Arts, Sony, Intel, and Bose.  It is a remarkable testament to how the high-tech world has set a standard for innovation with new features, new offerings, and even new subcategories all happening at a breathtaking speed.

The other five brands, Amazon, Netflix, Nike, Lego, and Fisher-Price, were exceptional for their category on innovation.  Their success reflects how hard it is to be recognized as innovative.

What Makes an Innovative Brand in Key Categories?

The value of this Index and others like it is to make successful role models visible and also provide examples of brands that have struggled.  Learnings can come from each.  Looking at specific categories and comparing winners and losers is instructive.  Consider the following questions and in doing so, keep in mind that the respondents are familiar with the brand and many will be brand users:

  • Automobiles: Why are Mercedes, Nissan and Volkswagen in the lowest quartile for innovation while Toyota, Honda and Chevrolet are in the highest?
  • Restaurants: Why is Chick-fil-A in the top quartile and KFC in the bottom?  And why are In-N-Out Burger and Shake Shack in the bottom quartile?
  • Media: Why are they all in the bottom quartile and, within that group, why are CNN, Huffington Post and USA Today significantly below the others?
  • Retail Banking and Investments: Brands in this group emphasize innovation but have only two brands that are even in the top half on “innovativeness”: Capital One and Fidelity, and five brands that are in the bottom 10%, Schwab, TD Ameritrade, U.S. Bank, Lending Tree, HSBC. Why are these brands unable to communicate their innovations?
  • Clothing: Why are Zara and The North Face in the top quartile while H&M and Patagonia in the bottom quartile?
  • Appliances: Why is KitchenAid a top ten innovation brand?  Why are most of the rest in the bottom half of the innovativeness ratings?
  • Personal Assistant: Why is Alexa well above Siri on innovativeness while Cortana and Bixby are significantly lower ranked?
  • Hotels: Why are Marriott and Hilton high on innovativeness and substantially above Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and Westin?
  • Technology: Why are some technology brands like Twitter, LinkedIn and IBM Watson relatively low on innovativeness?

What emerges from such an exercise are some aha insights and some mysteries that can end up being the most instructive of all.


The goal of the BRI is not only to identify which brands are most relevant but why. Brand innovation is just one of the contributors to relevance that we concluded from the 2018 BRI; the four characteristics that make up relentlessly relevant brands are customer-obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, distinctively inspired, and pervasively innovative. For each, we dug into why one brand is relevant to consumers and another not. The result is actionable strategies businesses can implement and use to grow and gain relevance in the future.

Learn more insights regarding brand innovation and relevance in the 2018 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®.


How to Localize Your Brand Name for the Chinese Market

“Better than a thousand tastes.” “Anything can be happy.” “Sparrow’s nest coffee.”

Are these phrases, taglines, slogans, or riddles? Actually, they’re none of the above, but rather, the translated Chinese names of three brands you probably know: Subway, Pepsi and Nestle, respectively.

Choosing a name can make or break any brand experience. And as organizations look to expand globally, considering how your name comes to life in new markets—what it means, how it’s pronounced, and what it evokes—is key to connecting with new audiences around the world.

Chinese Brand Names

The Chinese language is character based, and because each character has its own meaning, every brand name can be interpreted as the sum of its parts. What’s more, some characters can have the same pronunciation but a drastically different meaning. Characters that are positive or neutral on their own can become negative when combined. Which means an elegant English or coined name can, if you’re not careful, become impossible to pronounce, confusing or even offensive to native Chinese speakers.

This is why most organizations pair their global name with a Chinese name that replicates its pronunciation to help Chinese consumers say and understand it.

And while a luxury brand may see Chinese consumers fight through pronunciation challenges to use its global name as a sign of a premium product or experience, more middle market brands risk rejection by not adapting their name for this market.

Thinking about translating your brand name into Chinese can feel overwhelming and complicated. At Prophet, with offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and the thought leadership of Tom Doctoroff, Chief Cultural Insights Officer and one of the world’s foremost experts on Chinese consumer behavior, we understand the dynamics at play when bringing names to China.

5 Tips When Localizing Your Brand Name in China

We’ve pulled together five tips to help organizations create a successful name and demonstrate relevance to Chinese consumers.

1.  Set the Stage – Identify Your Primary Dialect

You probably know that the Chinese language is highly complex, and perhaps better defined as a group of related languages, rather than one universal language.

