How Game-Changing Subcategories Drive Business Growth

The only way to grow? Create, position, and own a new “must-have” defined subcategory.

My new book, Owning Game-Changing Subcategories: Uncommon Growth in a Digital Age, is now available wherever books are sold. In a series of blogs, I will detail the big ideas from the book. These are:

  1. Growth by subcategory creation
  2. Digital’s role in accelerating subcategory competition
  3. Rosy and gloomy bias affecting organizational decisions to commit to a new subcategory
  4. The role of the exemplar brand
  5. Brand communities

I’ll start with the first big idea: the assertion that the only way to grow (with rare exceptions) is to create, position, and own a new “must-have” defined subcategory. This subcategory must change how a customer experiences the brand or creates a new relationship with the brand. To generate a growth platform, you need to create game-changers like Chobani, Tesla, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb have done.

About two decades ago, Peter Drucker argued in an interview that innovation should not be the goal.  Rather, an organization should aspire to be a change leader.  That is what the drivers of a new subcategory are: change leaders.

Identify or Create Must-Haves

A “must-have” does not have to be functional – it can be a personality or attitude.  Airbnb has created entrepreneurial hosts, as opposed to owner/managers, who are in it from more than just a financial transaction. They join the platform because they are passionate about their role as a host. It is an attitude, a job guide, an objective and a “must-have.” They aim to make the guest experience special through personal connection, augmenting it in creative ways, and enhancing their property and its presentation.

“The only way to grow is to create, position, and own a new “must-have” defined subcategory.”

The first step, of course, is to identify or create “must-haves” – elements of an offering for which customers will have a high affinity. The existence of a set of “must-haves” (there are nearly always more than one) will create a basis for a core loyal customer group— the cornerstone of a growth platform. Prius dominated its market for over 15 years with a loyal customer base and “must-haves” that included the Hybrid Synergy Drive, outstanding gas mileage, a unique design that helped deliver self-expressive benefits (“I am doing something for the planet”), and excellent reliability.

A “must-have”’ can also involve a higher purpose.  People want to connect with brands they admire and resonate with their own values and passions.  Patagonia shares with its core customer a reverence for the environment.  Avon with its Walk for Breast Cancer and Lifebuoy with its “Help a Child Reach 5” all create energy, visibility and a strong connection with many customers.

Differentiate Yourself and the Subcategory from the Competition

Creating subcategories is not enough — there are two additional tasks. First, become the exemplar brand that represents the subcategory. Then, use that status to build the subcategory’s visibility, positioning it around its “must-haves.” It is like brand building but with the focus on the subcategory and its “must-haves” and not the brand.  It involves moving from “my brand is better than your brand,” which almost never results in growth to subcategory competition.

Second, create barriers to competitors inhibiting their ability to become a relevant option. Barriers could include the committed customer base, “must-have” associations and brand relationships that go beyond functional benefits. Without barriers, even a successful subcategory will quickly attract others that will enjoy the benefits.


Organizational growth means vitality and opportunity for customers, employees and partners. It is (or should be) a strategic priority. In these dynamic times, it is critical to understand subcategory creation because it is usually the only path to disruptive growth.

The e-book version of Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is now available. The book will be available wherever books are sold in early April.


The Four Principles of Brand Relevance

Our relevance research uncovers the primary drivers of brand fandom, offering insights into what makes us buy.

Today’s consumers are experts at ignoring the tens of thousands of brands that don’t interest them. But for their favorites, their loyalty knows no bounds. These brand favorites earn and re-earn loyalty by doing something others don’t: They continuously find new ways to connect, engage and inspire their customers.

What makes these rare brands—brand stalwarts like Apple, to emerging favorites like Spotify—stand out from their competition? They are what we at Prophet like to call relentlessly relevant.

Defining Brand Relevance

At Prophet, we believe that relevance is the most reliable indicator of a brand’s long-term success. We created our Brand Relevance Index to help business and brand leaders measure the relevance of their brands, and offer them ways to improve. Four key principles of relentlessly relevant brands were identified. The brands that ranked highest for each principle in our Index are highlighted in this graphic:

1. Customer Obsession

To build a relentlessly relevant brand, you must begin by adopting a mindset of customer obsession. This requires the brand strategist to truly focus on a greater customer understanding. This involves not only the customers’ wants but also an understanding of more than just a narrow bit of these customers’ lives. Everything these brands invest in, create and bring to market are designed to meet important needs in peoples’ lives.

2. Ruthless Pragmatism

Pragmatism is the most important piece of this puzzle. It’s the one that most marketers find extremely difficult, but it’s essential because it makes the other three possible. When a brand has pragmatism, it takes bold steps, makes smart bets, fails quickly, and experiments often. These brands make sure their products are available where and when customers need them, deliver consistent experiences, and simply make life easier for their customers.

