How to be a superstar brand

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Brands that have slipped down the likeability scale can regain status and even become superstars, according to research shown exclusively to Marketing Week .

Marketers may believe that brand popularity relates simply to how many products are sold but the study finds that there is more to it than sales figures and popularity is not easy to maintain.

The research by agency Leo Burnett analyses 5,000 responses to the popularity and brand attributes of 50 FMCG brands (see methodology, below). Based on these attributes and popularity scores – which take into account momentum by subtracting popularity today from popularity 10 years ago – the brands are divided into four categories: superstars, rising stars, settled greats and former glories.

Superstars – such as Ben & Jerry’s, Magners and Müller – have high popularity and great momentum, while brands such as Green & Black’s, Gü and Innocent are deemed rising stars because, despite good momentum, they have low popularity scores. Meanwhile, Andrex, Dairylea, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, McCain and Walkers are settled greats with high popularity but low momentum while brands in the category of former glory include Bovril, Jammie Dodgers, Marmite, Ski Yoghurts and Twinings – all of which have low momentum and low popularity.

Brand ranking and popularity momentum trends

Leo Burnett Group head of data insights Mike Treharne says: “We wanted to look deeper into what makes a brand popular, what creates that popularity, what gives momentum to that popularity and how brands can recover when popularity is waning.

“Popular brands have a DNA which, if decoded, can be identified, replicated and accelerated.”

The study illustrates the journey towards brand popularity and identifies the following drivers for achieving superstar status: 

  • Affinity: Measured by customer responses such as trust, having an emotional connection, brand empathy and appreciation of quality 
  • Visibility: The notion that a brand is everywhere, both in physical distribution and mental recall of advertising
  • Differentiation: Based on personality, such as whether a brand is fun, quirky, up to date and innovative 
  • Integrity: Whether honesty and transparency are associated with the brand, and 
  • Longevity: Long-established brands that adults may recall using in childhood. 

What makes a brand popular trends

Treharne says: “There is a pathway that a brand will take throughout its lifetime and it depends on where it expects to be within the quadrant [of categories] and therefore what it needs to do to advance or mitigate against it.”

For example, cereal snack brand Eat Natural is positioned in the rising star category because it scores well on quality and customer satisfaction.

However, Eat Natural takes a less obvious approach to the visibility driver. It does not run big marketing campaigns through TV, print or outdoors, but focuses instead on distribution. 

“Consumers are picking up our brand messages, but not because we are saying it to them,” says Praveen Vijh, co-founder of Eat Natural. “We keep our packaging clear; if you can see the product through the packaging, people can make their own judgement.

“We don’t advertise. We do a small amount of social media but it has little impact on what we do. The most important communication method that we have is packaging and making sure that the brand is available at as many places as consumers want to consume it.” 

Brand integrity and differentiation

Rising stars generally score much lower than superstars for visibility. For example, superstars score an average of 41 per cent for ‘a brand you see everywhere’ and 24 per cent for ‘advertises a lot’, while rising stars score 23 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. The same contrast applies for differentiation; superstars score 32 per cent on ‘a fun brand’ and 29 per cent on ‘innovative’ while rising stars score 17 per cent and 22 per cent.

However, Vijh believes that Eat Natural’s proposition is strong enough to ensure differentiation within its sector because the brand manages the entire process of manufacture and distribution (see marketers’ response, below).

With brands including Cadbury’s, Coca-Cola and Walkers, the category of settled great can hardly be deemed negative but the key contrast with superstars comes for differentiation. Superstars score 39 per cent on ‘modern and up to date’ and 29 per cent on ‘innovative’, compared with 29 per cent and 18 per cent respectively for settled greats. However, brands in this category score much higher than superstars when it comes to longevity, as their name suggests. 

Brand visibility and longevity trends 4

Settled greats score higher than former glories when it comes to visibility, achieving an average of 51 per cent on ‘a brand you see everywhere’ and 24 per cent on ‘advertises a lot’, while former glories achieve 35 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. Similarly, former glories lose out on differentiation, scoring lower than the settled greats for being a ‘fun brand’, or one with enjoyable advertising.

In contrast to Eat Natural’s marketing approach, traditional media remain important for the Heinz portfolio, whose Heinz Tomato Ketchup brand is in the settled greats category.

“TV and radio are a great way of engaging with our consumers, generating scale, awareness and emotional connection to the brand,” says Giles Jepson, vice-president of marketing for Heinz Europe and chief marketing officer for Heinz UK and Ireland (see marketers’ response, below).

Heinz is a ‘settled great’, which scores high for visibility, and the brand is a major investor in TV, radio and digital advertising, such as it’s Grow Your Own campaign

However, investment in digital technology is a “critical and growing channel”. In 2013, the ketchup’s ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign reached 11 million people and gained 68,000 new likes on its Facebook page. 

Former glories Lucozade, Marmite and Twinings have all run recent advertising campaigns and for Twinings in particular this approach is not working; just 6 per cent of respondents say that it advertises a lot. Lucozade does better on 19 per cent but performs less well on ‘a brand whose advertising I’ve enjoyed’ attribute.

“Marmite is interesting,” says Treharne. “It doesn’t do so well on ‘advertises a lot’ [11 per cent] but does well on ‘a brand whose advertising I’ve enjoyed’. I think its positioning of ‘love it or hate it’ is causing people to give it a lower popularity score than they otherwise would.”

The leading drivers in the study were found to be affinity and visibility, responsible for two-thirds of brands’ scores. But the full set of drivers must be juggled successfully if brands are to achieve, and maintain, superstar popularity.

Marketers’ response


Praveen Vijh, Co-founder, Eat Natural

The whole concept of Eat Natural is a statement in itself: it tells consumers that they are getting a product that is made as naturally as possible. There is honesty and trust built into that, which the research shows is a driver of popularity.

But ultimately what you are selling has to be the most important thing. We concentrate on making sure that the product is perfect and we have full control of it. We do it all ourselves.

The brand name is a call to action. Consumers standing next to the cereal bars or confectionery are already attuned to buying something; they just have to decide what. You don’t have to sell to people as you are already telling them: “Here is a brand that is going to give you a natural alternative to a processed confectionary bar.”

Giles Jepson

Giles  Jepson, VP marketing for Heinz Europe and chief marketing officer for Heinz UK & Ireland

The Heinz brand has meaning beyond the product. Trust and being “in touch with what I want” are both key elements that support its popularity. 

The drivers of popularity all contribute to our brand value and that helps to support currency with our consumers. Quality is very important and can affect all of these attributes so we focus on this for our existing Heinz Tomato Ketchup products as well as our new products.

While we continue to focus on product quality, we know that our brand has a strong consumer reputation, which we continue to build on via communications by deepening our emotional connections, reflecting how we are part of the fabric of people’s lives. This enables them to make more informed choices.

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Mindi Chahal says: Getting consumer insight about the perception of a brand provides a vital look at whether marketing messages are resonating with the target audience. Marketing Week recently explored research on brand fatigue which pulled up interesting insight into well-known brands.

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A study into trust perceptions and how to be more human also touched on marketing messages and resonance.

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The research by agency Leo Burnett examines the pathway to popularity. Five thousand buyers of 50 FMCG brands were asked to rate the brands on perceived popularity and through a series of image attributes, including brand affinity, visibility and differentiation.

The study also compares perceived popularity now compared with 10 years ago, grouping brands into four categories depending on popularity scores and momentum. The categories are superstars, rising stars, settled greats and former glories.



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