Used in mainland China and Taiwan, Mandarin is the official language of China and overall, spoken by the most people, while Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and the Guangdong province. And while Mandarin and Cantonese share a written system of characters, how a character is pronounced comes down to where in China you are, and what dialect you are using.

Keep in mind, these are just two of the most popular dialects, but there are seven traditionally classified dialect groups, and hundreds of subgroups. But global brands usually focus on connecting with the largest population of consumers, which typically means accommodating Mandarin speakers first. However, conducting linguistic disaster checks are critical to ensure that a perfectly innocent name in Mandarin doesn’t invite ridicule in Cantonese—or any other prevalent dialects in your target market.

You might be wondering—how do I engage with Mandarin or Cantonese without being able to read the language? For English speakers, we often see a Romanized version of Chinese using pinyin, which is the official way to spell and pronounce Chinese characters using the English alphabet. But these sounds can have radically different meanings depending on which characters are being used. Take, for example, ‘yōu’ – characters you can use for this pinyin include: 优 (excellent); 悠 (tradition); or 佑 (bless).

2. Consider Your Options – What Type of Name Does Your Brand Require?

With thousands of Chinese characters, many with multiple meanings, adapting your name for China is a tricky business. There are two main factors to consider here; the phonetic link to your global name (how much they sound alike), and your evocative link (how much the Chinese name conveys the story of the original name). Some brands prioritize one of the other, but many do both.

Strong Phonetic / Weak Evocative Link

A strong phonetic/weak evocative link replicates the sound of the English name using Chinese characters as closely as possible, without mimicking the literal meaning. Adidas, or 阿迪达斯 in Chinese characters, and Ādídásī in pinyin, is a strictly phonetic transliteration. This strategy makes sense for the sportswear company, since it’s a namesake brand (after founder Adolf Dassler), and carries significant equity. While the literal translation doesn’t have a meaningful definition, it is recognizable and consistent with the global brand.

Weak Phonetic / Strong Evocative Link

In some cases, phonetic similarity may not be as important to the brand. For example, Marriott, 万豪 or wàn háo, does not sound the same as its English name, but can be translated to “million” and “grand,” evoking a feeling of luxury and style that reflects its global brand equities.

Strong Phonetic / Strong Evocative Link

Many believe that a best-in-class name brings both a phonetic similarity and strong evocative meaning to bear. Coca-Cola is frequently brought up as the gold standard, and for good reason. Before standardizing their Chinese name, Coca-Cola was transliterated at the local level by shop owners in many ways, having a different literal meaning from one shop to the next (“bite the wax tadpole” is the most infamous). In 1928, Coca-Cola trademarked their official Chinese name, 可口可樂 or kě kǒu kě lè, which can be translated as “makes mouths happy” or sometimes “yummy” and “joy”. They now have a close aural approximation, and one that lends a positive association.

3. What Do You Want Your Name to Say About Your Brand?

While the English name of a brand lends international credibility, “Your Chinese name can be an opportunity to create thematic resonance,” Doctoroff says. “The need to elevate the proposition through the brand name is important both for memorability’s sake, but also to give a sense of what the role of the brand in the consumer’s life is.”

For this reason, many businesses choose to transliterate their names to be aspirational articulations of the brand’s higher purpose and its reason for being, rather than a direct translation of the goods or services. Transliterations often rely on images and metaphors, as well as benefit-oriented language, around benefits like “happiness” and “prosperity”.

For example, take the shampoo brand, Head & Shoulders, which becomes 海飞丝(hǎi fēi sī), translating to “flying silk of the sea.”

The exception? Those iconic brands who not only own a word, but an image. Apple is translated directly to 苹果, (píngguŏ). “Because of its iconic stature, the pervasive use of the apple in its visual iconography, and the fact that ‘apple’ is a real word name, it makes sense for it to be translated, rather than transliterated,” says Doctoroff.

4. Recognize that Your Name Can’t Communicate Everything

It may be tempting to load your Chinese name with many characters to augment your brand’s storytelling. It’s an issue we struggle with in English naming—why can’t my name convey everything about my business or offer? But just as they are in English, considerations like succinctness, memorability and ease of pronunciation are still key in Chinese. Consider the simplicity of BMW, 宝马 (bǎo mǎ), which literally means “precious horse”. It’s meaningful—
and not overly complicated.

