Myths and legends are at the core of all cultures, and in modern times, the line between them has blurred. But in the marketing world, it seems brands can’t afford for the line between legend and myth to become blurred.

According to research from agency Lippincott, companies that can be defined as “brand legends” are those which have succeeded at matching the strength of their communications with the delivery of a distinctive, positive customer experience. Meanwhile, “brand myths” are those companies which have rested on the laurels of their reputations for too long and have let it override what a customer takes from the physical product or retail outlet.

Through a survey of 5,000 consumers, Lippincott rated 100 brands on four classifications (see Methodology, p28). As well as the “legends” and “myths”, those brands that haven’t yet reached legend status but have a loyal and valuable following are termed “tribal”. Those companies that have failed to create engagement with customers have been classed as “unattached”.

Lippincott senior partner Simon Glynn says that in the age of social media, consumers are openly sharing feedback on both positive and negative brand experiences. As a result, he believes that companies need to help encourage their own legend status by providing the stimulus to generate positive advocacy.

“You need to give people the experiences, the surprises – things to talk about so that they can help build your brand on your behalf,” he says.

Virgin Atlantic is rated by consumers as a “legend”, with its reputation defined more by service quality than advertising alone. Glynn points out that it achieves 50% advocacy from consumers on their experience, with 37% basing their advocacy on the story power (or marketing) of the brand.

When a brand is seen as having a better experience rating than story power, this means that it exceeds the expectations of consumers. The reality is better than the marketing. When the story power is greater than the experience, it suggests that the company has not yet managed to match the reality to the promise.

In the case of Virgin Atlantic, Glynn notes: “The brand is driven by the experience of what it’s actually like to fly. There is some story telling around it, but fundamentally its legend status is driven by the investment and effort it has put into creating the distinctive experience.”

Budget brand Ryanair falls into the territory of an unattached brand. It scores less than 5% on experience advocacy and just 13% on story power advocacy. Its strategy of charging fees for what seems like every possible part of the flying process while advertising its flights heavily does not appear to sit well with consumers.

But is there enough of a gap between Ryanair and its budget competitor easyJet for easyJet to have any advantage? EasyJet scores 15% on experience advocacy and 18% on story power advocacy, keeping it in the unattached quadrant.

It seems easyJet as well as Ryanair is disadvantaged by such a strong focus on price rather than service. Lippincott’s Glynn suggests that enhancing future service levels and increasing direct engagement through social media could help overcome the limits of being a budget brand.

Supermarket Asda, however, manages to avoid the problems of being seen by consumers as budget. It demonstrates that even lower-cost brands can become legends if they offer a mix of strong branding, customer engagement and experience. It scores 43% on experience power advocacy and 50% on story power advocacy, ahead of fellow legend Marks & Spencer’s 38% experience power and 48% story power.

Retail giants Sainsbury’s and Tesco might be household names, but they have entered the brand myth sector, demonstrating a high story power (46% and 55% respectively) against low experience power (22% and 23% respectively).

As might be expected of a premium brand, Waitrose is classed as tribal, scoring 33% on both experience power and story power. It is on the threshold of becoming an unattached brand, but this could be combatted through its latest marketing drive featuring celebrity chefs Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith.

Utilities providers, by their unsexy nature, also struggle to reach the brand legend quadrant. Vodafone and O2 are the only mobile providers with tribal followings. T-Mobile, Orange, 3, Virgin Media and BT are all classed as unattached.

Arguably, telecoms is the kind of market where achieving a tribal following is almost as valuable as becoming a legend. This may also be the case for energy utilities and the finance sector, as it means reaping the benefits of a longstanding, loyal customer base while retaining enough freedom to move into new areas.

BlackBerry may also see the value in its rating as a tribal brand but its increased marketing pushes to new market sectors such as youth and women, indicating it wants to break into the world of legends. This is where its rivals Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson sit, as well as Google, Sony and Apple. Apple has only just entered legend territory, demonstrating that while there are a lot of Apple lovers out there, there are also many who are indifferent.

In the computer market, Apple stands out a mile from its PC manufacturer rivals Dell and HP, and, on an operating system level, Microsoft. These businesses have all seen their reputations dwindle into brand myths. Although Microsoft has a strong story power rating of 62%, indicating good brand messaging, it appears that consumers feel that the marketing doesn’t match the experience when they turn on their PCs.

The best chance brands have at achieving legend status is making sure the brand experience permeates across every point where the customer interacts with the business. Glynn says this comes back to the company’s structure and how closely the brand and customer service departments work; and how much influence a head of a brand can have over customer experience and operations.

“In most companies, the brand team’s origins within the organisation tends to be more focused around the story side than the experience side,” he says. “You get a lot of people who understand this but struggle to make it work differently because their organisation doesn’t allow for it.”

As brands are increasingly being built on the social sharing of customer experiences, Glynn concludes that the role of a chief marketing officer must transcend traditional marketing activities and work alongside operations that contribute to the brand experience. This, he notes, is how brand legends are created and stay alive.


Lippincott interviewed 5,000 people in August last year to rate their perceptions of 100 brands, based on their “story power” versus their “experience power”. The story is what the company tells people about its brand (through marketing, for example); the experience is the reality of the product or service. The results of the two measures can be seen in the chart below.

Legend brands

British Gas, Bupa, KFC, Pizza Hut, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Amazon, Virgin Atlantic and Nationwide

Tribal brands

Npower, Starbucks, Waitrose, John Lewis and First Direct

Myth brands

BP, McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Barclays and Aviva

Unattached brands

Burger King, Costa, Ryanair, easyJet, Gap and Morrisons

The frontline

Kevin Peake, director of marketing, Npower

Our place in the tribal category reinforces our position as a challenger to the colossus that is British Gas. It supports our belief that the people who have any experience of our brand like us and therefore become loyal. Our continuing challenge is to expand our user base by taking our product to a wider audience by aiming to puncture the British Gas myth, which we are endeavouring to do through new offers to directly rival our competition.

David Kisilevski, EMEA vice-president of marketing, Burger King

I’m disappointed to see Burger King where it is in the table. McDonald’s scored higher because of its investment in its restaurant refit. Such a move makes a big difference because it gets people talking about the brand. Improving our store experience and restaurant image is one of the things we have started to invest in, and seeing these results confirms that this is the right thing to do. It will be very interesting to track these trends over the next few years to see whether this has an impact.

Brian Waring, vice-president of marketing and category, Starbucks UK and Ireland

We’ve grown our tribal following through a strong emotional connection with our customers. We’ve used the digital space to enhance this connection and enable us to share our story in a relevant way. Examples of this include the number of people using the myStarbucks iPhone app and our Facebook page, which has more than 307,000 UK fans.

Matt Coombe, general marketing manager, Sony UK

What’s most important for brands is not just producing a nice bit of TV work, but carrying those same marketing elements through the consumer

journey to purchasing and beyond. The brand needs to come to life in every aspect of this.

At the start of the journey, you make clear what the brand means. As consumers progress towards purchasing, you give them a bit more at each step of the journey to build the relationship. And make sure that at the end of the journey that engagement with store staff is seamless, as this is where people can get disappointed.