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Brand Leadership

Building Assets In an Information Economy

About The Book

A dozen management fads have come and gone in the past decade, but brand equity, first explored by David Aaker in the late 1980s, has exploded in importance. Recognized by Brandweek as "the dean of the brand-equity movement," Aaker now prepares managers for the next level of the brand revolution -- brand leadership.

For the first time, Aaker and coauthor Erich Joachimsthaler describe how the emerging paradigm of strategic brand leadership is replacing the classic, tactically oriented brand management system pioneered by Procter & Gamble. This fundamental shift involves nothing less than a revolution in organizational structure, systems, and culture -- as the authors demonstrate with hundreds of case studies from companies such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Virgin Airlines, Adidas, GE, Marriott, IBM, McDonald's, Maggi, and Swatch. This immensely readable book provides the brand management team with the capability to:

  • Create and elaborate brand identities (what should the brand stand for)

  • Use the brand relationship spectrum, a powerful tool to harness subbrands and endorsed brands to form brand architectures that create clarity, synergy and leveraged assets

  • Identify the customer "sweet spot" and the driving idea that will move brand-building efforts beyond advertising to break out of the clutter

  • Use the Internet and sponsorship to make brands resources work more effectively

  • Address the four imperatives of global brand management

Like David Aaker's two previous bestselling books, Brand Leadership will be essential reading for line executives and brand managers in market-driven firms worldwide.


Chapter One: Brand Leadership -- The New Imperative

It's a new brand world.

-- Tom Peters

A brand strategy must follow the business strategy.

-- Dennis Carter, Intel


In May 1931, Neil McElroy, who later rose to be a successful CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G) and still later became the U.S. secretary of defense, was a junior marketing manager responsible for the advertising for Camay soap. Ivory ("99.44% pure" since 1879) was then the king at P&G, while the company's other brands were treated in an ad hoc manner. McElroy observed that the Camay marketing effort was diffuse and uncoordinated, with no budget commitment or management focus. As a result, Camay drifted and languished. Frustrated, McElroy wrote a now-classic memo proposing a brand-focused management system.

The McElroy memo detailed the solution -- a brand management team that would be responsible for creating a brand's marketing program and coordinating it with sales and manufacturing. This memo, which built on the ideas and activities of several people inside and outside P&G, has had a profound effect on how firms around the world manage their brands.

The system McElroy proposed was geared to solve "sales problems" by analyzing sales and profits for each market area in order to identify problem markets. The brand manager conducted research to understand the causes of the problem, developed response programs to turn it around, and then used a planning system to help ensure that the programs were implemented on time. The responses used not only advertising but also other marketing tools, such as pricing, promotions, in-store displays, salesforce incentives, and packaging changes or product refinements.

In part, the classic brand management system was successful at P&G and elsewhere because it was typically staffed by exceptional planners, doers, and motivators. The process of managing a complex system -- often involving R&D, manufacturing, and logistics in addition to advertising, promotion, and distribution-channel issues -- required management skills and a get-it-done ethic. Successful brand managers also needed to have exceptional coordination and motivational skills because the brand manager typically had no direct line authority over the people (both inside and outside the company) involved in implementing branding programs.

Although it was not specifically discussed in his memo, the premise that each brand would vigorously compete with the firm's other brands (both for market share and within the company for resources) was an important aspect of McElroy's conceptualization of brand management. Contemporary accounts of McElroy's thoughts suggest the source for this idea was General Motors, which had distinct brands like Chevrolet, Buick, and Oldsmobile competing against one another. The brand manager's goal was to see the brand win, even if winning came at the expense of other brands within the firm.

The classic brand management system usually limited its scope to a relevant market in a single country. When a brand was multinational, the brand management system usually was replicated in each country, with local managers in charge.

Finally, in the original P&G model, the brand manager tended to be tactical and reactive, observing competitor and channel activity as well as sales and margin trends. When problems were detected, the goal of the response programs was to "move the needle" as soon as possible, with the process largely driven by sales and margins. Strategy was often delegated to an agency or simply ignored.


The classic brand management system has worked well for many decades for P&G and a host of imitators. It manages the brand and makes things happen by harnessing the work of many. However, it can fall short in dealing with emerging market complexities, competitive pressures, channel dynamics, global forces, and business environments with multiple brands, aggressive brand extensions, and complex subbrand structures.