As ever, a name is one part of your brand’s overall strategy. When LinkedIn officially entered China with a new Chinese name, 领英 (lǐng yīng), meaning “leadership” and “elite”, they focused on a series of localization moves through press releases, partner endorsements and China-specific offerings. This allowed them to communicate the name change, while activating their value proposition and demonstrating their commitment to the Chinese market.

5. Consider Your Own Brand

One name you may not have considered translating? Your own. While it is common for professionals that frequently conduct business in China to create phonetic adaptations of their names to help Chinese colleagues pronounce them, you can also take this opportunity to create a memorable name that communicates something about your personal brand.

Doctoroff, for example, is known exclusively in China as 唐锐涛 or Tang Rui Tao. The first character points to the Tang Dynasty, the second means ‘sharp’ and the third, ‘a big wave’. Through his name, Tom signals his respect for Chinese language and culture, and conveys his own value proposition to his colleagues and partners.


How you approach crafting a Chinese brand name will depend on your industry, your original name and what you’re trying to achieve. It can seem daunting, but with the right considerations—and the right native speakers on your team to guide you—your Chinese name can be an effective first impression to a discerning new audience.

Learn more about Prophet’s brand and experience expertise!

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


B2B Branding: Why You Need It More Than Ever

The secret is understanding that business buyers are consumers, too.

Companies that sell directly to other businesses have long debated the importance of a distinct brand strategy. And many still argue it’s a waste of money and effort: They say customers base their purchases on functional decisions like cost, quality and availability, not the emotional pull of brands. We couldn’t disagree more: With major forces like globalization and digital commerce upending markets, we’ve got a front-row seat to the many ways business-to-business (B2B) branding is more critical than ever.

How B2B Branding Differs from B2C

Of course, B2B markets are distinctly different from those that sell to consumers. The buying cycle is usually longer, the requirements are better defined, more people are involved and the stakes are typically higher. These are functional decisions: On the surface, there’s no comparison between American Airlines buying $12 billion worth of jets from Boeing, for example, to a kid shelling out 89 cents for a bag of Skittles.

But the truth is, there’s a difference between rational and functional buying. B2B transactions are typically heavily weighed and considered purchases. Functional requirements must be met. But there are higher-order elements in play as well. While attributes like competitive pricing, delivery and technical support drive sales, there’s much more to your customer’s decision.

“When you’re easier to do business with, your customers feel it. It makes their work more efficient and predictable. They are more confident and less anxious. They see you as a partner to their business and an ally in their struggles.”

Mike Fleming

These higher-order traits also drive buying decisions and are much harder for competitors to replicate. When you’re easier to do business with, your customers feel it. It makes their work more efficient and predictable. They are more confident and less anxious. They see you as a partner to their business and an ally in their struggles. When you bring your customers fresh insights and ideas, they feel that, too. They come to you more often not just to buy products, but to help solve problems.

This is precisely the power of brands. Instead of just relying on superstar account executives to carry this message one meeting at a time, the strongest B2B companies create brands that do it for them.

How to Build a Successful B2B Brand

Smart branding makes it easier for the marketing, sales, product and technology teams to do their real work: Develop and provide solutions that help customers grow. For this reason, we’ve outlined some of the most important considerations:

Use Brand Stories to Reinforce Business Strategies

Look closely at the fastest-growing B2B businesses, and you’ll see they are all propelled by a brand story that supports their business strategy. These brands, like Salesforce and XPO Logistics, have defined their business around the benefits they provide to customers, not the products and services they offer. They intentionally link brand and strategy in a way that makes it easier to move into–and even create–new categories. The brand is purpose-built for the company’s mission and also for the commercial opportunities they see coming.

Yes, B2B brands need a story. Your customers want to know what you believe, what you can do, and where you can go with them. For inspiration, spend a little time watching the masterful ways Getty Images is injecting its mission into new products, or Adobe’s award-winning story of creating lost masterpieces.

Remember Your Brand is Experience and Experience is Your Brand

Experiences, not messages, define brands. You can have the most compelling brand message in your category, but it doesn’t matter if the experience isn’t reinforcing it. For B2B businesses, it’s increasingly important to start with the experience your customers want as you define your brand.

The strongest B2B brands build highly relevant and hard-to-replicate experiences. From the first impressions they make in the relationship building and early evaluation phase, how they integrate with their customer’s business, the expertise and problem-solving they bring, it is all connected back to their brand.

