Breakaway Brands from 2009: Special K, Hallmark, PayPal among the winners

Breakaway BrandsWhat does a breakfast cereal have to do to break out of the (cereal) box? How does an offbeat TV hit like "The Dog Whisperer" differentiate a venerable media stalwart? And what does celebrity gossip have to do with Super Bowl parties? These are pieces of how some of the most innovative brands of the past three years were able to break away from the pack.

For this report, DailyFinance worked with prominent branding agency Landor Associates to develop a list of the Top 10 Breakaway Brands for 2009. The list includes some surprises, like Special K, Hallmark, PayPal and the Super Bowl. See our gallery for more information about how each Top Breakaway Brand made the cut.

These brands were culled from among 2,500 global brands based on criteria focused on relevance to customers and product differentiation. None of the names in the Breakaway Brands list could be considered truly new. The youngest is Google, which was founded in 1998. National Geographic, whose TV business made the list, was founded in in 1888. Also in the top 10 are Trader Joe's, Payless ShoeSource, Haagen-Dazs, and Apple.

All of these brands dared to be different in ways both compelling and relevant to their audiences (See our Q&A with Landor's chief marketing officer Hayes Roth for more insights on how they did it). As a result, these brands have enjoyed steady, quantitative growth in brand impact from 2005 to 2008. Almost all can attribute their increased strength to an exceptional ability to perceive, capitalize on, and even help create trends -- while remaining true to their core brand promise. These brands are redefining their categories and blowing away old boundaries. And customers have noticed.

How We Picked the Breakaway Brands

To select the top brands our research partner Landor Associates relied on its parent company's comprehensive brand database: Young & Rubicam Brands' BrandAsset Valuator (BAV). Using information stored in the database from media research and interviews with over 500,000 subjects, we measured different inputs and movements for some 2,500 brands across various industries. Using our proprietary set of criteria, we ranked the brands based on both relevance (how appropriate the brand is for consumers and whether they want it in their lives) and differentiation (how strongly a brand stands out and offers something special). When a brand scored big in both categories and these numbers were consistently sustained over a three-year period from 2005-2008, they became candidates for the Breakaway Brands list. Those selected were not the biggest or best recognized brands, but instead were those brands that did what was necessary to build brand strength most significantly over time. This, we believe, is the true test of brand-led transcendence.

Common Traits of Breakaway Brands

Each of the Breakaway Brands identified and seized upon significant market dynamics that heavily influence modern consumer behavior. One important trend was the enhanced focus on more healthful eating and a weight-management lifestyle. That includes everything from better portion control to purchasing natural and organic foods to trying today's trendiest diets. Along with an interest in healthy bodies, consumers were also curious about ways to keep our planet healthy. Tapping into this keen interest in green and lean through credible, differentiating ideas helped lift a number of our leadership brands away from the also-rans.

Technology played an equally strong role. Brands that ventured far beyond the typical corporate website in their use of digital technologies -- be it video games, e-cards (Hallmark), or on-demand digital personalized diet plans (Special K) -- emerged as trendsetters and customer builders. Tech-savvy brands that worked hard to remain several steps ahead in the innovation race also stood out in our crowded, inter-connected world. Even the technology brands on the list, Apple and Google, were notable for their ability to stand out within their own industry for useful, easy-to-use, and groundbreaking offerings.

Another core theme evoked and nurtured by several of the brands was that elusive nexus of value and quality. Building a chain of food stores with offerings that rise above standard supermarket fare (Trader Joe's) or revitalizing a discount shoe chain as a hip purveyor of affordable, fashion forward footwear and accessories (Payless ShoeSource) are two examples of the successful capture of value and quality in the same package that, to date, very few brands have been able to achieve.

Finally, while it may seem obvious to target a market that makes up over half the global population, it is no easy task for traditionally male-oriented brands to attract (and keep) new female fans (Super Bowl). Whether trying to gain the attention of previously indifferent female customers or attracting a younger, savvier demographic, many brands on this year's list impressed new audiences through smart product or interest-group extensions and creative targeting tactics that enticed women into areas where they previously had held little interest.

About the Breakaway Brands Study Methodology

Developed in 2004 as part of Landor's efforts to track brand-led business growth, the annual Breakaway Brands study provides an annual in-depth look at quantifiable increases in brand strength over a three-year period for the best performing brands. Landor studied approximately 2,500 brands in the BrandAsset Valuator (BAV) U.S. database, identifying those brands that exhibited the greatest increase in brand strength over three annual BAV surveys from 2005 to 2008. Excluded from the study were nonprofit brands, brands with low levels of recognition among the general population, and brands with inconsistent trends in brand strength.

BAV, is the world's largest and most enduring study of brands, with a database compiled over 16 years. It identifies and analyzes brand strength and trends based on four empirically confirmed pillars of brand building: differentiation, relevance, esteem, and knowledge. To date, BAV tracks brands in 48 countries, covers some 30,000 brands, conducts interviews with more than 500,000 consumers, and includes hundreds of brand metrics and attitudinal questions. Young & Rubicam Brands is a consortium of companies that includes Landor.

Brand strength is measured by combining the quantitative measures of brand differentiation and relevance. Brands with high scores on both typically command greater price premiums, enjoy broader sales footprints, and are more successful in expanding their businesses across categories and geographies. For the Breakaway Brands study, Landor calculated each company's measured gain in brand strength and analyzed its underlying drivers of differentiation and relevance to better understand the effectiveness of its brand strategy and marketing activities. Analysts then conducted secondary research on key actions undertaken by brand owners to enhance performance and to identify the strategies and initiatives employed (for example, repositioning, partnerships, new product introductions, line extensions) to sustain brand growth over three years.

About Landor Associates: Landor Associates is a leading strategic brand consulting firm with 23 offices in 18 countries around the world. Founded by Walter Landor in 1941, Landor provides brand research and valuation, brand positioning and architecture, naming and writing, corporate identity and consumer packaging design, branded experience, brand equity management, brand engagement, and digital branding. Landor's current and past clients include some of the world's best-known brands, including BlackBerry, Hilton Hotels, HP, Jet Airways, Microsoft, Miller-Coors, Panasonic, PGA of America, Procter & Gamble, Taj Hotels & Resorts, and Verizon. Landor is part of WPP, one of the world's largest global communications services companies.

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