As a result, a new model is gradually replacing the classic brand management system at P&G and many other firms. The emerging paradigm, which we term the brand leadership model, is very different. As Figure 1-3 summarizes, it emphasizes strategy as well as tactics, its scope is broader, and it is driven by brand identity as well as sales.

From Tactical to Strategic Management

The manager in the brand leadership model is strategic and visionary rather than tactical and reactive. He or she takes control of the brand strategically, setting forth what it should stand for in the eyes of the customer and relevant others and communicating that identity consistently, efficiently, and effectively.

To fill this role, the brand manager must be involved in creating the business strategy as well as implementing it. The brand strategy should be influenced by the business strategy and should reflect the same strategic vision and corporate culture. In addition, the brand identity should not promise what the strategy cannot or will not deliver. There is nothing more wasteful and damaging than developing a brand identity or vision based on a strategic imperative that will not get funded. An empty brand promise is worse than no promise at all.

Higher in the organization

In the classic brand management system, the brand manager was too often a relatively inexperienced person who rarely stayed in the job more than two to three years. The strategic perspective calls for the brand manager to be higher in the organization, with a longer-term job horizon; in the brand leadership model, he or she is often the top marketing professional in the organization. For organizations where there is marketing talent at the top, the brand manager can be and often is the CEO.

Focus on brand equity as the conceptual model

The emerging model can be captured in part by juxtaposing brand image and brand equity. Brand image is tactical -- an element that drives short-term results and can be comfortably left to advertising and promotion specialists. Brand equity, in contrast, is strategic -- an asset that can be the basis of competitive advantage and long-term profitability and thus needs to be monitored closely by the top management of an organization. The goal of brand leadership is to build brand equities rather than simply manage brand images.

Brand equity measures

The brand leadership model encourages the development of brand equity measures to supplement short-term sales and profit figures. These measures, commonly tracked over time, should reflect major brand equity dimensions such as awareness, loyalty, perceived quality, and associations. Identifying brand identity elements that differentiate and drive customer-brand relationships is a first step toward creating a set of brand equity measures.

From a Limited to a Broad Focus

In the classic P&G model, the scope of the brand manager was limited to not only a single brand but also one product and one market. In addition, the communication effort tended to be more focused (with fewer options available), and internal brand communication was usually ignored. In the brand leadership model, the challenges and contexts are very different, and the task has been expanded.

Multiple products and markets

In the brand leadership model, because a brand can cover multiple products and markets, determining the brand's product and market scope becomes a key management issue.

Product scope involves the management of brand extensions and licensing programs. To which products should the brand be attached? Which products exceed the brand's current and target domains? Some brands, such as Sony, gain visibility and energy from being extended widely; customers know there will always be something new and exciting under the Sony brand. Other brands are very protective of a strong set of associations. Kingsford Charcoal, for instance, has stuck to charcoal and products directly related to charcoal cooking.

Market scope refers to the stretch of the brand across markets. This stretch can be horizontal (as with 3M in the consumer and industrial markets) or vertical (3M participating in both value and premium markets). Some brands, such as IBM, Coke, and Pringles, use the same identity across a broad set of markets. Other situations, though, require multiple brand identities or multiple brands. For example, the GE brand needs different associations in the context of jet engines than it does in the context of appliances.

The challenge in managing a brand's product and market scope is to allow enough flexibility to succeed in diverse product markets while still capturing cross-market and cross-product synergies. A rigid, lockstep brand strategy across product markets risks handicapping a brand facing vigorous, less-fettered competitors. On the other hand, brand anarchy will create inefficient and ineffective marketing efforts. A variety of approaches, detailed in Chapters 2 and 4, can address these challenges.

Complex brand architectures

Whereas the classic brand manager rarely dealt with extensions and subbrands, a brand leadership manager requires the flexibility of complex brand architectures. The need to stretch brands and fully leverage their strength has led to the introduction of endorsed brands (such as Post-its by 3M, Hamburger Helper by Betty Crocker, and Courtyard by Marriott) and subbrands (such as Campbell's Chunky, Wells Fargo Express, and Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet) to represent different product markets, and sometimes an organizational brand as well. Chapters 4 and 5 examine brand architecture structures, concepts, and tools.

Category focus

The classic P&G brand management system encouraged the existence of competing brands within categories -- such as Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Pert, and Vidal Sassoon in hair care -- because different market segments were covered and competition within the organization was thought to be healthy. Two forces, however, have convinced many firms to consider managing product categories (that is, groupings of brands) instead of a portfolio of individual brands.

