The Champion Brand

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Written by Bryce Bytheway, Contributor

What does it take for a company to create a good brand? For the majority of the 20th century it relied solely on meeting the expectations of the consumers. In a time commonly referred to as the “Push-Communications Era,” corporations were easily built by supplying the products consumers wanted, as well as creating a name that people came to recognize. Consumers trusted corporations; and when they spoke, the people listened. Many modern day corporations, such as Ford, got their start decades ago; and they are still around because consumers trusted them, even in difficult times.

Over the past 20 years however, we have seen a change in the relationships between corporations and consumers. The introduction of the internet provided means for people to more easily communicate not only with the corporations, but with other consumers as well; and with the introduction of social media, consumers began to push back against the top brands. This era, which we will call the “Push-Back Era”, has put the power in the hands of the consumers. In order to secure a good name, corporations must respond to the demands of the consumers. Bad experiences, faulty products, and disappointment with a brand will inevitably be published online, and corporations have suffered for not positively responding.

In light of this change, APCO Worldwide recently identified the 50 companies that top their global list of “Champion Brands.” APCO Worldwide is a communication, stakeholder engagement, and business strategy firm that challenges conventional thinking and creates powerful movements. Over the past 25 years they have worked with many of the world’s top brands, helping them adapt to the ever changing communications environment. Their experience has led them to create this list of the top “Champion Brands” found today.

Margery Kraus, founder and CEO of APCO Worldwide, explained, “Champion Brands are those companies that have best aligned their business strategy, vision and values with the shared interests of their stakeholders.” She continues, “It’s clear that having quality products or services is no longer enough. Today’s most successful brands–Champion Brands–are creating enduring relationships with their stakeholders by creating societal value while also delivering corporate value.”

APCO conducted a study that surveyed more than 70,000 people in 15 countries to gather the information to create the list. They identify four key aspects of a company that make it a Champion Brand, called the “Four A’s,” and created the study to measure how companies perform against this new model. APCO identifies the four A’s as:

  • Alignment: meeting stakeholders’ most important expectations
  • Authenticity: acting in a way that is consistent with what a company says
  • Attachment: the extent to which stakeholders connect emotionally with a company
  • Advocacy: advocating on behalf of stakeholders’ interests, applying unique expertise and assets to add value to society

While achieving excellence in each of the four A’s is exceptionally difficult, companies that are able to compete with this model move from being a good corporate brand to becoming Champion Brands.

The four A’s model has proved to be exceptionally insightful. Nancy Bachrach, a global branding strategist and former chief marketing offer of Grey Worldwide, stated, “This model is truly a branding blueprint–it gives companies an actionable roadmap to building their corporate brands.” Is it appropriate, however, to base the value of a brand solely off of four main aspects and their tangents? The business realm is immensely complex and remains in a state of constant change; each corporation is run in its own distinct way, and each brand is equipped with its own separate goals.

While there is not one single survey that can accurately analyze every company, APCO’s four A model is an exceptional resource in the attempt to rate each brand. The top 50 brands are all fairly recognizable, and most are typically associated as being the top in their class. On the list you will nod in agreement as you see the companies that you would expect to be there, but your eyes might widen in surprise as you find out which companies didn’t make the cut.

As previously stated, this is a realm that changes daily; what the future holds is anyone’s guess, but as we move onward, APCO proposes a solution. In short it is time for brands and consumers to work together. Instead of Push or Push-Back Eras, it is time to start the “Pull-Together Era.” For the near future, APCO challenges brands to “Uncover, Reimagine, and Engage” in order to remain the top brands globally. The technology age has given us unlimited access to information, and if one thing is for certain, it is that people will need to work together to create a more harmonious world, be it in the realms of business and politics, or within the community.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier’s July/August 2013 print edition.