3. Pervasive Innovation

These brands are obsessed with what their competition is doing and what their customers are yearning for. They know without innovation—their organizations won’t be able to grow and thrive. These brands make emotional connections, earn trust and often exist to fulfill a larger purpose.

4. Distinctive Inspiration

Companies love to throw around the word “Inspiration” to describe their businesses and brands, although most businesses and brands are unfortunately not inspired, or inspiring to customers. These brands don’t rest in their laurels. Even as industry leaders—they push the status quo, engage with customer in new and creative ways, and find new ways to address unmet needs.


Staying relevant in today’s market can be very difficult—with so many competitors, it takes a lot to stand out to consumers.

Learn more about how to build relevance and impact consumers’ attitudes towards your brand.


How Prophet Creates Winning Hospitality Brands that Stand Out

From perfect Cantonese Char Siu to magical island escapes, we help brands showcase authentic treasures.

Prophet took home seven Transform APAC Awards that recognized our work in brand strategy, design and innovation across a range of industries. It’s always exciting when our work is recognized. It is a testament to our commitment to helping our clients unlock uncommon growth.

In addition to the success stories with China’s leading companies, our award-winning work showcases some of our most exciting projects with leading hospitality brands. Spanning various markets, our clients face fierce competition in the landscape of diverse and ever-changing consumer needs. Engagement Managers Isadora Jones and Cyrill Blaser share their experiences and thoughts on how to create winning strategies for our hospitality clients.

Man Ho: Uncovering A Unique Story that Prevails

Isadora Jones, Engagement Manager

A prominent facet of Asian culture is undoubtedly the food scene. From street food to fancy Michelin restaurants, one can enjoy exquisite local and western food anywhere, at all price points. As the signature Cantonese restaurant in JW Marriott and Marriott hotels, Man Ho is one of those places. Its challenge was apparent – how to differentiate itself as an authentic Cantonese restaurant in order to attract guests and local consumers in Asia? Marriott came to us to create a distinctive brand identity to elevate the Man Ho experience while staying true to its heritage.

What makes Man Ho unique? To understand this, we started by talking to Chef Leo. What resonated with us deeply was Man Ho’s iterative approach and craftsmanship dedicated to each dish. Chef Leo spent years experimenting with every detail to create the absolute best dish (the Char Siu recipe took over 8 years to perfect!), with a great deal of care being placed on finding the best ingredients for each recipe, while remaining true to the original authentic recipes. This inspired us to land on the brand positioning of ‘A Journey Through Time’, inviting diners to experience Cantonese dishes that have been cultivated and refined from one generation to another.

We then developed a beautiful visual system to bring this positioning to life. Our designers created a bird and key logo representing the ancient carrier bird to symbolize the journey that the recipes have been on, highlighting how Man Ho unlocks the secret ingredients that have elevated Cantonese cuisine. We used hand-drawn illustrations to communicate a sense of craftsmanship. We also art-directed a photoshoot in the hotel with their actual chefs to create impactful imagery of authenticity and expertise. The use of contemporary color combinations is what makes the visual identity so special, juxtaposing traditional symbols with black & white photography to create a lively and refreshed look.

The new brand identity has already been rolled out at the Man Ho restaurant in Shenzhen and will continue to be rolled out across Asia in 2020.

Nam Nghi: Telling an Authentic Story that Resonates

Cyrill Blaser, Engagement Manager

Branding a hotel is always exciting. Every property has a unique story to tell and at Prophet we are oftentimes lucky enough to be the people who get to uncover and polish these stories. Nam Nghi, a boutique resort in the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, had been operating for just over a year when the opportunity of joining Hyatt’s Unbound Collection came up. Having realized that the inconsistent experience across different touchpoints made it challenging for them to compete, Nam Nghi came to us to find their brand story.

We started by identifying what was unique, as we were drawn in by Nam Nghi and the Phu Quoc island. A hidden paradise of lush jungles, turquoise water, white beaches and true hospitality – Phu Quoc Island has become one of Asia’s most talked-about destinations and an international hub for luxury and eco-friendly tourism. We were inspired by a strong sense of preservation of the unspoiled Phu Quoc island as well as the coral reefs around it.

