Understanding and Enhancing Brand Communities

They don’t just add to a brand’s credibility. They bring together people with shared passions and purpose.

A fifth key topic in the book Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is brand communities that are enabled or enhanced by websites and social media. A major and often overlooked contribution of digital to business strategy is brand communities—groups of people that bond because of shared interest or passion in something connected to a brand.

Consider, for example, the community experience of the buyers and sellers on Etsy. They bond with each other through crafting and homemade goods,  and with Etsy and its supporting programs. The affinity is strong and lasting and provides an Etsy “must-have.”

What Brand Communities Offer

People hunger for connection and a brand community delivers. Brand communities have been around forever. The Harley Owners Group (HOG) was founded in 1983. However, digital technology has radically enhanced the power and relevance of communities, allowing the membership base to quickly expand geographically and demographically by leveraging digital tools not available to HOG members of the early ‘80s.

“People hunger for connection and a brand community delivers.”

A brand community can be offering-focused, centered around the buying and using experience. That was the case for communities formed at (where members seek to improve their use of the software), at LEGO (where LEGO builders interact) and at the Marriott Vacation Club (with members who live for travel and to experience the Marriott vacation options).

If a brand lacks an offering-driven following, it may develop a shared interest that fits the brand to form the locus of a community. That was the case at the Sephora Beauty Insider (which centers on skincare and beauty), Nike Run Club (work-out programs) and the Dove “self-esteem” movement (a shared passion for inner beauty).  Such communities also can lead to social benefits created by the involvement of like-minded customers.

How Brand Communities Help Exemplar Brands

Brand communities help exemplar brands and their subcategories by:

  • Creating or enhancing a brand relationship. When an exemplar brand is involved as an active partner with an activity that is important to a customer, it provides a relationship that could not be obtained by communicating functional benefits of an offering. A person has a special affinity for others that share his or her passion, goals and activities. If the brand is associated with that interest, it too will be highly regarded. When a community helps to represent a person’s identity, its impact is magnified.
  • Adding energy, visibility and involvement. These are critical elements of brand-building that are difficult to achieve using conventional media and methods. Every time a person interacts with the community, the brand is rewarded with some energy and visibility, accentuated because a person initiated the interaction, not the brand.
  • Providing credibility to members and brand partners. For many, online communities may feel like a grouping of valued and trusted friends. As a result, the information sourced from the community is not seen as biased, phony or self-serving. Further, the brand gains credibility because it is no longer a seller but is, instead, “one of us.”
  • Becoming a barrier to competitors. An exemplar brand that has created a brand community that can regularly involve the customer with a shared interest often will earn a core group of customers with a high affinity toward the brand. Those customers will be hard for competitors to attract.
  • Sourcing new or enhanced product/service ideas and evaluating these ideas. Being involved in product/service development and refinement provides useful and timely information to the brand team and a feeling of being an active part of the community for the customers.

The e-book version of Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is now available. The book will be available April 7, 2020. 


Brands that encourage communities grow and achieve relevance faster, uniting like-minded people around shared passion points. Whether it’s cooking, fitness or gaming, communities help people belong to something larger.


Breaking Down the Importance of the Exemplar Brand

Make building the subcategory the priority. The brand is just the vehicle for doing so.

A fourth big idea in the book Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is the concept and role of the exemplar brand in subcategory creation and management. To own a game-changing subcategory, a major task is to become its exemplar brand. An exemplar brand is the brand that represents the subcategory and becomes its most visible and credible brand option.

The Role of an Exemplar Brand

The exemplar brand has the power and authority to build the subcategory into a market winner. It has several jobs, which include:

  • To develop and evolve “must-haves” that will frame the way people view and evaluate the subcategory
  • To create visibility and credibility for the subcategory and use the “must-haves” to position it in the marketplace
  • To nurture the growth of a core customer base committed to the “must-haves” and the subcategory
  • To build barriers to competitors so that they will struggle to be relevant

In addition to building the subcategory, the exemplar brand will simultaneously be making the exemplary brand the most relevant subcategory brand. But it should be recognized that building the brand is a secondary byproduct of the effort to build the subcategory, which should be the priority. The brand is the vehicle to build the subcategory.