First, because retailers of consumer products have harnessed information technology and databases to manage categories as their unit of analysis, they expect their suppliers to also bring a category perspective to the table. In fact, some multicontinent retailers are demanding one single, worldwide contact person for a category, believing that a country representative cannot see enough of the big picture to help the retailer capture the synergies across countries.

Second, in the face of an increasingly cluttered market, sister brands within a category find it difficult to remain distinct, with market confusion, cannibalization, and inefficient communication as the all-too-common results. Witness the confused positioning overlap that now exists in the General Motors family of brands. When categories of brands are managed, clarity and efficiency are easier to attain. In addition, important resource-allocation decisions involving communication budgets and product innovations can be made more dispassionately and strategically, because the profit-generating brand no longer automatically controls the resources.

Under the new model, the brand manager's focus expands from a single brand to a product category. The goal is to make the brands within a category or business unit work together to provide the most collective impact and the strongest synergies. Thus, printer brands at HP, cereal brands at General Mills, or hair care brands at P&G need to be managed as a team to maximize operational efficiency and marketing effectiveness.

Category or business unit brand management can improve profitability and strategic health by addressing some cross-brand issues. What brand identities and positions will result in the most coherent and least redundant brand system? Is there a broader vision driven by consumer and channel needs that can provide a breakthrough opportunity? Are there sourcing and logistical opportunities within the set of brands involved in the category? How can R&D successes be best used across the brands in the category?

Global perspective

Multinational brand management in the classic model meant an autonomous brand manager in each country. As the task of competing successfully in the global marketplace has changed, this perspective has increasingly shown itself to be inadequate. As a result, more firms are experimenting with organizational structures that support cohesive global business strategies which involve sourcing, manufacturing, and R&D as well as branding.

The brand leadership paradigm has a global perspective. Thus a key goal is to manage the brand across markets and countries in order to gain synergies, efficiencies, and strategic coherence. This perspective adds another level of complexity -- Which elements of the brand strategy are to be common globally and which are to be adapted to local markets? Implementing the strategy involves coordination across more people and organizations. Moreover, developing the capability to gain insights and build best practices throughout the world can be difficult. The wide range of organizational structures and systems used to manage brands over countries will be discussed in Chapter 10.

Communication team leader

The classic brand manager often just acted as the coordinator and scheduler of tactical communication programs. Further, the programs were simpler to manage because mass media could be employed. Peter Sealey, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, has noted that in 1965 a P&G product manager could reach 80 percent of eighteen- to forty-nine-year-old women with three 60-second commercials. Today, that manager would require ninety-seven prime-time commercials to achieve the same result. Media and market fragmentation has made the communication task very different.

In the brand leadership model, the brand manager needs to be a strategist and communications team leader directing the use of a wide assortment of vehicles, including sponsorships, the Web, direct marketing, publicity, and promotions. This array of options raises two challenges: how to break out of the box to access effective media options, and how to coordinate messages across media that are managed by different organizations and individuals (each with separate perspectives and goals). Addressing both challenges involves generating effective brand identities and creating organizations that are suited to brand management in a complex environment.

Furthermore, rather than delegating strategy, the brand manager must be the owner of the strategy -- guiding the total communication effort in order to achieve the strategic objectives of the brand. Like an orchestra conductor, the brand manager needs to stimulate brilliance while keeping the communication components disciplined and playing from the same sheet of music.

In Part IV of this book, a variety of case studies will show how communication strategies using a broad scope of media can be coordinated to generate synergy and efficiency as well as impact. In particular, Chapters 7 and 8 will provide a close look at two increasingly important vehicles -- sponsorship and the Web.

Internal as well as external communication

Communication in the new paradigm is likely to have an internal focus as well as the usual external focus on influencing the customer. Unless the brand strategy can communicate with and inspire the brand partners both inside and outside the organization, it will not be effective. Brand strategy should be owned by all the brand partners. Chapter 3 will present a variety of ways that a brand can be leveraged to crystallize and communicate organizational values and cultures.

From Sales to Brand Identity as the Driver of Strategy

In the brand leadership model, strategy is guided not only by short-term performance measures such as sales and profits but also by the brand identity, which clearly specifies what the brand aspires to stand for. With the identity in place, the execution can be managed so that it is on target and effective.