“A hidden paradise of lush jungles, turquoise water, white beaches and true hospitality – Phu Quoc Island has become one of Asia’s most talked-about destinations”

Prophet’s extensive experience in developing luxury hotel brands in Asia has led to an understanding of key trends that are shaping the global travel and hospitality category: hyper-local, eco-consciousness and bespoke experiences. As a result, we positioned the property as a destination for affluent nature-conscious guests who crave for authentic experiences with minimal environmental impact. Centered around this positioning, we then designed an immersive identity that conveys the idea of immersion in nature through the use of patterns and hand-drawn illustrations.

When approaching a brand-building project, hotel or otherwise, it’s important to be attentive and stay true to the anchoring attributes of the brand, in order to tell a truly compelling story that resonates with your audiences. As the Nam Nghi team is rolling out the work across more and more touchpoints, it’s going to be exciting to see the brand and its story truly come to life. So I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Phu Quoc.


Our work with Man Ho and Nam Nghi stood out because they stayed true to the our branding principles. At Prophet, we believe a compelling brand story needs to deliver on three factors: 1) built on a single idea; 2) based on what makes the brand unique; 3) delivered consistently across the full experience. Combining our strategic thinking with our creative minds, we helped the clients to differentiate and grow better.

When brands are faced with increasingly sophisticated consumers and intensified competition, they are compelled to do more. However, it’s important for brand owners to keep in mind these key principles in order to build a coherent and prevailing brand positioning, and therefore deliver the biggest impact when implementing activations and creating experiences.


Brand & Activation: What to Expect in 2020

The most relevant brands are humanizing the way they treat customers, emphasizing privacy and empathy.

When it comes to spotting marketing trends, it’s easy to get distracted by the buzziest tech developments. But in our field of work, guiding the world’s leading brands to avenues of uncommon growth, there’s a higher likelihood that the most important trends aren’t brand new.

“In our field of work, guiding the world’s leading brands to avenues of uncommon growth, there’s a higher likelihood that the most important trends aren’t brand new.”

They’re ideas that sound familiar – the importance of customer experience, for example, or brand purpose – that are undergoing new and powerful changes.

And yes, staying on top of the latest technologies and trends like TikTok and VSCO girls certainly matters. But not as much as paying attention to these five developing – and seismic – shifts. Let’s take a closer look:

1. Digital experience makes way for humans.

For years now, the emerging importance of customer experience has driven big investments in digital technology. AI now powers everything from chatbots to voice activations to CRM machines. But to be truly regenerative – creating experiences that aren’t just satisfying, but also drive revenue – we’re seeing a movement to experiences that are deliberately human.

We’re not saying that the tech-stack trends of the last two decades are going away. And certainly, some of the least human brands continue to dominate our Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) – good luck ever connecting with a live person at Netflix or Amazon. (Sorry, Alexa, you don’t count.)

But in an era when intuitive and personalized digital experiences are expected, the pendulum is swinging back. Some of the fastest-growing brands rely on genuine warmth. When customers return a purchase to companies like Bombas, UNTUCKit and Casper, ultra-enthusiastic specialists artfully turn what might be a negative conversation into a rewarding experience. Zappos continues to set the gold standard here, training associates for four full weeks before letting them take a call. And B2B companies are making these changes, too.

It comes as no surprise that some of these brands are also the most digitally disruptive. Stitch Fix, an online personal stylist subscription service, may excel because its wardrobe selection choices are driven by some of the best AI out there. But it continues to grow because of the personal relationship customers develop with their stylists, fix after fix. This year, we’ll see brands think less about creating efficient experiences and more about injecting them with warmth.

2. Consumers have learned the difference between privacy and security–and are ready to hold brands accountable.

While concerns about security breaches and data privacy have been around for ages, mainstream consumers have mostly had their heads in the sand. But between Facebook’s ongoing fall from grace and legislative efforts to put data in the hands of consumers, outrage is entering the mainstream. It’s so top of mind that it’s the focus of Apple’s latest marketing efforts. “These are private things, personal things,” the ads say. “And they should belong to you, simple as that.” As people increasingly view tech companies as villains, we expect more companies to go on the offensive, convincing consumers that they are one of the good guys.

In this year’s BRI research, we talked to people about this issue specifically for the first time. On the measure of “I trust this brand to act responsibly with my data,” financial brands scored far better than tech companies. Fidelity, Turbo Tax, USAA, Vanguard and Visa led the list. Except for Apple and Android, which ranked in the top 20 by this measure, tech–including Amazon–scored poorly. And (no shocker here) Facebook came in dead last, followed by Twitter.

3. Think you’ve got brand purpose? Better ask Gen Z.

A funny thing has happened in the last five years, as companies rushed into purpose-based marketing. Gen Z (kids born between 1997 and 2012) are coming of age. And this problem-solving group is more fiercely committed to changing the world than their millennial older brothers and sisters.

