7 Brands I Admired in 2013

brandstory_aakerMy colleague, Scott Davis recently polled the Prophet team of over 400 brand fanatics to find the top brand winners and losers of 2013. There were plenty of nominees, but the three in the top spots were Nike, Miley Cyrus and Netflix. Nike with its Fuelband SE connects consumers, activities, communities, products and services in a way that revolutionizes exercise programs. Miley Cyrus schooled major brands by controlling the dialog, changing what is relevant and taking the meaning of brand energy to a whole new level. Netflix, which only a few years ago seemed to be fading, transformed itself into an almost indispensable part of the lives of many and with ongoing innovation have made their brand the dynamic exemplar of its category.

It got me thinking about the brands that caught my eye in 2013. Over the course of the year I highlight approximately 25 compelling brand stories, but seven particularly specifically stand out:

Tesla

Tesla is a good example of a charismatic brand, a brand that delivers self-expressive benefits to a committed, involved customer based that is enthusiastic about the brand experience. Tesla has an exceptional design with innovative features, it makes an environmental statement, it defines its own subcategory with extended range and has a very different dealer experience.

Patagonia

This brand scores not only because it has a long-held environmental higher purpose but “walks the talk” with some impactful, visible programs. Its common threads initiative with its “reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle” pledge brings the brand alive. The firm actually ran an ad telling customers, “Don’t Buy This Jacket” above a picture of a top selling Patagonia jacket.

Tanita

A Japanese firm that makes scales that measure weight and body fat broadened its brand to “healthy living.” They created a cookbook around their company cafeteria known for its healthy menus, which sold over 5 million copies and is in the homes of ten percent of Japanese families. They have since expanded to restaurants that have lines outside the door. Talk about creating a strong brand from a modest place! It reminds me of a certain record company named Virgin.

Dove

Their “Campaign for Real Beauty” sets out to make women aware that they have real beauty no matter what their age or shape. The campaign is meaningful, authentic, and connects. It has changed the nature of Dove’s relationship with customers and generated off the charts brand exposure.

Red Bull

The poster child for creating energy has an awesome range of brand building events and teams, a policy of owning rather than sponsoring, and amazing creativity. Their home run this year was when Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a Red Bull sponsored spacecraft more than 24 miles above the New Mexico desert and set a world record. The event was watched live by 10 million people.

Gillette

Gillette India recognized that their razor was fighting to subcategories – a low end, double-edged razor with 80% of the market. It was also fighting against the stubble look made popular by some movie stars. So they developed a new, competitively priced razor, the Guard. They expanded their distribution and launched a remarkable brand campaign, W.A.L.S. (Women Against Lazy Stubble). And it all worked: These initiatives garnered Gillette Guard over 60% share of razors sold in India.

Kmart

Surely by now you’ve seen at least one of this brand’s viral videos. They got visibility, showed a lighter image, and communicated key programs with a series of edgy, very funny ads. It started with the “Ship my pants” ad about the program to ship free any item not in stock. It went on to “Big gas savings” around the gas discount that comes with spending $50 or more at Kmart, and now “Show your Joe” about Joe Boxer underwear.

If anything, these examples show that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for effective brand building. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next in 2014.

David Aaker

David Aaker

David Aaker, the vice-chairman of Prophet, a brand and marketing consultancy, is the author of over 100 articles and 16 books, the most recent of which is Brand Relevance: Making Competitors irrelevant. He blogs at http://davidaaker.com from which this article was taken with permission.