How legends harness power of brand story

What makes Volkswagen a legend and Tesco a myth? The relationship between a brand’s marketing and the actual consumer experience, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week.


Money can’t buy you love, according to the results of an annual survey that reveals brands that fail to deliver on the promises made in heavyweight marketing campaigns are likely to suffer significant damage to their reputation.

This is why the likes of Tesco are ‘brand myths’ while those that remain true to their marketing promises, such as Marks & Spencer and Volkswagen, are ‘brand legends’, says agency Lippincott, which asked 5,000 consumers to rate their perceptions of 120 brands based on their story and actual experience.

Lippincott’s Brandview study defines brand legends as those that match the strength of their communications with the delivery of a distinctive, positive customer experience. Meanwhile, brand ‘myths’ are defined as those companies that have let their reputations override what a customer takes from the physical product or retail outlet.

As well as legends and myths, the research – which was shown exclusively to Marketing Week – categorises those brands that haven’t yet reached legend status but have a loyal and valuable following as ‘tribal’, while those companies that have failed to create engagement with customers are classed as ‘unattached’.

Tribal brands, which include Waitrose and First Direct, establish their reputation with a core set of customers who know and love them, though non-customers don’t tend to engage even when they are aware of the brand. The unattached category, which includes Gap, easyJet and Carphone Warehouse, is where brands start their lives and can remain in if they fail to engage with the wider community.

Marks & Spencer: Benefits from its premium positioning

Some clear trends emerge in the study, says Lippincott senior partner and head of EMEA Simon Glynn. “It’s becoming harder to buy your way to legend status. How consumers think about brands is shaped more by experience than adverts.”

Starbucks is a good example, says Glynn, given the emphasis it places on the experience in the coffee shop. Apple is another. The electronics giant has moved from being a tribal brand to being in a strong position in the legend category. This shift hasn’t all been based on huge marketing budgets, says Glynn. “Apple is very much driven by local users and then by word of mouth and an extension of its product offering.

This has helped improve its story power,” he adds. Trying to build a great brand story through marketing and then matching it up with an equally impressive experience is much harder, says Glynn. The legends tend to be brands that have a sound experience to offer and build their marketing around it.

He continues: “The results reinforce what we have been saying for some time now – that brand experience goes far beyond delivering the promise. This focus on delivery suggests the promise is made in a parallel world of marketing communications and the job of the customer experience is to live up to it.

“However, this is not something that happens at Starbucks, BMW, Apple, or John Lewis and is supported by how well each of these brands does in our study.”

Customer experience Glynn continues: “For the best brands today, the experience creates the brand promise as much as it delivers it. That requires a strategically led approach to customer experience design.”

To have any chance of achieving this, there needs to be a much closer relationship between those in marketing and the departments focused
on brand experience, the research suggests. And brands that believe that reputation alone will carry them through could face a rude awakening.

Ibis: Uses online surveys to gauge guest satisfaction

Tesco is perhaps the most highprofile casualty of a strategy that has allowed customer experience to slip. According to Lippincott’s study, Tesco is now a myth brand, having been a legend brand in 2010. But it isn’t alone. Asda and Sainsbury’s are also struggling to provide experiences that match their marketing, while Morrisons and Aldi fall into the ‘unattached’ category. This is in marked contrast to Waitrose (tribal) and M&S (legend), which highlights the power of premium brands.

The strong performance of upmarket brands is also pronounced in airlines as Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are flying high in the study. As Glynn remarked on the back of the 2010 results: “The Virgin Atlantic 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.”

Virgin Atlantic has continued to build on this, coming out stronger both in terms of story power and experience power in the latest results. However, Glynn praises British Airways, saying: “After being hit by cabin crew strikes, BA put a lot of effort into regaining recognition for the experience it provides. It has made a successful recovery and climbed back into legend status.”