New research shows that 90% are fed up with the negativity in the U.S., and are taking that millennial “OK, Boomer” thinking to the next level. They expect companies to help, if not take the lead. Some 83% consider a company’s purpose before deciding to work there, and 72% before making a purchase. Among their top concerns? Protecting the environment, racial and gender equality, LGBTQ rights and gun safety. Their heroes are peers like environmentalist Greta Thunberg and gun-safety advocate Emma Gonzales.

They favor brands that take bold stands on these issues, like Levi Strauss & Co. and Dick’s Sporting Goods for controversial positions on gun control, American Eagle’s Aerie for unretouched, inclusive marketing and Marvel for its diverse superheroes. Companies that continue to play it safe with purpose risk losing this vital audience.

4. Power for your people.

Making sure employees are engaged and supported at work is important to the success of any enterprise. Employees who trust their employer are far more likely to act in ways that help the company grow and prosper. But the world is watching, and 78% of people say that the single best measure of a company is how it treats its employees.

Employees demand more, too. In new research on trust, 67% expect prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues. And 71% of employees believe it is critically important for their CEO to respond to challenging times. Prophet’s recent research on how companies are powering transformation from the inside out confirms this.

More than a third of the companies surveyed are actively developing ways to retrain and reskill their workforce, and 33% already have a roadmap for making sure their corporate culture and growth plans focus on people. This all means more than firing high-level execs who misbehave. It requires managing organizational culture to drive digital transformation. And it calls for more planning, more flexibility and more empowerment for employees.

5. Hello, joy. We missed you.

As we head into an election year that promises to be even more toxic than 2016, people need relief. Scientists say 40% of America is already demonstrably stressed-out by current events, and 73% are worried about fake news being used as a weapon.

Smart brands will respond by offering moments of lightness, laughter and escape. Joy already powers some companies. Among those that soar on our “Makes me happy” measure in the BRI are Disney, Spotify and Hershey’s, with Pixar in first place. (Trust us: Frozen 2, Soul and Onward will be among the year’s most beloved movies.)

The ability to inspire people to be their best, happiest selves is more valuable in cynical times. The most inspiring brands in our Index – including LEGO, Pinterest, Etsy, Fitbit and TED – succeed by leveraging their inspiration to create communities. These people become the brand, uplifting one another in ways that are fun, authentic and rewarding. We predict many companies will borrow some of their tactics, striving to connect people in ways that make them feel better in challenging times.

We expect this urge to spread joy and connection to show up not just in messages, but in ambitious digital and IRL experiences. Think of it as a modern approach to what Coke tried to do, back in 1971, another deeply troubled period in the U.S. In their own way, we think many brands will try and remind us that joy is the real thing. And we’ll drink to that.

Want to up to date on 2020 trends? Read through our Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) for a better look at how 2019 stacked up or get in touch today. 


Brands can become relentlessly relevant only by understanding that their audiences are always changing. Concerns that have seemed trendy or on the fringe can abruptly become mainstream, requiring fast responses from brands. Purpose, privacy, empathy and joy are important examples, and can help brands get closer to today’s consumers.


China’s Brand New World

Working with Alimama, we’ve developed a model for brand building, adapted for market forces in China.

Adopting the Brand-Building Model to Win

Brand building in China is at a crossroads. The long-term, equity-building playbook that once worked for Western companies is now less effective, as China’s increasingly tech-savvy and bargain-hungry consumers navigate a digital ecosystem that’s unlike any other. And the approach many local companies use – trying to quickly increase market share by focusing on speed to market, low prices and broad distribution, usually at the expense of branding – is also faltering.

But there is a new way forward. To help both multinational and local organizations build brand equity and drive growth, Prophet and Alimama developed the new Brand META Model, which stands for the Maintain, Evolve, Transform approach. It is an evolved model for brand building that is adapted for the unique market forces in China.

  • Maintain: Maintain the approach of positioning but localize it for different cultures.
  • Evolve: Evolve the way data is collected and activated to identify micro-targets of an audience and the planning process so it is more agile and omnichannel.
  • Transform: Transform consumer experiences to make them more proactive, experiential and hyper-personalized.

Prophet conducted interviews with more than 40 marketing executives who are thoroughly immersed in the Chinese market. The model blends insight about what makes China unique and finds new ways to develop profitable and lasting customer relationships.

To learn more about the Brand META Model, our collaboration with Alimama and how it applies to your business, contact us today.

Download the full report below.

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Building Relevant Brands in Healthcare

Make sure your healthcare brand is seen as modern, in touch and better than competitors.