Are the employees designing products, services and customer touchpoints all starting with a shared understanding of the brand, and what makes it relevant and distinct to customers? The strongest B2B brands have achieved their positions by ensuring that everyone understands the brand attributes and how those traits show up throughout the experience. Every interaction, at each step of the purchase process and beyond, makes it clear that they are not just vendors, but partners. Companies like American Express and MailChimp are succeeding because they take this partnership so seriously, creating steady streams of content and interaction that inspire and inform experiences.

Your Brand Goes Far Beyond Customers

While a strong brand identity helps B2B companies grow faster than generic competitors, it can also cement relationships and connections with other key audiences.

Employees and prospective employees also benefit from stronger brands. Increasingly, people care about the story of who they work for and expect a clear purpose and strategy. They want leadership to articulate that brand and create a team they believe in. Brands play such an essential part in making sure a company’s talent is engaged that many companies are now defining an “employer brand” that works in concert with the “customer brand,” treating it as two sides of the same coin. The businesses that use their brand as a storytelling vessel for current and prospective talent are winning the intensifying recruiting wars.

“The businesses that use their brand as a storytelling vessel for current and prospective talent are winning the intensifying recruiting wars.”

Mike Fleming

It’s no surprise that the largest and most competitive B2B companies, like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, GE and UPS, continue to invest so carefully in branding campaigns: Their workforces are enormous and recruiting and retention are essential to maintaining their edge.

Wall Street is another critical audience, and well-defined B2B brands can give investors and analysts a view into the business that financial statements and forward-looking guidance alone cannot. How do you want analysts to value your business’ growth prospects? What peers do you want to use as benchmarks? Strong B2B brands have found out how to connect their story with investors in a way that is both credible and compelling. When UnitedHealth Group wanted to shift how investors viewed their business, from a carrier to full-scale health services, it changed the narrative.


What does all this mean for the future? As more companies step up their efforts to build strong B2B brands, we expect we’ll see more innovation in ways that convey value to both primary and secondary audiences.

Some of these efforts will likely look more like B2C efforts, including smarter content marketing and more seamless experiences using mobile technology. They will likely energize employees for greater engagement. They will grow faster than competitors: How strong your brand can make the difference between negotiating price reductions and capturing price premiums, and between merely holding onto core volume and finding the next opportunity. These strengthened brands will have that extra edge, providing an intangible value that goes one step further than price or function.

Learn how Prophet’s brand experience consulting helps create more powerful and relevant brands.


Localization Is the Key to Unlocking Relevance and Driving Growth

It’s not always easy to translate global purpose into regional efforts. But it’s worth the effort.

Lost in Translation

In today’s economy, nothing matters more than a “customer first” mindset. But even the most customer-obsessed companies falter when they fail to translate their global purpose into localized efforts. Take, for example, Marks & Spencer, who announced earlier this year that they would halt online sales in China – just 2 years after also closing down their brick and mortar stores in the market – due to disappointing sales because they failed to adapt to the tastes of Chinese consumers.

The importance of localization seems so evident that it’s hard to explain why so many companies undervalue it. To some extent, the tendency to value globalization over localization stems from the historical emphasis brands have placed on centralization and consistency. But, while a certain degree of consistency is critical for all brands and does bring substantial business efficiencies, brands that tend to be most successful are those that manage to balance the desire for global standards with the need for local flexibility. Brands that are dynamic and ‘living’ versus static and confined.

It’s a strategy that is becoming increasingly important for global companies. “Localization of your brand proposition is ever more important in today’s digitalized world, where consumers expect to be able to cherry-pick and create their personalized value ecosystem,” says Akira Mitsumasu, VP of products, planning and services at Japan Airlines. “Having local knowledge and understanding of how to fit into that value ecosystem is essential to stay relevant.”

How localization fuels relevance

At Prophet, we have identified this obsessive focus on customers and their needs as one of the key pillars of building brand relevance and driving growth. Our research shows that the strongest brands around the world are those that manage to be relentlessly relevant. Everything these brands invest in, create and bring to market is designed to meet important needs in people’s lives. That’s what makes them indispensable.

When we look at companies that perform well on our Brand Relevance Index, including Nike, Amazon and Samsung, we can see how they use localization as a strategic opportunity for brands. Done right, it provides a potential lever for growth in an era of escalating disruption. It creates more relevance to more people in more markets.