“Building the brand is a secondary byproduct of the effort to build the subcategory, which should be the priority.”

How to Become the Exemplar

So, how do you become the exemplar brand?  It really depends on the context. Every subcategory story is different, but there are four guidelines that have proven successful.

Act Like One

First, to become an exemplar brand, act like one out of the gate.  Promote the “must-haves” of your brand and use them to frame the conversation.  Be the subcategory innovator and thought leader.  Build subcategory loyalty.  Do not sound like a “my brand is better than your brand” marketer.  Rather, sound like you are introducing a game-changer, a new experience or relationship.

Successful exemplar brands like Warby Parker, Uniqlo and Tesla did exactly that. They made visible and credible “must-haves,” and created a core customer group that not only valued them but also talked about them to friends and family.

Scale, Scale, Scale

Second, scale as fast as possible even if that means taking financial risks. Aggressive scaling will create buzz and, more importantly, will build the core customer base that will support the initial growth platform and inhibit potential competitors.  It is critical for the “must-haves” to get established.  That might mean taking risks, overinvesting in “must-have” creation, refinement and promotion. It is not important, or even common, for an exemplar brand to be the first brand in the subcategory. It just needs to be the first to get it right and have the commitment, talent and means to scale aggressively.

Game-changing subcategories often can and should start as a crude test product. Airbnb started with two guys with air mattresses wanting to make some extra money to pay the rent. They were able to expand and refine their “must-haves” ahead of competitors.

Brand the “Must-Haves”

Third, brand the “must-haves” or the subcategory itself. For example, Uniqlo’s innovative fabrics have “must-have” brands like HeatTech, AIRism, and LifeWear. Airbnb branded its guest experience program “Airbnb Experience.” The success and power of Amazon is due in part to its branded “must-haves,” such as 1-Click and Prime. A brand signals that the innovation is worth a brand of its own. It also signals that the organization will support it and branding makes the communication task easier. That is what a brand does.

The subcategory itself could be branded as in the case of Asahi Super Dry, Dannon’s Light & Fit or Burton’s Snowboard (far better than Snurfer, its predecessor). 

Build and Enhance Barriers

Fourth, keep building and enhancing barriers.  Become a moving target.  Don’t allow competitors’ openings to become relevant.  Look to Amazon as a role model.  In particular:

  • Reinforce and enhance existing barriers. Improve them. Make them visible.  Energize them.
  • Add new “must-haves” over time to make the subcategory dynamic.
  • Create barriers involving “beyond functional” relationships like personality, values or higher purpose programs that connect with consumers and are hard to duplicate.
  • Own the “must-haves” by branding them and then actively manage and support those brands.
  • Play defense by delivering on the promise every time. Don’t give a competitor a route to relevance because customers have become less satisfied or even annoyed with some aspect of the promise delivery.

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


Exemplar brands are powerful game changers and the source of uncommon growth. By developing “must have” features, they can change the way consumers consider their purchases. And because they are new, they attract attention and build credibility.


Rosy and Gloomy Biases When Evaluating Consumer Insights

It’s easy to be either an Eeyore or a Pollyanna. Here’s how to take a more realistic view.

A third big idea in my book, Owning Game-Changing Subcategories: Uncommon Growth in a Digital Age, is the role that rosy picture and gloomy picture biases play in building a subcategory. The stakes are high. Backing a “must-have” idea that has serious deficiencies can result in not only a loss of resources but a loss of time and innovation momentum. Conversely, erroneously terminating ideas that would create a major growth platform may be even more costly.

What Is the Rosy Picture Bias?

The rosy picture bias assumes that customers will be as impressed with the new offering as its loyal brand champions and that any problems can be easily overcome. This bias has several causes. First, the innovation champion, someone who is focused on the “must-haves” for months or even years, may have obsessive optimism and fear that killing the initiative might be career damaging.