It’s easy to assume that healthcare’s biggest challenges come from pressure to lower costs or growing consumer frustration. But Prophet has just published its fifth Brand Relevance Index, revealing a larger threat: Most people view the non-healthcare companies invading the industry as more relevant to their lives than traditional healthcare providers.

Our researchers ask thousands of consumers about hundreds of brands they’d consider using. Only one healthcare provider–Mayo Clinic (No. 24)–cracked the top 50 of our index. And the brands consumers say are most relevant? These include tech companies that are rapidly rolling out healthcare-related offers, like Apple (No. 1), Amazon (No. 7) and Google (No. 13).

While there’s no denying these brands dominate in other areas, many established healthcare organizations aren’t as worried as they should be. They see these outsiders as indirect threats, perhaps because they are less likely to provide direct care. But as these invaders create greater relevance in healthcare, their disruptive potential is growing. They can commoditize the delivery of care and marginalize providers.

Others see the tech threat as imminent. They believe that as people–doctors and patients alike–feel increasingly at home with tech, traditional healthcare models will get left in the dust. And because these invaders are powered by so much data, they can offer health innovations that are potentially faster, easier, cheaper and safer.

Here are few examples of tech companies disrupting the healthcare space:

  1. Amazon – It’s now adding skills to Alexa that are HIPAA-compliant, making it simpler for providers to use voice-recognition. Pillpack, its online pharmacy, is threatening giants in that field. It’s partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to form Haven, a still-vague initiative devoted to lowering cost and improving care. And it just launched a virtual clinic for employees, which many believe is a model for future offers.
  2. Apple – The tech giant has also announced plans for its own clinic, is winning with Apple Health Records, breaking down EMR silos and making data more portable.
  3. Alphabet – It is clear the company has a massive healthcare agenda, with efforts that include Google Health, Google Fit, Verily and Nest’s health-monitoring services. Last year, it hired David Feinberg, MD, who had been the CEO of Geisinger Health, to oversee these fragmented efforts. It’s also poached Toby Cosgrove, MD, a former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, as an executive adviser to its Google Cloud healthcare and life sciences team.

Why isn’t healthcare more relevant?

Consumers are crazy about these tech brands, which have built relationships with people that are deep, immediate and intense. With average relevance scores in the 95 percent-plus range, they do well on all four core drivers–they are customer-obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and distinctively inspired. When asked about these brands, people often tell us, “I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Yet the scores for healthcare organizations are in the 70 percent range, on average, with some as low as 43 percent.

Frankly, we find this a little baffling. After all, healthcare is about life and death, feeling good instead of lousy. Shouldn’t we see healthcare organizations as more relevant to our lives than a two-hour grocery delivery or the new season of Stranger Things?

So we dug into the data, trying to discover why consumers are relatively indifferent to traditional healthcare organizations, even those that are undergoing impressive transformations.

“Shouldn’t we see healthcare organizations as more relevant to our lives than a two-hour grocery delivery or the new season of Stranger Things?”

After dissecting the relevance scores of 23 healthcare providers, we found inherent strengths. Almost all achieve very high scores on our measures of purpose, beliefs and values. And there are common weaknesses, especially in terms of access. Consumers give healthcare providers much lower scores for “Is available when and where I need it” than for other industries.

Along with Mayo Clinic, organizations like Northwestern Memorial Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic rose to the top. When we compare the scores of the top three performers in the category with the bottom three, studying how they fare in each of our 20-plus attributes, we find three essential insights. They offer clues for organizations that are genuinely committed to driving a relevant brand.

The most relevant healthcare brands…

Consistently deliver on their promises

Healthcare is about flu shots and colonoscopies, not trips to Disney, so we’d expect these brands to score lower on measures like “Makes me happy.” But consumers want healthcare organizations to be practical, not joyful. They say the most relevant brands provide remarkably consistent experiences, and that they live up to their promises. They expect healthcare organizations to meet their most pragmatic needs. They are impressed when providers do so and well aware when they stumble.

Make sure they’re seen as modern, in touch and better than competitors

While it might seem obvious that communicating state-of-the-art offers is essential in healthcare, our survey shows it matters more than most organizations think. The top-performing brands typically score as much as 40 percentage points higher on questions like, “Has better products, services and experiences than its competitors” and “is always finding new ways to meet my needs.”

Aggressively cultivate trust

Trust is complex. It’s not something an organization does, but rather something it earns. Yet, being seen as trustworthy is an essential ingredient of success. Between 70 and 90 percent of consumers say they trust our top healthcare organizations. For the bottom three, those percentages barely make it past 40 percent. The best healthcare brands carefully track trust measures, including how people feel about data and privacy.