“If you want to be customer-centric, you have to localize,” Li Run, Senior brand director at TCL, recently told us. “Only by understanding consumer needs and providing products and services that meet their local needs and values, can a brand achieve the deepest level of connection – getting beyond acceptance and towards being loved by local consumers.”

While localization is a strategic opportunity for brands everywhere, it is particularly critical in Asia. Growth here is expected to continue to drive the global economy for years to come. As multinationals seek growth in Asia’s diverse economies, localizing their brand and marketing is emerging as a core strategic component.

But it isn’t easy. “Very often when a company comes to Asia with growth plans, it first needs to develop an authentic narrative for the Chinese market,” says Charles Ferguson, Group Chief Commercial Officer at Tricor. “But the mindset and behavior of the Chinese can be very different.”

“Only by understanding consumer needs and providing products and services that meet their local needs and values, can a brand achieve the deepest level of connection – getting beyond acceptance and towards being loved by local consumers.”

Multinationals aren’t the only ones wrestling to find the best approach. More Asian brands are looking beyond their domestic markets for the next wave of growth, and localization will be vital if they are to replicate success at home in other regions.

This is a significant challenge in a part of the world where brand-building is still in its relative infancy. In the consumer electronics industry in China, for example, Oppo and Vivo have been successful with their strategy of investing colossal sums in celebrity endorsements and product placement. But that is unlikely to be sustainable as they expand into new markets. As a result, One Plus (in which Oppo is an investor) have taken a new approach for the Indian smartphone market, using guerilla retail and messaging around ‘the speed you need’ which resonates with Indian consumers desire for technical excellence. This has helped them capture share in the premium tier.

Unlock the power of localization

While localization has the potential to increase brand relevance and accelerate growth, the best approach will look different for every company and every market. Here are the four essential questions senior management and marketers need to ask:

Do I need to localize my brand?

Very often the culture, value system or competitive landscape mean that the benefits you want to stand for are not relevant or even have different meaning. For example, investment company T. Rowe Price uses the tagline “Invest with Confidence” around the world. But the meaning of confidence varies: In Japan, people feel confident when reassured everything is as it should be, while in Hong Kong, confidence comes from access to exclusive information. So how the company communicates and delivers on the same brand promise is tailored in these markets.

Who should I localize for?

In an ideal world, companies might localize certain aspects in all markets, but that’s often not practical. Prioritizing which specific markets, and which consumer segments within those markets, warrant a localized approach is vital. But, are you clear on who you are targeting in different regions? Do you fully understand the attitudinal differences across markets and the implications for your brand? Developing a robust fact-base about the consumer to identify any potential differences is critical.

Budweiser is one example of a global brand that has managed to use a similar brand positioning but targeting a different audience in a way that fits their lifestyle. Their target in China is younger and more premium, so they have devised fresh retail and digital activations tailored to this audience to draw them into the brand experience beyond the product itself.

To what extent do I localize?

There are so many elements that make up your brand strategy and marketing mix. It is hard for companies to know how much change is right. Should you alter your brand promise, product names and logos, the product itself, distribution channels, or simply modify the messaging or visuals? The key is to identify the levers that most impact relevance in the category and market.

At Marriott, for example, the brand’s foundations – its positioning, promise and values – “must be globally consistent,” says Mike Fulkerson, VP, brand and marketing, Asia Pacific. “Keeping those foundational elements is important to meeting the needs of consumers around the world. We are most focused on localizing how we communicate the brands as well as more specific elements of the guest experience, such as food and beverage.”

How can I deliver?

Finally, it’s important to be realistic about the capabilities you have both in-house and through your network of partners, to bring a localized strategy to life in an authentic way. “Having a management team that understands the value of both cultures is very important,” says John Kim, CEO at Burger King Japan. “Look for people with sensitivity, as well as personal depth and maturity, people who can listen and comprehend the ‘why’ behind what people are saying and to decode the underlying values.”


The key to success, after considering all four questions, is finding the mix that best suits your firm, striking a balance between global brand positioning and local elements. For this, you need true consumer insights and an empowered local team to help tailor your approach in meaningful ways. Done right, localization won’t dilute what makes you special as a global player. In each market, it will augment your strengths and bring the brand to life in the most relevant and credible way possible.

Learn more about what we do to help brands grow across the globe.


6 Signature Story Mistakes Brands Make

Too often, companies bury their narrative treasures. It’s time to polish them up and make them pop.

