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The 10 New Rules of Branding

In the face of constantly evolving consumers and exploding new media options, marketers need to regularly get a fix on their tool kits to see what’s still working or not., writes Simon Williams of Sterling Brands.

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Annually, we take a deep dive into emerging market trends and patterns to detect what make successful brands.

The result of this effort is "The 10 New Rules of Branding," and while they may not offer the solution to every marketer's situation, they can provide some useful guidelines to the nuances one should consider when aiming for the stars.

1) Brands that influence culture sell more; culture is the new catalyst for growth.

Look at Google. They are revolutionizing the way we behave online, along with the information and marketing space in surprising ways. Or take Nike, a brand that has become a part of all culture, and a part of the lexicon of life.

2) A brand with no point of view has no point; full-flavor branding is in, vanilla is out.

Love it or hate it, you know where Fox News stands on issues. The same can be said about Ben & Jerry's, which beyond ice cream, is a company that stands for a cause. Taking a brand stand is particularly important to impress younger consumers who have grown up in consumer culture and are now flexing their purchasing muscles in favor of brands that stand for something.

3) Today's consumer leads from the front; this is the smartest generation to have ever walked the planet.

Today's consumers are more discriminating and more experimental. They have very strong opinions of brands, and savvy brands are getting consumers involved. Take Converse and the Converse Gallery, where consumers can make a 24-second film that will run on their website. This kind of consumer-generated creativity provides a natural draw.
4) Customize wherever and whenever you can; customization is tomorrow's killer whale.

The second advent of the Internet has consumers wanting something all of their own, something they can call mine, not mass-produced. The best example is Apple's iTunes Website, where instead of buying a complete CD, consumers buy exactly the tracks they want. Or Starbucks, which creates whatever beverage a consumer wants, or Nike, which allows you to design a shoe online.

5) Forget the transaction, give me an experience; the mandate is simple: Wow them every day, every way.

Apple and Coach found that the best way to give consumers a brand experience is to control the entire online to retail experience. This is why they build stores in major cities. Look for other brands to soon make major investments in their brand "experience."

6) Deliver clarity at point of purchase; be obsessive about presentation.

For example, there is an "option overload" in over-stocked supermarket aisles, and anything that simplifies decision-making for consumers is welcome. Brands are beginning to recognize that you have to be clear about what you are selling at the point of purchase.

7) You are only as good as your weakest link; do you know where you're vulnerable?

Younger consumers show zero tolerance when a brand makes a mistake. If a website doesn't live up to expectations, or fails to function, they will ignore your brand. If your brand gets negative publicity, it will stick no matter what you do to rectify it. Brands like Merck and Vioxx whose weakest link being the apparent efficacy of the product.

8) Social responsibility is no longer an option; what's your cause, what's your contribution?

Consumers now expect corporations to get involved in cause marketing. Take Timberland ("Take a stand against genocide"), Target ("Every day Target gives back to the community"), eBay (its Giving Works program, for starters), and GE (which this year launched its Citizenship Report, an annual report of sorts regarding the company's environmental and safety initiatives). Not all businesses promote these efforts, however, because they're worried they may be seen as commercial, but this is changing fast.

9) Pulse, pace and passion really make a difference; had your heartbeat checked recently?

We're living in a crazy world where we keep piling on the gadgets. The more you have, the more you need. If your business does not have a high metabolic rate, you won't survive. Companies like Google, MTV and Starbucks move fast, and that means older, slower companies are doomed.

10) Innovation is the new boardroom favorite.

At the moment, brands are inspired by Apple, more than by any other brand. Singlehandedly, Apple transformed the music business, as it is about to transform online video.  Major players like Procter & Gamble and GE have made innovation the core of their corporate strategy so the wave is beginning to swell.

Simon Williams is chairman of Sterling Brands

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