When consumers trust a provider, they’ll be more open to innovation. That engenders relevance, creating a positive cycle. In the case of Piedmont Healthcare, for example, more than 80 percent of consumers say that they would be willing to try anything new it offers them. For the lowest-scoring brands, that willingness hovers at around 30 percent.


Facing disruption from invaders like Amazon, Apple, and others, the healthcare industry is on notice. Finding ways to deliver better experiences and to remain relevant with consumers should be top of mind for all healthcare executives. At Prophet, we characterize the organizations that are committed to consumer-centric transformation Evolved Healthcare Enterprises. Read more about the four attributes of healthcare organizations dedicated to driving uncommon growth in the digital age.


3 Dimensions That Separate the Best B2B Brands from the Rest

Keeping your promises, building trust and commitment to innovation all fuel customer loyalty.

The recent release of the Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) uncovered three important ways B2B growth leaders can set their brands apart in their category.  The study of 225 brands by 13,500 U.S. respondents is important because relevance is so closely linked to profitable growth. In fact, our data reveals that the most relevant brands have outperformed the S&P 500 average revenue growth by 230 percent and EBIT growth by 1,040 percent over the past 10 years.

While B2B brands aren’t ranked in our Index, a large cohort of well-known brands with significant business-to-business (B2B) revenues such as GE, IBM, Adobe and Amazon were included.   The best performing B2B brands tripled the ratings of the remaining B2B brands in three dimensions – consistent promise-keeping, innovative differentiation and trust. Each dimension provides a guide to B2B brand relevance building.

  1. 1. Consistent Promise Keeping

Ruthless pragmatism, the brand’s ability to consistently make the user’s life easier, is a key driver of brand relevance.  Three attributes stood out for the best B2B brands: “Lives up to its promises,” “Delivers a Consistent Experience” and “I know I can depend on.” Users and buyers realize that the B2B world is filled with brand options and choices, but no single brand is right for every situation at any given time. Honesty about what a brand can deliver matters enormously, as it makes reasonable and achievable promises to its consumers.

“B2B brands that lose touch and trust are among the first to lose relevance.”

For example, Marriott consistently delivers on its promises to business travelers. They focus on the fundamentals—convenient locations, exceptional cleanliness, comfort without the frills—and they do it every day across thousands of locations, scores of staff members and a portfolio of brands.

  1. 2. Sustained Innovation

A hallmark of relevant brands is pervasive innovation – pushing the envelope and finding new ways to meet consumers’ needs. They find better ways to engage with customers and create superior experiences through service and product innovation.  The brands that excelled in B2B stood out in two key areas: “Is always finding ways to meet my needs” and “Has better products, services and experiences than competitors.” Pushing the envelope appears to be less of a differentiator than sustainable innovation that drives tangible benefits for consumers for top B2B performers.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) embodies the principle of sustained innovation and benefit delivery.  Amazon didn’t pioneer the shift to cloud computing, nor do its web-service innovations depend on cutting-edge tools and applications.  Instead, it relies on building an ever-expanding suite of web services that can be utilized at scale, by different types of businesses, with a wide range of applications with very different levels of data and platform maturity.

  1.  3. In-Touch & Trusted

Survey respondents agree that distinctive inspiration is an important driver of relevance.  In doing so, they are focusing on several different aspects of the brand including, “Makes me feel inspired,” “Has a set of beliefs and values that align with my own,” “Is modern” and “I trust.” Top B2B brands spike on trustworthiness and being modern and in touch.  Trust in the B2B context is far-reaching because it extends from personal relationships with the company’s representatives to confidence in the future behavior of the brand.

B2B brands that lose touch and trust are among the first to lose relevance as Union Carbide, International Harvester and Lehman Brothers can attest. Far more brands are building strategies focused on staying in touch and building trust. One example is Mayo Clinic, which is extending its relevance outside the hospital into the B2B world, offering services for executive health, which helps the brand build trust beyond its patients and into the top of the funnel of organizations.


Relevance is earned day by day, one customer at a time.  Consistent promise-keeping, sustained innovation and being in touch and trusted neither require lucky breakthroughs nor depend on macro-economic conditions.  They are all within the control of company leaders.  The relevance and growth they generate are achievable with dedicated focus and leadership attention.

Interested in increasing relevance in your market? Prophet assists companies with developing strategies that drive brand relevance.


Prophet Brand Relevance Index® 2019

Apple, Android, Spotify and other leaders offer lessons about how all brands can get closer to customers.

For over 100 years, brands have been built a certain way. But the modern world demands something new. Prophet has played a pivotal role in shaping brand strategy – it’s our heritage and our future. With the launch of the BRI, we set out to learn more about relevance and ultimately answer the question, “What does it take to build a relentlessly relevant brand?”

