Brand value hierarchy

I had been thinking about the core aspects of corporate brands which boil down to: being useful, being human and being nice. These then engender trust and brand preference amongst customers or stakeholders depending on the nature of your organisation.

Hierarchy of corporate brand values

At the very least if you are not seen as being useful in the eyes of your stakeholders. Years ago Barclays ran a campaign aimed at consumers that talked about the fact that they were a big (and therefore trustworthy bank). It wasn’t about that they were nice, reasonable or friendly; but that they were a bank and did what banks do. During the economic crisis Goldman Sachs did not apologise or try and become more human as a bank. They just kept on providing service to their clients and trying to make money for their shareholders.

On the flip side you have local government and politicians who do have their usefulness, but are perceived by their constituents as being useless and parasitic in nature. We all know people who are nice and human in nature; yet they are useless in their own way and fundementally flawed because of it. So I consider being useful as the most basic value that a brand has to have.

The layer above being useful, is being human. An organisation is made up of people, they are a fundamental part of the culture, for many brands now not being human is unacceptable. Great Leader Kim Il Sung got away with having a unhuman (or to be fairer) superhuman brand mainly because North Korea was completely under his control and has zero transparency in all aspects of its society.

Bill Gates had a similar superhuman image portrayed about him by successive PR teams at Microsoft, but that all came crashing down with his video testamonial at the 1999 antitrust hearings. If the board had seen the human side of Microsoft: warts and all the antitrust trial could have been very different.

Contrast this with the very human face Robert Scoble put on Microsoft a number of years later.

The top of the hierarchy, and the hardest to achieve is being nice. Google: the company probably best placed to being nice out of all the brands that I can think of wimps out with its famous ‘don’t be evil‘ mantra. Brands like Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream who espoused a ‘nice’ ethos have had their share of problems:

It is hard to do, needing to built-in to an organisation’s DNA and hard to maintain. People like Patagonia and New Balance have worked hard to maintain a ‘be nice’ approach.

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