The development of a brand identity relies on a thorough understanding of the firm's customers, competitors, and business strategy. Customers ultimately drive brand value, and a brand strategy thus needs to be based on a powerful, disciplined segmentation strategy, as well as an in-depth knowledge of customer motivations. Competitor analysis is another key because the brand identity needs to have points of differentiation that are sustainable over time. Finally, the brand identity, as already noted, needs to reflect the business strategy and the firm's willingness to invest in the programs needed for the brand to live up to its promise to customers. Brand identity development and elaboration are examined in Chapters 2 and 3.


Because the classic brand management model focused on short-term sales, investments in brands were easy to justify. They either delivered sales and profits or they did not. In contrast, the brand leadership paradigm focuses on building assets that will result in long-term profitability, which is often difficult or impossible to demonstrate. Brand building may require consistent reinforcement over years, and only a small portion of the payoff may occur immediately -- in fact, the building process may depress profits in the short run. Further, brand building is often done in the context of competitive and market clutter that creates measurement problems.

The brand leadership model is based on the premise that brand building not only creates assets but is necessary for the success (and often the survival) of the enterprise. The firm's highest executives must believe that building brands will result in a competitive advantage that will pay off financially.

The challenge of justifying investments to build brand assets is similar to justifying investments in any other intangible asset. Although the three most important assets in nearly every organization are people, information technology, and brands, none of these appear on the balance sheet. Quantitative measures of their effect on the organization are virtually impossible to obtain; as a result, only very crude estimates of value are available. The rationale for investment in any intangible, therefore, must rest in part on a conceptual model of the business that is often not easy to generate or defend. Without such a model, though, movement toward brand leadership is inhibited.

Later in this chapter, we will review studies showing that brand building has resulted in significant asset growth and that investments in brands affect stock return. First, however, we will contrast brand building with its strategic alternative, price competition -- because that is where the logic starts.

An alternative to price competition

Few managers would describe their business context without mentioning excess capacity and vicious price competition. Except, perhaps, for the operators of the Panama Canal, not many companies are blessed with the absence of real competitors. The following scenario is all too familiar: Pressure on prices is caused by new entrants, overcapacity, sliding sales, or retail power. Price declines, rebates, and/or promotions ensue. Competitors, especially the third- or fourth-ranked brands, respond defensively. Consumers begin to focus more on price than on quality and differentiated features. Brands start resembling commodities, and firms begin to treat them as such. Profits erode.

It does not take a strategic visionary to see that any slide toward commodity status should be resisted. The only alternative is to build brands.

The price premium paid for Morton salt (few products are more of a commodity than salt), Charles Schwab (discount brokerage services), or Saturn (subcompacts from General Motors) show that a slide into commodity status is not inevitable. In each instance, a strong brand has been able to resist pressures to compete on price alone. Another case in point is Victoria's Secret, which saw sales increase and profits skyrocket when they stopped their policy of running forty to fifty price promotions each week.

The importance of price as a driving attribute can be overestimated. Surveys show that few customers base their purchase decisions solely on price. Even customers of Boeing aircraft, with reams of quantitatively supported proposals in front of them, will, in the final analysis, turn to a subjective appraisal based on their affinity with and trust in the Boeing brand. One of Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoons makes this point in ironic fashion. Lucy, behind what looks like a lemonade stand, has reduced the price of her psychiatric services from $5 to $1 to 25 cents. She obviously thinks that such services are bought only on price -- a funny premise in a cartoon, but not how things work in real life. Tom Peters said it well: "In an increasingly crowded marketplace, fools will compete on price. Winners will find a way to create lasting value in the customer's mind."

The Value of the Brand

The value of a brand cannot be measured precisely, but it can be estimated roughly (for example, within plus or minus 30 percent). Because of the wide margin of error, such estimates cannot be used to evaluate marketing programs, but they can show that brand assets have been created. These estimates can also provide a frame of reference when developing brand-building programs and budgets. For example, if a brand is worth $500 million, a budget of $5 million for brand building might be challenged as being too low. Similarly, if $400 million of the brand's value was in Europe and $100 million was in the United States, a decision to split the brand-building budget evenly might be questioned.