Another sector moving in a similar direction is banking. Substantial gains have been made by HSBC and NatWest, which is beginning to deliver on the promises sold through its “helpful banking” communications, according to Glynn.

But all is not lost for value brands. Glynn gives the examples of car maker Kia, which scores above Nissan, Peugeot and Renault, and Ikea, which scores close to John Lewis in the home retail category.

htc one
HTC: Well-placed to move from tribal brand to legend status

Mobile phone maker HTC is also moving in the right direction. Lippincott’s study places HTC in the tribal category and Glynn says: “The brand is in an excellent position to become a legend, building on the enthusiasm of the customers that know and love it. It’s worth remembering it is still a very young brand compared with its rivals at the top of the mobile device category.”

Enhancing story power will inevitably involve building conversations around the brand with both users and non-users. However, marketers need to be careful they don’t get distracted by the pull of quantity over quality. “How much a brand is talked about is not strongly correlated with a brand’s story power; but the way people talk about a brand is,” says Glynn. “Google is the third most talked about brand and people are excited to speak about it.” And that can make all the difference between a legend and myth.

The frontline

We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘Trends’ research matches their experience on the ground

rob weston

Rob Weston
Brand director
Marks & Spencer

We’ve worked hard on quality and innovation of our food in the last 12 months while making sure our value remains sharp. This has been backed by marketing and a new, fresh look in store. It’s good to see from this study that it’s paying off.

We’ve been true to the M&S brand’s key markers – quality, innovation and value. Last year we launched 1,900 new food lines – almost 30% of our entire range.

We launched Simply M&S which provides quality at prices our customers love and we continue to innovate on promotions. We sold 13 million Dine In for Two for £10 deals last year, but new deals such as Traditional Meal for £5 are also proving popular.

martin moll

Martin Moll
Head of marketing
Honda (UK)

Since this survey was launched in 2010, Honda has featured in it. We attribute this to many factors, but the most important currently is advertising, backed up by our products.

The idents used for our sponsorship of documentaries on Channel 4 are a good example of how we are unafraid to innovate to make an impression.

[This highlights] that Honda products are built to last, with reliability and service being important. We’ll be using many different campaigns to cement our reputation among existing customers and prospects alike.

martin lay

Martin Lay
Marketing strategy manager

A huge focus for us is ensuring more and more of our present owners have a ‘top box’ experience from our retail network to strengthen our position on the Brandview grid.

Our position presently indicates that it shouldn’t need much more in the way of positive experience to edge us over the line from myth to legend status.

We presently have too many owners who say their experiences is ‘good’ and not ‘great’ so that is where our focus is – best practice sharing from our best retailers to ensure that we have less customers who remain quietly contented and more who actually talk about their great experience to others.


Jonathan Williams
Group consumer marketing director
Auto Trader

Brands that are labelled as ‘legend’ have successfully managed to generate an all-important emotional connection with consumers often through high impact integrated campaigns. Establishing a strong emotive connection with consumers helps to build brand affinity and boosts the value of the brand, which will influence car purchasing decisions.

Despite a brand achieving legend status, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it sells more cars than those in the ‘unattached’ category. Take Fiat for example; its marketing campaigns focus on the practical and economical benefits Fiat cars can offer customers and are less focused on building emotive connections with consumers. As a result, Fiat is still a popular brand with consumers and its sales figures remain high.


Karelle Lamouche
Marketing and distribution director
Accor UK and Ireland

Brand attachment evolves from customer experience and consumer perception. Ibis and Novotel have established strong relationships with their guests. On a daily basis we conduct an online guest a satisfaction survey following a stay in one of our hotels. From about 10,000 responses a month, more than 80% are very satisfied by the brand experience.

This year, there will be a global reinvention of our economy products and services so they can transcend their market segment and cater for the changes in consumer expectations.

Investment is currently being made to engage consumers with a new brand story. We are reconfiguring common areas, food and beverages and consumer technologies so that the hotels correspond to new trends and meet expectations.



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