30 Choices that can Make or Break Your Brand

The “Elements of Value” HBR article by Bain & Company Partners (Eric Almquist, John Senior, and Nicholas Bloch) is a must read for Brand Builders. While the authors don’t specifically discuss “Brand Positioning” and Points-of-Difference / Points-of-Parity, their 30 Elements Pyramid is a “must have” tool in the toolbox for anyone doing positioning work. This provides a high level recap of the HBR article and my tips for application to Brand Positioning.

The authors believe that there is a “universal set of building blocks of value that allow companies to come up with new combinations of value that its products and services could deliver”.  They have identified 30 “Elements of Value” that fall into four Categories of needs in a Maslow-like hierarchy: Functional, emotional, life changing, and social impact. These Categories are oft discussed in Marketing circles, but the unpacking these 4 into 30 distinct sources of value makes it super actionable. For example, “convenience” which frequently surfaces in positioning work is unpacked to reveal: saves time, avoids hassle, simplifies, and reduces effort.


Click here to see all 30 Elements of Value (after 4th paragraph)

The Bain & Company work further reveals:

  • Companies that perform well on multiple elements of value (4+) have more loyal customers as measured by NPS and 4x the revenue growth (Apple, USAA, TOMS, Amazon)
  • Pure-play digital retailers (think Amazon) with “astonishing growth” achieve high scores on many (like 8) elements of value.
  • Once Quality expectations are met, critical elements are industry dependent (“sensory appeal” is critical in Food / Bev; Digital companies excel on “saves time” / “avoids hassle”)

So, more is better, but you can’t realistically have all 30. This is where tough choices on Brand Positioning come in. Brand Builders would be remiss to do positioning work without using this model. Top tips for leveraging this gem for more robust Brand Positioning:

  1. Discuss the relative importance of each rung in the Pyramid and each individual value element as a driver of Brand choice in your Category. If you don’t have this data, get it! Positioning requires you to understand drivers of choice in your Category.
  2. Then understand which Brand(s) are over and under-delivering on each element and why. Again, this is critical data to inform positioning choices.
  3. Decide which value elements you want as Points-of-Difference and the feasibility of attaining. Prioritize and make tough choices on which elements you will pursue as Points-of-Difference.
  4. Then determine – for all remaining value elements – which must be Points-of-Parity to enable you to be a Category player (Category Points-of-Parity) or to keep a competitor at bay (Competitive Points-of-Parity).
  5. What’s left? Any elements you’ve not chosen as Points-of-Difference or Points-of-Parity will likely become Points-of-Disadvantage. Can you live with those?

LPA specializes in Brand Strategy and we love “wicked positioning challenges”.  We’re excited to see how the Elements of Value can enhance positioning choices.

Click here for 30 Elements of Value


Take the $$$ and Run

I recently purchased a new luxury car. I won’t reveal the Brand nor the dealership because my intent is not to harm, but rather to share marketing lessons from a customer experience debacle. 

After 15 years of loyalty to Lexus, I decided to try a new Brand. In the auto industry, trial stakes are high so I researched extensively, concluding that it was a safe bet – so I took the plunge. The subsequent couple of months were filled with aggravation for me-as-customer and with rich learnings for me-as-marketer.  

Focus on “Consumer Journey”, not “Path-to-Purchase”.

I recently discussed these terms with a client. I was using “Path-to-Purchase”. The client requested “Consumer Journey” instead to be clear that there is no finish line. Boy, was he right. My Path-to-Purchase was impeccable: red carpet treatment. However, after my purchase, the journey stunk. Consumer journeys have no finish line.   

Maintain Brand “control” over distribution channel to fullest extent possible.

My car was manufactured overseas and distributed by a US distributor (not owned or operated by the Company). When I received seriously subpar service, I called the Customer Service line. The Company rep took my story and told me that “outside of a mechanical problem, there is nothing we can do. We don’t have control over our dealerships – they are independent entities. We only deal with warranty issues”.  These days, successful Brands must shepherd customer satisfaction at any cost – they listen, they fix, they reconcile. And they ensure that their reps do the same.

Don’t patronize me… Help me

Within the first week of purchase, I realized there was a glitch in the voice command system, which I rely on pretty heavily. Rather than helping me get to the bottom of the issue, the dealership told me it worked perfectly for them and it might be something with my speech. I felt insulted and dismissed, and still fairly confident I didn’t have a speech impediment. Siri understands me just fine. A week later, I took a road trip with my astute colleague who noticed a pattern: letters later in the alphabet didn’t register. I deleted 2/3’s of my 6,000 contacts and BINGO – problem fixed. I felt vindicated knowing that the issue wasn’t imagined, but annoyed that neither the dealership nor the company helped me resolve the glitch.

Everyone who represents a Brand impacts a Brand’s equity.

After one of several service appointments in first month, my car was to be returned to me at my location by a “knowledgeable Service manager who would go over everything with me”. Sounded nice. But he showed up in sweat pants and a sweat shirt — dress that made me uncomfortable even getting into the car with him. I spend a lot of my life in sweat pants, but not when I’m meeting a client! He then told me that he’d “never used” the particular electronic system in my car, and didn’t really know how to work it, but could “play with it” and figure things out. With some brands, the product isn’t the problem—the people are. Either way, a brand can be helped or harmed even by “small stuff”.

Be on time. Be present.

As someone who is chronically running late, my nose is growing on this one. And it seems so obvious. But I had a situation a week after purchase wherein my Salesman was not available to explain things to me at our agreed appointment time because he was helping another customer (aka — focused on making another sale vs. taking care of an existing customer… whose money he already had). When he finally got to me, he was interrupted to deal with other prospective customers, leaving me to feel unappreciated and unimportant. It seems my Consumer Journey ended when I gave him my credit card number.

Strive for “no manual needed” standard-of-excellence.

I’ve now been driving this car for about 5-6 weeks and I know 80/20+ how to work all the functions. But it was not intuitive – not even close to Apple. I had to memorize a bunch of stuff to operate smoothly. Even for complex purchases, most people don’t have the time, interest, or patience to read manuals. Apple reset our expectations for what’s possible and others now need to hit that mark.

Never, ever, ever compromise on ethical matters.

Even though I really liked the car, the customer service left me with shopper’s regret and a newfound appreciation for Lexus. After expressing my dissatisfaction, I asked if there was a way to ‘undo’ the transaction (about 2 weeks after I had the car). The Sales Manager texted me a shocking, under-the-table offer, stating that they would take the car back on four conditions…   

Naturally, I wasn’t comfortable with this type of shady behavior. So, rather than accept the offer, I shared it with the Company rep on the 800 line, told the dealership I was doing so, and the dealiership (in writing) retracted their offer. What’s the kicker? The Company rep again said there was nothing they could do.

Now that my feelings about this Brand have dropped to subzero temperatures, I’m certain there’s nothing they could possibly do to convince me to buy another car a few years down the road. Today, Brands need to ensure a balance between Consumers and Customers to thrive. This isn’t 1970 … Consumers won’t let Brands get away with just taking the money and running.