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A CSP Staff Report from 2014 Convenience Retailing University

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Strong Culture, Commitment Guide Greatest Brands

Ever wonder about the magic behind highly loved brands? You know—the ones people tattoo on their arms, or praise in YouTube videos?

As part of her research for the book “What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest,” branding consultant Denise Lee Yohn discovered key traits that great brands have in common:

Great brands are born inside of a company with a strong internal corporate culture, one that is willing to change how it functions to better match its values. Without this alignment, employees often end up working at cross-purposes, with more frequent internal disputes, said Yohn. “The culture determines whether the employees embrace the brand,” she said.

Great brands ignore trends; instead, they identify ideas on the horizon that may be relevant and figure out how to advance them. While fast-food restaurants were competing on lower prices and value meals, Chipotle founder Steve Ells saw greater opportunity in offering high-quality food. Even during the recession, Chipotle continued to push its quality—it sourced higher-quality pork, for example, even though it meant a price increase. Surprisingly, sales doubled for menu items that included the pork.

Great brands avoid selling products. For example, Nike is much more than a shoe company. Yohn shared Nike’s switch from a company-focused advertising campaign in the 1990s to one centered around the customer-focused “Just Do It” slogan. “It wasn’t about sneakers; it was about values,” said Yohn. “Seducing through emotion trumps pushing a product.”

Great brands stay committed. Consider New York-based burger and milkshake chain Shake Shack. While other restaurant chains chased food trucks and expanded into catering, Shake Shack actually has narrowed its focus on its few restaurants and its level of service. “It was a deliberate choice to preserve the core of the brand,” said Yohn.

Great brands sweat the small stuff. Yohn shared the example of Chobani Greek yogurt, which debuted with short, squat packaging and printed plastic sleeve labels that allow the color to pop more, vs. the typical yogurt container. “Every customer touch point matters,” said Yohn. “The little things you do will far outweigh the big things you say.” --Samantha Oller


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