As described in my book “Creating Signature Stories,” a signature story is a “Once upon a time…” narrative describing an experience or relationship that represents who you are as an organization, a narrative that jumps out of the clutter, communicates externally and internally, and is worth sharing. It is significantly more effective than merely describing programs, reciting facts or making logical arguments at gaining attention, changing perceptions, inspiring, persuading and energizing. Not 20% better, but 200% or 300% better. The numbers are just amazing.

Common Mistakes When Creating Signature Stories

So why are so few organizations using signature stories effectively to communicate their strategic messaging – their purpose, culture, value proposition, or strategic programs? There are six common mistakes that occur.

No signature stories at all

The biggest mistake by far is to simply not participate, to not make signature stories a part of the communication effort. There may be references to customers or employees but it is not a “draw me in” narrative. Why? Following the communication brief, describing rather than telling stories seems efficient and logical. The implicit and erroneous assumption is that the audience is rational and will be persuaded by sound logic. Plus, there are usually several communication tasks that fit into a bullet point list but not into any one story. It can also be discouraging trying to find great stories – but the benefit is huge.

No pop

Signature stories that are put out there often simply do not pop. They do not have the intimacy, emotion or interest intensity to break out and be shared. It may be that the offering does not provide material or there are no higher purpose programs that can support great stories. Or there are effective stories, but the effort to find them is lacking or the story heroes may be reluctant to share details. In any case, the stories are shallow and uninvolving.

“Signature stories should be part of any communication program but they will not happen or be effective alone. There needs to be an understanding, resources, and effort behind them.”

Bad presentation

They are not professionally developed because the value of presentation is not recognized or there is a perceived budget limitation. Relying on customers or employees to create a signature story presentation is almost always a recipe for presentation issues. A good presentation cannot help a weak story, but a strong story can be rendered ineffective with a bad presentation. It’s far better to reduce the number of stories and invest in a professional quality presentation.

Stories hidden in a box

Signature stories might be there but are hidden away in a box all by themselves. That means that they will not be accessed by most of the audience. Worse, it means that they are not driving the key communication tasks. The best use of a signature story is to introduce and motivate a communication objective, or to provide an illustration or proof point of communication task. Neither is possible if the stories are organized in their own box.

Story overload

Having many signature stories can provide freshness, energy, visibility, depth, breadth and texture. But there is a tipping point after which there are too many signature stories for employees to manage or for customers to grasp, and they are just overwhelmed. Story overload can make signature stories ineffective when many of the stories are weak and there is no ability to prioritize stories and let the stars shine.

Organizational support is lacking

Signature stories, especially in B2B firms, are born through a process that needs to involve an organizational story unit including editors and videographers that can produce story depth, execute professional presentations and deploy both internally and externally using outlets such as podcasts and social. The organization also needs a story culture that motivates the development of signature stories.


Building Relevant Brands: A New Way to Win with Customers

An authentic purpose, engaging experiences and a committed corporate culture help create shared brand values.

Ever notice how some brands become part of our daily life so seamlessly that we don’t even think about them until something goes awry, like when Waze fails to detect massive roadwork, or Netflix suggests you might enjoy “Fuller House”?

At Prophet, we know that’s because these brands represent more than a product or service we buy–they’re an integral part of our lives: It’s what we call relentlessly relevant brands. Achieving this level of relevance is no easy feat given the current state of brand-building. For one thing, customers are more in control than ever, and their expectations of brands continue to rise. Technology, from mobile to wearables to Internet-embedded homes, further disrupt those expectations, allowing people to perceive and interact with brands in new ways. Brands that aren’t evolving get lost in the shuffle.

What are Relentlessly Relevant Brands?

Relentlessly relevant brands engage, surprise and connect. They are genuinely modern, finding new ways to delight and deliver. They push themselves to earn and re-earn customers’ loyalty—and they continually redefine what’s possible.

These brands have barreled through passive exposure to come to life, actively participating with customers. They use technology to be more human, creating new experiences to engage with people in ways that enrich their lives. Nike, for example, was once a brand built on bright products, colorful ads and legendary athletes. Today, it’s an ecosystem of dynamic ‘living’ experiences, like the Nike+ community, an ever-expanding universe that includes expert coaching from Nike pros, personal connections to millions of other athletes, training clubs, and valuable partnerships with the likes of Apple, Headspace and ClassPass.

The result is that Nike is one of the few brands with relevance that knows no boundaries, scoring high on our Prophet Brand Relevance IndexTM in every market we track.

