Behind the Breakaway Brands: Q&A with Landor Associates

Breakaway BrandsDailyFinance and Landor Associates collaborated to publish a list of the top 10 Breakaway Brands of 2009. To get a deeper sense of the key trends tracked our study, as well as trends that are over the horizon, I spoke to Hayes Roth, Chief Marketing Officer of Landor Associates. Part of Roth's job is tracking these trends and incorporating them both into his own firm's marketing as well as into strategic branding efforts for clients. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation.

Q: What are notable consumer trends that impacted the Breakaway Brands this year?

A: Bearing in mind the Breakaway Brands list is defined by brand strength sustained over a three-year period (in this case from 2005-2008), many of the trends we identify in this report have been fully adopted by smart marketers in that time. One of the most important of these is the developing consumer interest in healthy eating.

Under scrutiny for the "growing waistband" of Americans, the food industry has reacted with alternative solutions and innovative ways to engage consumers and change their eating habits. Special K cereal repositioned itself to be the leader in "shape management" -- launching weight loss contests and line extensions that helped Americans lose the weight and keep it off.

Another trend, which has been with us for a while but we see only accelerating, is the extensive application of digital tools and communications vehicles for marketing. Just having a slick corporate website doesn't cut it anymore. And even the online brands must adapt rapidly to keep up.

Burnishing a brand becomes not only a matter of having the right image but also figuring out how to effectively project that image. We saw that in most of the Breakaway Brands in our survey.

Lastly, targeting women consumers is at once among the oldest and newest trends in marketing. While P&G (PG) first identified this lucrative audience well over 100 years ago, traditionally male-oriented brands are now discovering new ways to tap into the female audience.

Q: What are some other key underlying factors you saw emerge from the survey more strongly in the last year or so?
Remember first that Breakaway Brands covers a three year time frame, so we are reporting more gradual trends vs. "hot brand issues of the month." That said, this year's findings (not surprisingly), reflect a growing consumer shift from the halcyon days of conspicuous consumption to a more value-driven approach in brand purchase decisions.

Smart marketers have clearly course-corrected to adapt to these consumer realities, leveraging those aspects of their brands that appeal more to substantive value than glitzy "bells and whistles." To date we haven't yet seen the full impact of the recession in our data. We expect next year's study will begin to show the more long-term influence of the global financial crises in brand trends as two out of its three years (2006-2009) under study will have occurred during the recession.

Q: Which was the most surprising Breakaway Brand and why?
The most surprising Breakaway Brand to us, strangely enough, was Apple (AAPL). Not because it isn't a highly differentiated and broadly relevant brand, but because it continues to so successfully retain its distinctive brand strength over time.

Landor's study celebrates sustained growth -- those brands that build their value consistently and persistently year in and year out. This is the remarkable achievement of the Apple brand -- It has stayed true to its "approachable innovation" roots for decades and still manages to come up with category defining products and services on a regular basis. The iPod was a featured Breakaway Brand for several years past and we always predicted its exceptional success would ultimately lift its parent brand to similar status if they stayed the course with innovative new ideas across their product lines. Now we have the data to prove it!

Q: Any ideas on brands that are breaking away now and might make the list next year? Or brands that barely missed this year's Top 10?
Though everyone likes to play brand futurist at some point or another, we prefer to base our opinions on substantive data and/or informed market insight. As a result, we are always hesitant to predict what brands will come out on top in years to come (and it's usually a surprise to us anyway!).

But we obviously expect the recession to more fully impact the Breakaway Brands winners next year. This would lead us to assume the increased importance of family values and close-to-home products and services as Americans spend less and stay in more often. Any brand that aids in a "staycation" should therefore do well, as should products that add fun and value to the home life experience.

We should also see a refinement in what digital means. The rise of social networking has impacted many marketers' strategies and we expect the ones that use and adapt these incredible new tools best will make the list.

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