Estimating the value of a brand involves straightforward logic. First, the earnings stream of each major product market carrying the brand is identified. (For Hewlett-Packard, one product market might be the business computer market in the United States.) The earnings are then divided into those attributable (1) to the brand, (2) to fixed assets like plants and equipment, and (3) to other intangibles like people, systems, processes, or patents. The earnings attributable to the brand are capitalized, providing a value for the brand in that product market. Aggregating the various product market values provides an overall value for the brand.

The earnings attributable to fixed assets are relatively easy to estimate; they are simply a fair return (for example, 8 percent) on the value of the fixed assets. The balance of the earnings has to be divided into brand-driven earnings and earnings attributable to other intangibles. This division is made subjectively based on the judgments of knowledgeable people in the organization. One key determinant in making these judgments is the strength of the other intangibles. (For airlines, for example, the value of controlling airport gates is a significant driver of earnings.) Another key determinant is the strength of the brand in terms of its relative awareness, perceived quality, customer loyalty, and associations.

Interbrand is a firm that generates brand values using the above logic but with its own refinements. In its June 1999 study of brands with a significant market presence outside their home countries, the values of the largest global brands involved eye-opening numbers.

Sixty brands were estimated to have a value over $1 billion; the leaders were Coca-Cola at $83.8 billion and Microsoft at $56.7 billion. In many cases, the brand value was a significant percentage of the total market capitalization of the firm (even though the brand was not on all its products). Of the top fifteen brands, only General Electric had a brand value under 19 percent of the firm's market value. In contrast, nine of the top sixty brands had values that exceeded 50 percent of the whole firm's value, and BMW, Nike, Apple, and Ikea had brand-firm value ratios over 75 percent.

Among the top sixty global brands, there were some interesting patterns. All of the top ten (and nearly two-thirds of the total) were U.S. brands, a finding that reflects the size of the U.S. home market and the early global initiatives of American firms. Nearly one-fourth of the group (including four of the top ten) were in the computer or telecommunications industry; this supports the premise that brands are critical in the high-tech world despite arguments that "rational" customers buy largely on the specifications of product attributes rather than brands.

The Interbrand study rather dramatically illustrates that creating strong brands does pay off and that brands have created meaningful value. It is an important statement about the wisdom and feasibility of creating brand assets.

The Impact of Brand Building on Stock Return

Although the Interbrand study shows that brands have created value, it does not demonstrate that specific brand-building efforts result in enhanced profits or stock returns. For example, Coca-Cola's brand value may be based on its century-old heritage and customer loyalty rather than any recent brand-building effort. What evidence is there that brand building directly affects profits or stock return?

Everyone can recite anecdotes of how brands like Coke, Nike, Gap, Sony, and Dell have created and leveraged brand strength.

The book Managing Brand Equity presented four case studies that illustrate both destroying and creating brand value. The failure to support customers at WordStar (at one time the leader in word-processing software) and the loss of perceived quality at Schlitz (once a close second among U.S. beer brands) were both priced out as $1 billion brand disasters; the Datsun to Nissan name change was only somewhat less of a brand equity blunder. The creation and management of the Weight Watchers brand during the 1980s, however, was a $1 billion brand success story.

Two studies, both by Robert Jacobson (from the University of Washington) and David Aaker have gone beyond anecdotes to find causal links between brand equity and stock return. The first study is based on the EquiTrend database from Total Research, and the second is based on the Techtel database of high-technology brands.

The EquiTrend Study

Since 1989, EquiTrend has provided an annual brand power rating for 133 U.S. brands in 39 categories, based on a telephone survey of 2,000 respondents. Since 1992, the survey has increased its frequency and the number of brands covered. The key brand equity measure is perceived quality, which has been found by Total Research to be highly associated with brand-liking, trust, pride, and willingness to recommend. It is essentially the average quality rating among those who had an opinion about the brand.

The extent to which the EquiTrend brand equity measure influenced stock return was explored using data from thirty-three brands representing publicly traded firms for which the corporate brand drove a substantial amount of sales and profits. The brands were American Airlines (AMR), American Express, AT&T, Avon, Bic, Chrysler, Citicorp, Coke, Compaq, Exxon, Kodak, Ford, GTE, Goodyear, Hershey, Hilton, IBM, Kellogg, MCI, Marriott, Mattel, McDonald's, Merrill Lynch, Pepsi, Polaroid, Reebok, Rubbermaid, Sears, Texaco, United Airlines, VF, Volvo, and Wendy's. In addition to brand equity, two additional causal variables were included in the model: advertising expenditures and return on investment (ROI).

