The Difference That Meaning Makes

The Meaningful Brand was published late last year and is an addition to the growing literature on the importance of building brand salience through the meaning that brands have to customers. I should declare that my own book Brand esSense is also part of this literature. In the book Nigel order lexapro 10mg Hollis focuses on Millward Brown’s framework for measuring brand value, providing some useful tips and good examples along the way. The most important lesson of the book is that long-term brand building is as important, if not more important, than ever, despite the urges of some to ditch long-term branding to the needs of short-term tactical marketing in the digital age.In particular Nigel Hollis focuses on  those things that make a brand more valuable, giving customers permission to pay a premium for using something better than alternative brands.


Nigel Hollis’s framework is based on four key touchstones: purpose, delivery, resonance and difference and, inevitably, supported by Millward Brown’s large database of brand research. What are these four touchstones?

Purpose is the reason that a brand exists – the ‘so what?’ of any brand. If a brand doesn’t make a clear difference in people’s lives, then it’s unlikely to be something that they would want to pay a premium for. A brand with purpose fulfils a specific need (or specific needs) better than other brands. solving a consumer frustration. For example, James Dyson designed a vacuum which performed better than other brands (and visibly better) – after many failed attempts of course (which is part of the brand’s mythology).

Delivery is all about how a brand fulfils its promise (and the main focus of my book Brand esSense). A great brand experience is critical to long-term success, and while experience can be shaped by expectations, ultimately the experience has to meet or exceed those expectations for any kind of success. Delivery is about more than just the tangible immediate experience, but encompasses all aspects of the whole brand journey. Nigel Hollis writes in detail about the importance of sensory experience and how this can add huge value to a brand. He says, “Brand experience exerts the single biggest influence on brand associations. By confirming or denying expectations, experience determines our beliefs about a brand.” Well said!

Resonance (or relevance) is the importance that the brand offer makes an emotional connection with customers, most powerfully when the intrinsic and extrinsic elements of the brand experience work together to create significant meaning in user’s lives. The author claims that achieving such resonance is easier for narrower target audiences than for broader ones, and identifies empathy and authenticity as key drivers of resonance – connecting with the passions, values and concerns of a target audience. The final component is differentiation – what makes a brand different from its competitors, both in terms of positioning and also in tangible (sensory) assets. Here Nigel Hollis falls out with Byron Sharp, who argues in How Brands Grow that distinctiveness is more important than difference. Nigel Hollis disagrees, citing Millward Brown’s driver analyses. The difference must of course be meaningful (hence the title), and not just difference for difference sake. I am neutral on the argument, although would question what a survey question of ‘how different is this brand?’ actually means. Importantly, Nigel Hollis recognises the need to ask such questions in the context of need states, rather than in the context of a ‘category’ (i.e., defining a usage context first). This is a good overview of branding and brand research for anyone interested in the topic, although brand builders will want more guidance and frameworks on ‘how to’ rather than ‘how to measure’ (perhaps try Brand esSense?). Many of the insights are based on the author’s long experience in branding, and a large database of knowledge. It is good to see other experts focusing on the importance of understanding ‘customer jobs’ as a first step in understanding the meaning of brands – focusing on the consumer’s context rather than the manufacturers. Similarly, Nigel Hollis highlights the role of sensory experience in creating brand meaning, showing how these lead to better business (financial) outcomes for brand owners. The key to much of this is discussed in the early chapter on how brands influence purchase decisions, identifying three key ways in which mental representations of brands are formed from information:

  1. Cues that help us recognise the brand
  2. Memories about what it is like to use and experience the brand
  3. The emotional value the brand holds for us

Arguably the most important role of advertising is to create expectations about the brand experience, and to reinforce the experience of the brand after use. As he says in the closing chapter, find your brand’s true purpose, examine the experience it delivers, make sure it resonates, make a difference and, above all, amplify across all touch points. I agree with Nigel Hollis on much of his clear argument in this readable book. REFERENCES The Meaningful Brand: How Strong Brands Make More Money by Nigel Hollis Brand esSense: Using Sense, Symbol and Story to Design Brand Identity by Neil Gains How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know by Byron Sharp   More about the author, Neil Gains Having lived in Indonesia, China and Singapore for more than fourteen years, Neil has spent most of his time there working for Synovate (now Ipsos) managing their Asia Pacific innovation practice. Prior to moving to Asia, he worked for Cadbury Schweppes for more than ten years in research and development and sensory research. In 2010 he set up his own consumer behaviour consultancy in Singapore, TapestryWorks, which uses “behavioural insights to weave consumer and brand stories together”, he says. Neil has a doctorate in consumer psychology and sensory science, and loves travelling, reading (especially detective novels) and sharing ideas. Review first published at Inspector Insight