Second, there is perceived organizational commitment that creates a momentum that is hard to stop. Finally, the innovation may just feel like a winner, logically or emotionally, and may have a buzz in the marketplace, even with minimal or inadequate testing.

“The rosy picture bias assumes that customers will be as impressed with the new offering as its loyal brand champions and that any problems can be easily overcome.”

In the context of the rosy picture bias, the following questions need to be addressed and assumptions challenged:

  • Are the “must-haves” real? Are they so appealing and differentiating to a worthwhile segment that customers will avoid buying or using offerings that lack that “must-have?” Or is it only an incremental innovation that will not create loyal customers? Do you have confidence backed by market testing?
  • Is the market substantial enough? Can it be accessed? Is there a Plan B – a way to find new applications and segments if the going-in targets fall short?
  • Will significant competitors be attracted if the subcategory will be a success? Can barriers be constructed that will inhibit them from entering or handicap them upon entry?

What Is the Gloomy Picture Bias?

The gloomy picture bias suggests that a proposed new subcategory initiative will be costly in time and resources, have an uncertain outcome and involve risk without a clear payoff. This bias may be supported by unfavorable evidence from the market and is influenced by a tendency for people to be risk-averse. Tversky and Kahneman’s Prospect theory (for which they won a Nobel prize) demonstrated that individuals do not make decisions rationally by selecting options with the highest expected value, because “losses loom larger than gains.”

That helps explain why firms tend to overinvest in incremental innovation and underinvest in “big” innovations with more uncertain returns. To avoid having the gloomy picture bias kill off subcategory ideas that could be the basis for uncommon growth, it is worthwhile to analyze some of the assumptions being made with questions like:

  • Could disappointing test results be turned around by identifying and remedying problems internally?
  • Are flawed offerings that have appeared in the market caused by obsolete technology or organizational limitations that do not apply to us? Digital readers for a long time just didn’t get traction. Then came Kindle, which sold over 1 million units in a year and showed that sales of prior products were not a predictor of Kindle’s market acceptance.
  • If planned applications or markets are inadequate, could we have “Plan B” applications or markets that will support a business? There are a host of successful subcategories that occurred when an application or market was found after the original turned out to be inadequate.
  • Might it be possible to scale a subcategory market that is initially too small? Could the offering be extended into new applications, markets, or product variants?  Other brands, like Nike and Starbucks, have taken subcategory markets into the mainstream. Is this possible?
  • Might it be feasible to create or find new assets and competencies? Other organizations have done it successfully or found partners to help.


The lesson is to be objective and analytical when testing assumptions.  And a good way to sniff out rosy or gloomy picture bias, especially in the digital age, is simply to try it out. Get a prototype, a crude version of the concept and put it in a test market or even release it so learning can occur. The live version of the concept will evolve as corrections and improvements are made, and your decisions will be clearer.

The e-book version of Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is now available and the book itself will be available in early April.


3 Ways to Build Brand Relevance for Financial Services in 2020

Consistency, trust and emotional engagement can help companies impress and inspire their audiences.

Financial services companies have a relevance problem. Consumers – who will often be heard enthusiastically talking about everything from kitchen appliances to Band-Aids – yawn when they think about banks and insurance companies. Our research shows that consumers are more interested in just about every other category compared to the companies that are working to safeguard their financial stability and helping them plan for the future.

It doesn’t have to be that way. At Prophet, we’ve spent years exploring the science of relevance, surveying 51,000 global consumers each year about thousands of brands. Our Brand Relevance Index quantifies how indispensable a given brand is to people in their daily lives. And we do it by ranking each brand against four key drivers of relevance:

  1. Customer obsessed: brands that know you better than you know yourself
  2. Distinctively inspired: brands that win your head and heart, often with a strong purpose
  3. Pervasively innovative: brands that find new and inventive ways to engage
  4. Ruthlessly pragmatic: brands that are right where you need them, making your life easier

We’ve found that relevance drives business impact – the most relevant brands outperformed the S&P 500 average revenue growth by 230% over the past ten years. We help clients use these insights to be more relevant in their customers’ lives by engaging with them in ways that build more excitement, trust and loyalty, whilst also building their bottom line.