Here’s our answer. Relentlessly relevant brands engage, surprise and connect. They push themselves to earn and re-earn customers’ loyalty—and they continually redefine what’s possible.

Download the Index

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


Which Brands Have a Purpose Customers Believe In?

Whatever their mission, brands like AARP, Fitbit, NPR and Peloton energize and evangelize audiences.

Many brands attempt to create a customer relationship by having a purpose that inspires and engenders respect.  Such a purpose can form a customer bond that goes way beyond functional benefits.  What brands have a purpose that is known, understood and admired? And which have disappointed?

The recently-launched 2019 U.S. Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) measures the strength of 225 top brands from over 27 categories among respondents that are active in the category and are familiar with the brand. One of the measures in the survey, which I will be evaluating in this post, was centered around brand purpose. Prophet talked to consumers about the brands they loved, inquiring whether they agree with the statement: “The brand has a purpose that I believed in.”

Observations on Brands With a Purpose We Believe In

Of the media brands, NPR (Ranked No. 1 for the dimension) and TED (7) were significantly above news outlets like CNN, The New York Times, and Fox – all of whom were near the middle of the sample.  This is likely because NPR and TED are not perceived as biased. Entertainment brands Disney (No. 6 in purpose rankings) and Pixar (25) did well probably in part because they are well-positioned as companies that use technology to produce entertainment experiences that bring happiness to others. Consumers believe in Disney and Pixar’s purpose because it is easy to understand and authentically integrated into their products and services. It is no surprise these same entertainment and informational media brands dominated the top ten brands on the “connects with me emotionally” scale.

Of the 18 insurance brands, two brands stood out with respect to purpose—USAA and AARP, both ranking in the top 12 brands on purpose metrics.  With USAA focused on military families and AARP on retired seniors, they have a clear and niche focus, which helps them understand their consumers to an intense degree. They can then evolve their purpose e to fit their needs, making it more meaningful to their customers.  Aflac also is in the top 20 percent on purpose— the top insurance brand (30) in the “connects with me emotionally” scale.

Two fitness brands, Fitbit (3) and Peloton (5) were in the top five brands. Both had brand purposes that resonated with their customer base.

Financial services firms did not score well against the dimension, with most of the brands surveying in the bottom half.   The exceptions were Vanguard (3), Fidelity (16), TurboTax (23) and Paypal (36). Vanguard is a customer-owned company that focuses on low-cost funds and Fidelity adds to a low-cost goal, a commitment to make financial expertise broadly accessible. Consumers who are attracted to these brands share the goal of finding low-cost financial options and so the brands’ purposes clearly align with their customer base.  (It is noteworthy that both brands were way ahead of Charles Schwab on this measure).

“The brand has a purpose that I believed in.”

Restaurant brands also didn’t do well with respect to purpose.  Of the 21 brands, eight (mostly fast-food brands) were in the bottom 10.  A notable exception was Chick-fil-A, whose purpose includes “to be a faithful steward of God and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with the brand.” One manifestation of this purpose is their practice of not operating on Sundays – a day for rest, family and church services. It led to a place in the top 20 percent and was number 13 on the scale “aligned with customer beliefs and values.”  Even restaurants oriented to quality or health, like In-N-Out and Hello Fresh, did not make the top half, perhaps because their purposes were not differentiated enough.

Tesla was a winner among automobile brands with a top ten position undoubtedly driven by its passion to accelerate the movement to all-electric cars as a way to combat global warming but also for its features and driving experience.  Honda finished in the top 10 percent perhaps because of its history of technological innovation and Toyota in the top 25 percent because of the Prius and its associations with the fight against global warming.

Social media and Internet services did well, with most in the top 25 percent.  The top social media brands were Spotify (8), Pinterest (15), Roku (21), Waze (22) and Airbnb (26).  Facebook and Twitter were at the bottom of all the brands in the sample, likely because of the roles they play in controversial political and social discourse.

Which brands have a purpose you believe in? Leave a note in the comments.

For more information on the 2019 Prophet Brand Relevance Index, please visit the dedicated report microsite.


Prophet’s ongoing relevance research proves that an authentic purpose is one of the surest ways to achieve relevance. Consumers–especially younger ones–want to do business with brands they admire.


Prophet Brand Relevance Index® 2019 – China

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


Purpose Driven Brands are Relevant Brands

Why IKEA, DIsney and Lush resonate with consumers in the UK, because they know actions mean more than ads.

It is well reported that brands with purpose outperform their peers; often attracting and retaining the best talent, providing a real point of difference for consumers. Unilever announced strong results that support this notion with purpose-led brands in their portfolio growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the growth.

