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The Measure of a Brand's Essence
By: Jeff Louis
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BrandWhat constitutes a strong brand? How do we, as advertisers, measure an intangible asset such as brand essence? Why is Google’s brand more valuable than Yahoo’s?  
The advertising industry is more science than business. In business, beans are quantifiable: profit, loss, employees, taxes, sales, revenue, and spending. Advertising beans are “theoretical” values built on historical performance, current insight, and predictive modeling. No standard methods exist for measuring creativity, just as there’s no definitive way to answer how much brand equity is lost.

However, most would agree that Google has a strong brand. In fact, Interbrand (a brand consultancy) places Google at No. 7 in the 2009 Best Global Brands rankings. For the record, Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, GE, McDonald's, and Nokia are the brands that ranked higher. (I never would have placed Nokia in the top 10.) 

Five from that list share one commonality: over 50 years of established public presence (Microsoft’s presence spans 35 years). Considering that Google changed to Google Inc. from a California garage in 1998, their rank is extraordinary.  

Interbrand’s methodology is a combination of revenue, profit, and “value” that are attributable specifically to branded products. They measure global brands, so this excludes strong U. S. brands like Wal-Mart and privately held companies. While not perfect system, it’s a reasonable process that incorporates assets with exact and inexact measurements. 

Roy H. Williams, "The Wizard of Ads," wrote three best-selling books on advertising. In one, he claims that brand strength is an intuitive reaction. His basis is that humans follow feelings.

“Win the heart, and the mind will follow," he surmised. "The mind (logical left brain) can always find logic to justify what the heart (intuitive right brain) has already decided.”  

Telling a client the campaign will work because it feels right doesn’t work very well. Williams’ method to “measure” brands is to conduct consumer phone interviews using Evocative Word Association (EVA).

The process begins by asking a consumer to name every product or service he or she can think of. The interviewer then reads a series of words to the consumer and asks this person to match the word with a brand. The associative words include descriptors like friendly, hasty, quality, cheap, trashy, deceptive, easy, nice, expensive, etc. After reaching a set sample size, Williams believes EVA defines a brand and competitors with greater accuracy than statistical scoring.   
BrandZ, a WPP-owned database published by Millward Brown Optimor, conducts annual surveys to collect consumer and professional opinions in an effort to “evaluate brands in a competitive context from a category they actually shop in.” 

They began publishing their Top 100 Brands in 2005 and employ Brand Voltage, a single-number scoring method that stems from a “measure” of brand loyalists and category purchasing data. Their database carries information covering over 50,000 brands from 31 countries.

BrandZ places Google first, followed by IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Marlboro. (Marlboro’s a shocker.)   
Both BrandZ and Interbrand’s top ranks are similar -- though not equal -- and other organizations publish brand rankings with different findings, yet everything is subjective in the end, based upon individual experiences, feelings, and perceptions.

Like life, there’s no right answer; some are just better than others.


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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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