Why Do Financial Brands Disappoint?

Companies like Apple, Amazon and Netflix consistently dominate our ranking, generating almost endless brand love. But financial services brands have consistently underperformed compared to other industries. Only one brand – Intuit TurboTax (No. 37) – breaks into the top 40 in our U.S. index. And just four more – PayPal (No. 43), Vanguard (No. 44), USAA (No. 46) and Zelle (No. 48) – manage to sneak into the top 50. While consumers do find financial-data companies moderately relevant to their daily lives, property and casualty insurance, life insurance and retail banking occupy the three lowest rungs of all 27 categories we measure.

Familiarity isn’t the problem. These are brands with high levels of awareness. And, in the case of retail banking, consumers constantly interact with these companies, from paying their mortgage to buying their morning latte. But, there are three primary reasons people feel so detached from these brands:

They’re Inconsistent

Except for financial data services, where 77% of consumers say companies deliver a consistent experience, people say financial services companies are all over the map in terms of their performance. For instance, only 29% say retail banking and investments are consistent, 23% for P&C insurers and just 15% for life insurance companies.

They’re Not Trustworthy

The days when people found financial service companies inherently honest and reliable are long gone. Amid daily headlines about privacy scandals, security hacks and breaches, consumers rank trust as the second-most important attribute for financial data services. Assessed simply on trust, some soar – PayPal, TurboTax, Vanguard and Fidelity are seen as the most trustworthy of all brands. But others fare terribly, with Wells Fargo, Liberty Mutual and PNC among the lowest-performing brands.

Indispensable? Yes. Inspirational? No

Consumers certainly understand that financial services are essential. When we rank brands by “Meets an important need in my life,” for example, TurboTax comes in third, and Visa, Vanguard and Fidelity are in the top 20. But, all stumble on measures of inspiration and emotional engagement, and our data shows that those misses can create a real risk of customer turnover.

3 Ways to Increase Brand Relevance

In our work with financial services companies, we’re helping clients focus on the levers most likely to boost relevance. Take a look at three ways we’re guiding brands to develop richer, deeper and more meaningful relationships with their customers:

1. Impact When It Counts

Brands like Zelle and PayPal have made consumers’ lives infinitely easier by being there for them at every single payment moment that matters. Both brands score more than 95% for “makes my life easier.” Many financial services companies are failing to address the pain points in the customer experience journey. Increasing focus should be given to simplifying processes and exchanges and identifying opportunities to create those all-important memorable and meaningful moments for customers that are tailored personally to their needs and to their lives.

2. Tap Into the Power of Purpose

We help cultures and organizations evolve to find a higher order purpose, that is unique to their company and genuinely resonates with customers and employees. As consumers, particularly younger ones, flock to brands that support their commitment to sustainability and fairness, financial services companies must stand for something more than profits.

Among insurers, for example, brands like USAA and Aflac have built strong relationships by making consumers feel that they can connect on more than just a functional level. USAA, for example, with its deep commitment to the military community, earns an enviable 99% on “has a set of beliefs and values that align with my own” – the third-highest of all companies we track in the U.S. And Aflac and Vanguard aren’t far behind. By comparison, only 1% say that is true of MasterCard.

3. Cultivate Emotional Engagement

With the right experiences and innovations, financial service brands can radically improve their emotional connections with consumers. We might even argue that they have an inherent advantage here, given how often customers interact with their brands.

“We help clients use these insights to be more relevant in their customers’ lives by engaging with them in ways that build more excitement, trust and loyalty, whilst also building their bottom line.”


We’re realists. Will paying a quarterly car-insurance bill ever make someone as happy as seeing a Pixar movie, shopping on Etsy or going to Disneyworld? No. But companies as varied as AARP, Lemonade and John Hancock have made sure that each touchpoint makes consumers “feel emotionally engaged”. By comparison, only 21% can say that of TurboTax, and just 13% about Visa.

There are many roads to relevance. Let us help you find the ones that will resonate most with your audience, and translate that into meaningful revenue growth, talk to our expert consultant team today.


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

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