Consistent with a wide body of empirical research in finance, a strong relationship between ROI and stock return was found. Remarkably, the relationship between brand equity and stock return was nearly as strong. Figure 1-5 shows graphically how similar the impact of brand equity and ROI is. Firms experiencing the largest gains in brand equity saw their stock return average 30 percent; conversely, those firms with the largest losses in brand equity saw stock return average a negative 10 percent. And the brand equity impact was distinct from that of ROI -- the correlation between the two was small. In contrast, there was no impact of advertising on stock return except that which was captured by brand equity.

The relationship of brand equity to stock return may be in part caused by the fact that brand equity supports a price premium which contributes to profitability. An analysis of the larger EquiTrend database has shown that brand equity is associated with a premium price. Thus, premium-priced brands like Kodak, Mercedes, Levi Strauss, and Hallmark have substantial perceived quality advantages over competitors such as Fuji Film, Buick Automobiles, Lee's Jeans, and American Greeting Cards. This relationship is undoubtedly based upon a two-way causal flow -- a strong brand commands a price premium, and a price premium is an important quality cue. When a high level of perceived quality has been (or can be) created, raising the price not only provides margin dollars but also aids perceptions.

The Techtel Study of High-Technology Brands

How relevant is brand equity in high-technology markets? Industry executives and others often argue that because high-tech products have different characteristics than frequently purchased consumer goods and services, brand building is less critical -- instead, the keys to success are product innovation, manufacturing capability, and distribution. The implication is that high-tech companies should avoid transferring investment resources from these key activities to so-called softer activities like brand building. Since investments to create awareness, organizational associations, brand personality, or brand symbols are regarded as frivolous, brand communication is relegated to product details.

These arguments revolve around the belief that the buyers and the buying process are more rational in the high-tech realm than in other markets. The organizational setting is thought to stimulate more rational thought and less emotion, and the personal/professional risk involved in acquiring such complex products is thought to motivate buyers to process -- if not seek out -- relevant information. (This is in sharp contrast to many consumer goods categories, where the products are trivial enough that consumers have little or no motivation to process information.) Because the products also tend to have short life cycles -- sometimes measured in months -- and each new version has a significant amount of news associated with it, communicating this new information as it appears is seen as the primary imperative.

Nevertheless, brand-building initiatives have been at least partially credited with the market success of a growing list of high-technology brands. The Intel Inside campaign contributed a visible price premium, positive associations, and sales growth to the Intel brands. Dozens of high-technology firms, including large firms such as Oracle and Cisco, have sought to duplicate this success. Branding specialist Lou Gerstner shifted huge amounts of resources behind the IBM brand, and the company's subsequent turnaround has been attributed in part to this decision. Gateway and Dell created brands that made a difference, and even Microsoft has launched a major brand program for the first time. These anecdotes, though, still fall short of real evidence that brand building pays off in the high-technology area.

The Techtel study was conducted to empirically explore the relationship between high-technology brand building and stock return. Since 1988, Techtel has undertaken quarterly surveys of the personal and network computing markets. Respondents are asked whether they have a positive, negative, or no opinion of a company. Using this data, brand equity can be measured by the difference between the percentage of respondents with a positive opinion and those with a negative opinion. Nine brands from publicly traded firms (Apple, Borland, Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, and Oracle) populate the database.

Again, ROI is found to have a significant influence on stock return. And again, brand equity is found to have nearly as strong an influence as ROI, with the relative impact of brand equity about 70 percent of that of ROI. Showing that brand equity pays off in the high-tech context, where many argue that brands are of minor import, is impressive. The conclusion is clear: Brand equity, on average, drives stock return.

Changes in Brand Equity

The question, however, still remains: What caused brand equity to change? Was it simply new product announcements and innovations, or is there more to brand equity in the high-tech context than product attributes? To explore this issue, we examined all of the major changes in brand equity by consulting industry experts, company executives, and trade magazines. We found evidence that brand equity was influenced by the following factors:

