– By David A. Aaker
I am sure many of us would have read some of David Aaker’s books – he has been quite prolific. I remember reading his first book – Managing Brand Equity – years ago. I followed that with some of his other books as well and he did, through the years, provide me with a good understanding of brand equity, developing a brand identity model and creating clear brand portfolios.
His latest book – Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant – tackles a subject that, increasingly, many marketers are grappling with: how to create a brand so different and innovative that it just does not compete directly with others. Actually, his mantra – that of creating new categories and sub-categories – is not all that novel. Ries and Trout (and others) have been talking of creating new categories for ages. However, where David Aaker’s book is different is that it provides a fairly robust framework for creating new categories and is replete with examples from the real world.
To reiterate Aaker’s point, the success of brands ‘is about winning not the brand preference battle but, rather, the brand relevance war with an innovative offering that achieves sustainable differentiation by creating a new category or sub-category.’ The real world of brands is more focussed on brand preference – how to generate a higher brand preference for your brand amongst consumers and beat the competition. Brand preference battles are direct bloody battles (remember Blue Ocean Strategy) and are concerned with incremental innovations and more effective marketing programmes to gain market shares. However, with increasing brand loyalties, there are diminishing returns on following classical brand preference strategies.
In the book, Aaker outlines four key objectives as far as brand relevance is concerned:
- ‘To provide a process by which a firm can create new categories and sub-categories and make competition irrelevant.’
- ‘To define the brand relevance concept and show its power as a way to drive and understand brand dynamics.’
- ‘To consider the threat of losing brand relevance, how it happens and how it can be avoided.’
- ‘To profile what characteristics an organization needs to have to support substantial or transformational innovation that will need to new categories and sub-categories.’
He covers these aspects systematically and with concrete examples. Some of the examples of brands that we know very well and that have gained competitive advantage by creating a new category or subcategory include IKEA, Zara, H&M, Best Buy, Whole Foods Market, Subway, Toyota Prius, Tata Nano, Apple iPod, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Zipcar.
Gurus from Michael Porter to Clayton Christensen to W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne have, in some ways, covered what David Aaker has outlined in Brand Relevance. However, while the concept is not new – as I pointed out earlier – the thoroughness with which David Aaker has tried to build a practical framework is commendable. And that is why the book is so readable and important to read.