How Do You Build Brand Relevance?

Building a relentlessly relevant brand starts with three essential commitments. First, brands must find a strategic purpose that creates shared value. It’s the only way to inspire people, both internally and externally. Next, companies need to engage customers through living brand experiences. And finally, brands need to be powered from the inside out through culture, capabilities, and engagement.

Let’s take a deeper look at the qualities relentlessly relevant brands have.

They Know Their Real Reason-To-Be

These brands know who they are, moving beyond positioning and into purpose. They are centered on a strategic purpose that creates shared value. This brand purpose is the fundamental binding agent between assets and aspirations of the business and customers’ motivations.

Starbucks, of course, sells coffee. But people love it for its bigger ambition, which is to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

LEGO has long been a favorite of children for its delightfully consistent little bricks and has integrated those imaginative properties into physical retail, digital enterprises and full-length films. But all of its efforts speak to the purpose that provides so much value to parents: LEGO is inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow.

It’s not that these brands don’t have a positioning. They do. But what gives them life is that instead of seeing positioning as a static definition of benefit, they understand purpose as fluid and participatory. They know that it’s the people drinking their coffee and building with their toys who make them what they are, and this shared purpose creates common ground. It gives customers and employees permission to build relationships that go beyond the next transaction.

That ignites innovation and growth, and also allows the company to inspire, attract and retain the best talent.

They Create Hyper-Personalized Experiences

Brands that are relentlessly relevant are those that enlarge the universe and engage customers in a living brand experience. That means constant, real-time engagement between customers and brand stewards, giving companies the ability to anticipate, adapt and respond in the context of customers’ lives. It’s what allows brands to create offers that are hyper-personalized, to leverage data in a way that extends experiences and relationships within customers’ lives and to combine human empathy with tech-enabled intelligence. As a result, every interaction delivers a greater business impact.

What makes these experiences so powerful is that they are based on the understanding that the days of either/or are behind us. These experiences are sprinting full speed into and/both. They understand that what they offer people needs to embrace the head and the heart, intelligence and emotion, data and story, and strategy and empathy.

Think of the way Disney keeps making visits to its properties more magical, by using technology to help guests unlock hotel rooms, make a playdate with Snow White, or even pay for a turkey leg. Or Spotify’s uncanny ability to follow you into an Uber, work with Tinder and Bumble to help you find better dates and cranks out playlists made up of songs you’ve never listened to but instantly love.

Customers are fiercely loyal to these experiences: When Samsung faced the massive recall of its Galaxy Note, pundits expected customers to defect in droves. The brand’s mobile phones have come back stronger than ever, precisely because people love the way they perform across devices, including smartwatches, tablets and increasingly, virtual reality.

They’re Powered From the Inside

Relentlessly relevant brands aren’t managed by a marketing team. They are powered through a company’s culture, capabilities and engagement. Because leadership is in alignment, they can catalyze change, motivate and empower employees throughout the organization to create a self-generating business, balancing customer needs and corporate goals.

Relentlessly relevant brands can drive change and quickly turn new ideas into reality. They empower the diversity of thought, customer centricity, collaboration and agility.

Chick-fil-A, for example, is a fast-growing chain of restaurants built around a culture devoted to delivering delicious food with grace, and it strives to have a positive impact on everyone it comes in contact with. It’s no surprise that on our Brand Relevance IndexTM, it scores high for trustworthiness, consistency and having a better product than competitors. From its innovative corporate test chefs, highly-engaged franchisees and hard-working hourly employees, heartfelt hospitality is as meaningful a menu item as its tasty chicken.

Southwest Airlines, the only airline to rank in the Top 50 of our U.S. Index, also recognizes that delivering outstanding customer experiences has to be a company-wide commitment. To deliver on its promise, which it sees as serving passengers with warmth, friendliness, individual pride and a sense of humor, starts with a commitment to treat its employees the same way. From ticket agents to baggage handlers to pilots, customers have come to expect a personal connection they don’t get from other carriers.


Relentlessly relevant brands are growing thriving brands. They have a meaningful role in people’s lives and earn that status each day. This is why they use purpose as the north star, engage with customers through living brand experiences and power brands from the inside through company culture. These brands are learning all the time; it’s what helps them stay relevant, find new customers, and continually reinvent themselves for the future.

View the Prophet Brand Relevance IndexTM to learn more about what it takes to be a relentlessly relevant brand.

Your network connection is offline.