The results of our 2019 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), which speaks to 12,200 consumers in the UK to understand the brands most indispensable to their lives, shows that many of the brands successfully soared up the rankings are the ones centered on clear, authentic purposes. Brands like Lush, Ikea and Disney have all seen their relevance with British consumers increase over the past 12 months and they were classified as purpose-driven brands in the U.K.

“It is well reported that brands with purpose outperform their peers; often attracting and retaining the best talent, providing a real point of difference for consumers.”

So, what do purpose-driven brands do to drive success? Purpose exists to differing degrees in organizations and even for those that are truly purposeful, there is an ongoing journey to maintain the conversation and engagement with consumers in order to stay responsive in an ever-changing world.

Here are three fundamentals to become a purpose driven brand:

1. Identify a purpose rooted in truth

A purpose cannot just be invented. It is not just a slogan or a campaign. A purpose-driven brand knows why it exists, and what it wants to achieve. It is at the core of what makes the brand relevant because it is in the DNA of the company. Ikea, for example, knows the importance of brand purpose and stays true to its guiding principle to ‘create a better every day for the many people.’ Even as Ikea continues to grow, its relentless focus on bringing design to the masses in a way that is authentic and transparent has manifested itself across the entire business model. This year, the brand jumped up 10 spots in our BRI, to sit comfortably at 18.

2. Articulate the ‘why’

A purpose should inspire its audience, acting as a rallying cry for its employees as well as a demonstrative signal to the outside world of the values and belief system behind the company. To drive impact, the purpose must resonate with hearts and minds.

A great example of this is Disney, which climbed to No. 14 in the Index with its simple and inspiring purpose: “make people happy.” Not only is this rooted in the organization’s DNA, but it inspires across all levels of the organisation and drives behaviours in the pursuit of constantly increasing happiness. This single unifying principle speaks to the heart. And when a purpose speaks to the heart it has the power to truly inspire change.

3. Activate with conviction

A purpose-driven brand doesn’t make empty, albeit appealing and cleverly executed, claims. It actually uses its brand purpose as a yardstick to measure what they do and how they do it. Brands that possess purpose have a clear conviction; they don’t just talk, they act too. Purpose drives relevance and perceptions, but to do so employees and customers need to know about it.

Lush has long been a proponent of cruelty-free and vegan products. And whilst much has been made of previous campaigns what constantly remains at the core of their actions is a real conviction. Lush doesn’t just talk about the environment, it acts on it. It is a big deal to put your conviction above profit but that’s precisely what the brand did on Friday 20th September when it closed its stores and website to lend its voice to the climate crisis. It is no wonder Lush powered into the top 10 this year, with British consumers scoring it highest on relevance measures such as ‘has a set of beliefs that align with my own’ and ‘lives up to its promise.’


Brands need to learn that it’s actions and not ads that make the difference. To build a relentlessly relevant brand, and perhaps move through next year’s Index, you must identify your organisation’s true brand purpose, articulate it well to employees and customers, and activate it for the world to see.

If your brand is ready to become a purpose driven in order to unlock uncommon growth, let’s set up a time to discuss. Our team of strategic consultants is ready to help you chart the course.


Social Media Employee Advocacy

Employees like sharing work stories. Social efforts support employer branding and increase worker engagement.

Tapping into the power of an engaged
social workforce

The use of employees to advocate on behalf of their brand is nothing new, but a combination of market forces and growing comfort with social business has created a tipping point for the growth of formalized Employee Advocacy programs. In Ed Terpening’s latest report, he surveyed brand leaders, employees and consumers to understand employee advocacy. His research uncovered motivations for companies investing in employee advocacy programs; what motivates employees to share information about their workplace; and what employee-driven content resonates most with customers.

Key Findings

  • 90% of brands surveyed are already pursuing or have plans to pursue some form of employee advocacy
  • Consumer response to employee posts often outperform traditional digital advertising results
  • 21% of consumers report “liking” employee posts – a far higher engagement rate than the average social ad
  • Employee advocacy drives employee engagement. When employees are asked how they felt after sharing work-related content, the leading response was “I feel more connected and enthusiastic about the company I work for”
  • Employee advocacy supports employment branding. When asked which employee-shared content consumers found most relevant, recruiting rose to the top
  • Interestingly, European consumers are less likely to be interested in a connection’s posts about work and European employees are less likely to share work-related content.
  • Europeans have a stronger preference for keeping work and home life separate: 44% of Europeans cited this as a reason for not sharing work-related content, compared to only 23% of North American

Download the full report below.

Download Social Media Employee Advocacy

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