Knowing the answer to what makes a brand last is what separates sustainable success from eventual obscurity. Almost every company devotes significant resources to define their brand. But few question how to protect it.
Historically, brands have risen and fallen in prominence slowly. If you look at almost any decade from the 1950s on, compare the world’s most valuable consumer brands – from Oreo to AT&T – they barely changed in ranking. Between 2000 and 2010 just two of Interbrand’s top 10 brands fell off the list. But only half of the brands on the list in 2010 remained through to today.
Digital in all its meanings makes brands less durable in part because consumer habits have digitised and created new business models that have blindsided many traditional brands.
So what is it that makes a brand durable even as business models, technology, and consumer behaviour radically change? The key is adaptability and a model that many brands can and are using is the MACE framework.
The MACE Framework
Mastery: Give your customers or clients non-transferrable rewards for using your products and engaging with your content. Ideally, these rewards require public displays of affinity or small (non-monetary) sacrifices to exploit the endowment effect (overvaluing losses) and familiarity effect (overvaluing affinity). E.g. 24-hours exclusives requiring a “digital queue” to purchase.
Accessibility: Make your brand easily available to as many consumers as possible by following three simple rules. First, make your entry-level products as cheap as you can, and ideally free if that’s possible. For many industries, this means leveraging alternative pricing models (such as deferred payments, leases and subscriptions) which help minimize upfront costs. Second, distribute your product or service through as many sales channels as possible. And third, design and market your products to appeal to emerging and first-time customers.
Cadence: Constantly create news and content around your brand. First, frequently release new products (or product updates). Second, maximize promotional assets, such as marketing videos, by editing long-form media into micro-content. Third, encourage user-generated content wherever possible. And fourth, communicate everything; even failure. Have a product launch that bombed? Start talking about it publicly. You’ll be surprised by the results, as Apple was during its issues with Taylor Swift.
Ensnarement: Make your brand as sticky as possible by building in switching costs and creating network effects. Two generalizable strategies for accomplishing this — systemization and spawning — involve product development: Systemized product lines are best embodied by LEGO. The brand eschews one-off releases (bricks) in favour of selling entire systems (LEGO model kits). Consider Coca-Cola’s Share-A-Coke promotion. By printing common names on Coke cans, the brand encouraged gifting amongst friends – helping grow sales from 1.7 billion to 1.9 billion servings a day.
To illustrate the generalizability of the MACE model, let’s apply it to a product that could be described as ‘boring’, thermostats. The success of the original smart thermostat, Nest, is a perfect example of how even staid, CPG products can be reinterpreted as MACE-ready brands for the digital age.
Here’s how Nest strategy layered in MACE factors over its lifetime:
Mastery: Nest thermostats reward mastery in a direct way: by saving customers money. The thermostats track energy savings, rewarding eco-friendly settings by displaying a Nest leaf. This leaf becomes more difficult to achieve over time, encouraging users to continuously interact with the device to further economize on heating and cooling costs.
Accessibility: This was arguably Nest’s biggest point of differentiation at launch. The thermostat is designed for the digital generation: app-integrated, intuitive, and elegantly styled.
Cadence: You might not think of a thermostat having a content cadence. Traditional thermostats are programmed once; then likely never again. But Nest updates its users, usually via its app. It automatically adjusts routines, such as lowering temperatures at bedtime. It displays the time to reach the desired temperature. It tracks activity patterns based on the weather. And much more. Smart thermostats don’t need to generate content, but Nest does.
Ensnarement: Finally, Nest locks in its users with switching costs and network effects. As part of a broader Google smart home system of cameras, doorbells, alarms and locks, out-of-ecosystem purchases are painfully isolated. Even more cleverly, Nest leverages network effects by aggregating user behavioural data to create better algorithms for temperature adjustment.
MACE can be a blueprint for any brand — even traditional ones, small or large — to evolve for long-term relevancy. It is true that brands without inherent digital connectivity require clever thinking to leverage this framework. But companies that cannot effectively engage with consumers on digital platforms are destined to be dinosaurs. Even the most traditional products can, and must, effectively do this. Manage with MACE in mind, and ensure your brand endures in our increasingly digitised world.