  • Major new products. Although thousands of new products did not have a visible impact on brand equity, the positive impact of such products as the ThinkPad on IBM, the initial Newton introduction on Apple, and Windows 3.1 on Microsoft is clear.
  • Product problems. While the introduction of Newton helped Apple, the subsequent disappointment also had an adverse effect on Apple's brand equity. Intel's mismanagement of a defect in the Pentium chip affected its equity.
  • Change in top management. The arrival of Lou Gerstner at IBM and the reinvolvement of Steve Jobs with Apple both were associated with brand equity improvements. These visible CEOs articulated major changes in business strategy that clearly influenced their brands.
  • Competitor actions. A sharp brand equity downturn experienced by Hewlett-Packard was in part due to some hard-hitting advertising from a competitor, Canon. The impact of Windows 95 on Apple's brand equity was dramatic, and it was mirrored by the increase in equity for Windows 95, as the latter succeeded in neutralizing Apple's ownership of the user-friendly interface. That result was, in fact, a strategic and tactical goal of Microsoft.
  • Legal actions. Microsoft, after enjoying a stable brand equity level over a long time period, suffered a sharp decline because of the antitrust case brought against it.

One of the problems with empirical tracking is that, in general, brand equity does not change much over time. Because the samples involved are small enough to generate a substantial error factor, it takes a fairly large shock to see an impact. In this study of high-tech brands, it is interesting that the causes of the larger changes in equity can be identified. The findings suggest that the brand name needs to be managed and protected in a broad sense; it is not enough to manage the advertising. In fact, while advertising campaigns surely have an impact over time, they only created a major change in brand equity when they were paired with one of the three dramatic new products (ThinkPad, Newton, and Windows 3.1).


So, building brands pays off, and the brand leadership model is a perspective that will be needed to build strong brands in the next decade. What is involved in achieving brand leadership? Ultimately there are four challenges that need to be addressed. The first is to create a brand-building organization. The second is to develop a comprehensive brand architecture that provides strategic direction. The third is to develop a brand strategy for the key brands that includes a motivating brand identity, as well as a position that differentiates the brand and resonates with customers. The fourth is to develop efficient and effective brand-building programs together with a system to track the results.

The organizational challenge

The first challenge, as noted above, is to create an organizational structure and process that will lead to strong brands. Someone (or some group) needs to be in charge, so brands are not at the mercy of ad hoc decisions made by those with no long-term vested interest in the brand. When the brand has multiple products, markets, and/or countries, each with its own manager, the organizational process needs to provide a common set of inputs, outputs, and vocabulary that all will use. The communication system should allow for the sharing of insights, experience, and brand-building initiatives. In short, the organization must establish a brand-nurturing structure and culture.

The brand architecture challenge

Brand architecture involves identifying the brand and subbrands that are to be supported, their respective roles, and, critically, their relationships to each other. An effective, well-conceived architecture will lead to clarity in customer offerings, real synergies in the brands and their communication programs, and an ability to leverage brand assets. It is destructive and wasteful to have a host of brands drifting among a confused set of offerings, surrounded by monumental communication inefficiencies. High-tech and service firms are particularly susceptible to brand proliferation without the guidance and discipline of any brand policy or plan.

A key dimension in creating an effective brand architecture is deciding when to stretch an existing brand, when to employ a new brand, when to use an endorsed brand, and when to use a subbrand. In making these judgments, it is important to understand the role and management of endorsed brands and subbrands -- can they be used to help a brand stretch over products and markets? Subbrands and endorsed brands are particularly relevant for vertical stretches where the brand needs to access upscale or downscale markets.

The role of each brand in the portfolio is a key element of brand architecture. Brands should not be managed as if they were silos, each one independent of the other. Instead, the relative role of each brand in the portfolio should be determined. For example, strategic brands are those brands that are most important to the future of the firm and that should receive adequate resources to succeed.

The brand identity and position challenge

Each actively managed brand needs a brand identity -- a vision of how that brand should be perceived by its target audience. The brand identity is the heart of the brand leadership model, because it is the vehicle that guides and inspires the brand-building program. If the brand identity is confused or ambiguous, there is little chance that effective brand building will occur.

The brand position can help prioritize and focus the brand identity by setting forth the communication objectives: What message will best differentiate the brand and appeal to the target segments?

The brand-building program challenge

Communication and other brand-building programs are needed to realize the brand identity. In fact, brand-building programs not only implement the brand identity but also help define it. An advertising execution or sponsorship can bring clarity and focus to a brand identity that otherwise might appear sterile and ambiguous. Having execution elements on the table can make strategies more vivid and less ambiguous and can provide some confidence that the strategies are achievable.

