Why are some brands more successful than others? How is it that some brands can extend themselves around the world, as well as into other product categories, while others fail? Are brand life cycles inevitable, or do brand builders make choices that determine their destiny? These questions are posed at an unsettled time for businesses. The process of brand building continues to undergo dramatic change. Conventions that seemed timeless only yesterday are being retooled or abandoned altogether. New ideas and process models are entering the discourse. For practitioners, separating the verities from the vagaries isn’t easy.

Leadership brands have self-knowledge and an uncanny ability to anticipate. This ability, however, is not a result of good fortune; rather, it is the result of passionate commitments to understanding the strategic framework of the brand, as well as to planning ahead. Further, when the framework is understood and the plan is articulated, it is understood and embraced throughout the enterprise. The successful transference of knowledge is as critical to leadership brands as the creation of the knowledge itself. No brand-builder is an island.

Developing brand strategy involves understanding the meaning of the brand. The meaning includes dimensions of brand insight, brand differentiation, and brand elasticity

Whether developing a new brand, evolving an existing brand, or extending a brand into new opportunities, the foundation must be based on deep consumer insight. The process of creating and managing the brand foundation defines strategic equities and creates desire by understanding this insight. Leadership brands are deliberate in identifying and articulating aspects of insight that are expected, yet compelling, within their category. Points of category parity, such as “great taste” within a food category, serve to establish critical must-haves in order to be credible within a particular competitive set. Consumers tend to purchase confectionery products, for example, as a treat within a hectic lifestyle Consumer insight reveals that a Reese’s Cup or Hershey’s Kiss represents time saved for oneself, a small indulgence that is satisfying not just on the intrinsic dimension of taste, but also on a deeper dimension of personal reward. The more brands understand that it is not just the features of a brand that create consumer pull but the benefits as well, the more leadership they will attain within their categories. Leadership brands build a foundation that leverages this deep consumer insight.

Establishing core covenants of brand meaning that serve to differentiate a brand on both rational and emotional grounds is also critical to creating and maintaining a leadership position. The process of building leadership brands includes the assignment of strategic equity components that serve to separate the brand from competitive offers, while leveraging key motivational insights. In the case of Pantene, the brand has created an identity presenting itself as the authority on healthy hair. Its leadership position has been achieved by delivering a benefit tied to beauty through health. This approach leverages not only the established category mandate based on promising beautiful hair but has also stretched beyond this meaning to include a strategic health benefit, which is a much more powerful and proprietary position in this high-involvement category.

The formalization of both features and benefits within a distinct personality is the cornerstone of successful strategy and serves as the compass for all marketing activities for leadership brands. While the fundamental foundation of a brand is consistent even across diverse world markets, it is through regional tailoring that true global leadership may be attained. Insight and differentiation, with an infusion of regional and cultural knowledge, build leadership.

The ability of a brand to capitalize on emerging business opportunities by extending a relevant strategy in areas beyond the original product is the hallmark of elastic brand architecture. Leadership brands stretch their influence in a way that is believable to the consumer on the basis of a framework of consumer benefits that deliver a fundamental human value. In the case of Pampers, the world’s leading diaper brand, what began as a product focused on absorbency and containment has now emerged as a global mega-brand with a portfolio that extends beyond the product. By creating a strategic meaning that is focused on the experiential relationship between mom and baby, the brand’s equity umbrella is now much broader and relevant beyond narrow product features. Although (as any parent quickly learns) the amount of liquid a diaper can hold is important, that rational, feature-based argument isn’t likely to enable a brand to extend itself. But if a diaper brand is positioned on the basis of the joy of parenting and the needs of parents and their babies, a case for the brand based on “we understand babies” may be made. Once this level of trust is established with consumers, it becomes very easy to expand into all sorts of baby needs, including wipes, lotions, diaper bags, apparel, and other items never before imagined for a brand that stood only for diapers.