The Secret of Building Your Brand like Nike or Coca-Cola

Nike delivers multiple products to the competitive athlete
Nike delivers multiple products to the competitive athlete.

In the American branding structure, there are really only two types of brands: consumer-focused or product-focused.

If you are going to do any work mucking around with your brand, or you are getting paid to muck around with someone else's brand, you'd better know which type of brand you have. The rules of how to work around each are VERY different and extend all the way down to messaging, new product development, channel selection, product features/benefits, or any other Product Development or Marketing choice.

Of course, you are going to ask: “Aren't all branded companies supposed to be focused on the both consumer AND the product?” Well, yes. But what matters here what the brand is centered around, and how it intends to grow. Let's dive in:

A Consumer-Focused Brand

A customer-focused brand identifies a key type of user, and then obsessively delivers products that meet the user's needs. The map of this type of brand looks like this:

Nike delivers multiple=
Examples of some great consumer-focused brands: Nike, Apple, BMW, Harley-Davidson

In the case of Nike, the brand is centered around the Competitive Athlete. Nike focuses all of their attention on the Athlete, but delivers much more than shoes; they deliver all the surrounding products that the Athlete needs for experience. For instance, in basketball Nike sells the shoes, the warm-ups, the shorts, the jersey, the headband, the water bottle, the athletic bag, the towel, and the ball. The only thing they don't sell is the basketball court, but they probably sponsor it.

The idea that they sell all of these basketball products may seem like a small point, but it isn't. It is part and parcel of what makes Nike such a great consumer-focused brand. They started as a shoe company, and have ended up as THE place to go for Athletic experience. They have wrapped up multiple product lines, using multiple factories, with multiple technologies, into one cohesive basketball idea.

To contrast this point: If Cole-Haan were to do this around the Business Professional. They would have to build a company that not only sold dress shoes, but also sold business suits, dress shirts, ties, briefcases, folios, pens, and coffee mugs. Imagine the type of product development effort it would take to build all those lines. (which is exactly what they are doing)

A Product-Focused Brand

A product-focused brand identifies a key type of problem, then obsessively delivers the solution to any type of user that encounters that problem. The map of this type of brand looks like this:

Coke focused on delivering cola to multiple=
(Examples of some great product-focused brands: Tide, Crest, Kleenex, Coke, McDonalds, Marlboro, Google)

Coca-Cola has done an admirable job of solving thirst/satisfaction problems for all types of customers. Coke isn't making anything other than cola, but delivers it such a wide variety of ways that there is barely a person alive who doesn't understand the Coke product offering.

They only change a few ingredients (sugar and caffeine) and delivery methods (fountain, bottle, can) and can hit any consumer out there. A few examples: For the family at home: 2 liter bottles; for the on-the-go weight-conscious person: 12 oz diet coke cans; for the fast food diner who want lots of value: the endless soda fountain; for the swanky hotel bar patron: 8 oz glass bottles. Same product, different customers needs met.

So, what type of brand do I have?

There is an easy litmus test for determining the type of brand you are working with. But first, a note on why you need to know this as a marketing or product development professional. If you know what type of brand you are, it tells you what not to do.

Namely, don't change the customer if you have a customer-focused brand, and don't change the product of a product-focused brand. I know this sounds dumb, but I have sat in way too many Product Development meetings to think it doesn't happen. In fact, I bet somewhere in Italy, there is a brilliant?employee at Ferrari (customer: macho speed guy) proposing that they introduce a new SUV line (customer: soccer mom). All because they don't understand their focus.

What is the litmus test? Easy:

  1. If you want to put the brand's logo somewhere on your body, or sticker your car with it, it is a customer-focused brand.
  2. If you think highly of the brand, but you don't want to wear it, it is a product-focused brand.
  3. If you neither want to wear the brand, or think highly of it, it is just a bad brand.


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