The key to most strong brands is brilliant execution that bursts out of the clutter, provides a boost to the brand, and creates a cumulative impact over time. The difference between good and brilliant cannot be overstated. The problem, of course, is that there is a lot of good around and little brilliance. The challenge is to be noticed, to be remembered, to change perceptions, to reinforce attitudes, and to create deep customer relationships. Good execution rarely moves the needle unless inordinate amounts of resources are expended.

Brilliant execution requires the right communication tools. These tools are often more than just advertising -- in fact, sometimes advertising plays a small role or even no role. One key is to access alternative media. The strong brands of tomorrow are going to understand and use interactive media, direct response, promotions, and other devices that provide relationship-building experiences. Another key is to learn to manage the resulting communication program so that it is synergetic and consistently on strategy.

Successful management involves measurement. Without measurement, budgets become arbitrary and programs cannot be evaluated. The key to effective measurement is to have indicators that tap all dimensions of brand equity: brand awareness, perceived quality, customer loyalty, and associations that include brand personality as well as organizational and attribute associations. Relying on short-term financial indicators alone is a recipe for brand erosion rather than brand building.


The concept of brand identity and the analyses that support it are extensively discussed in Building Strong Brands. Experience in working with and implementing the brand identity model, however, has made it clear that aspects of the model and its use could productively be elaborated. Thus, in Chapter 2, a brief overview of brand identity and positioning is presented, after which eight observations provide suggestions to those who will implement these concepts. In Chapter 3, we present a variety of ways that the brand identity and position can be elaborated in order to guide communication and other brand-enhancing programs more effectively.

Brand architecture issues are discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 presents the brand relationship spectrum as a way to understand and use subbrands and endorsed brands. Chapter 5 defines brand architecture and describes an audit system that will guide those who need to improve their brand architecture.

Brand building beyond advertising is the focus of Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9. Chapter 6 provides a case study of the novel brand-building approaches used by Adidas and Nike. Using sponsorships to build brands is covered in Chapter 7, and brand building on the Web is discussed in Chapter 8. Chapter 9 provides several case studies of out-of-the-box brand building, as well as some general guidelines.

Finally, Chapter 10 draws on a study of how thirty-five global firms structure their organizations to create strong brands. It also develops a model of four organizational structures that are used by successful global firms.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Examine forces influencing brand management in your industry, such as competitive pressures, channel dynamics, global realities, and market factors. How will your brand strategy have to change to win in the emerging environment?

  2. Comment on the studies showing how brand equity affects financial returns.

Copyright © 2000 by David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions
  1. Look at the dimensions in Figure 1-3. For exert dimension, position your organization on a seven-point scale between classic brand management and the brand leadership paradigm.
  2. Evaluate the brand identity for Virgin Airlines. How would you change it? Develop alternative brand essence statements.
  3. Focus on a brand with a sell-defined identity such as Virgin. Elaborate on the identity using each of the elaboration approaches.
  4. Pick two diverse firms-one that is close to a branded house and another that is close to a house of brands. Look closely at their branded offerings and identity the subcategories in the brand relationship spectrum that are respected.
  5. Identity a firm with a serious brand architecture problem. Describe the problem and suggest options.
  6. Evaluate the brand-building approaches presented in this chapter. Which do you admire the most? What was the key to getting that approach implemented? What other firms are using smaller techniques?
  7. Take a core identity element from a brand discussed in the book or another brand and identity sponsorship properties that will have similar associations.
  8. What web sites have strong symbols? What do those symbols tell you about the brand? Why aren't there more symbols on web brands?
  9. Pick a brand and determine its sweet spot and identify some great ideas that would exploit that sweet spot.
  10. Address the questions at the end of the McDonalds vignette. How does your firm address the four challenges described in the chapter?

About The Authors

Photo Credit:

David A. Aaker is the Vice-Chairman of Prophet, Professor Emeritus of Marketing Strategy at the Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley, Advisor to Dentsu, Inc., and a recognized authority on brands and brand management. The winner of the Paul D. Converse Award for outstanding contributions to the development of the science of marketing and the Vijay Mahajan Award for Career Contributions to Marketing Strategy, he has published more than ninety articles and eleven books, including Strategic Market Management, Managing Brand Equity, Building Strong Brands, and Brand Leadership (coauthored with Eric Joachimsthaler).

Product Details

  • Publisher: Free Press (April 27, 2009)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439172919

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