So, You Want to be #1, Eh?

A client recently asked me an interesting question…how do I make our brand #1?

While there are a lot of big brands out there, which is the biggest? The “best”? What does it mean for a brand to be the biggest or best brand – the #1 brand? And if you’re not there, how do you get there?

I found the question an intriguing one. It forces us to think big and to pull our heads out of the minutia we so often get bogged down in, and encapsulate succinctly the things that we may have forgotten.

What Does it Mean to be the “Best”

This is a brand’s first big challenge – how to define what it means to be the best. In fact there is no simple answer to the question and there are lots of ways to approach the problem.

One approach is to provide a calculated measure that combines multiple factors, such as Ipsos’ annual Most Influential Brands study. We’ve identified the top drivers of influence and developed an annual ranking of brands in Canada based on those factors.

In the words of Steve Levy, COO Ipsos Reid, influence is important because “truly great brands are like family. We can count on them. They help build our identity. They dig deep to create an emotional connection with us. And we trust them to make our lives better. In short, brands influence our lives now more than ever.”

The Ipsos study identifies 5 dimensions of influence – Corporate Citizenship, Engagement, Leading Edge, Presence, and Trustworthy – and each dimension has its own attributes.

The 2014 Top 10 Most Influential Brands in Canada make an impressive list, to be sure. This approach to ranking brands is useful because, as you will see, it is difficult to identify one single measure that allows us to proclaim one brand “the best”. By combining a range of factors we can provide a useful overall measure and not be limited in our assessment.

Influential brands

Drivers of Equity

The Ipsos Most Influential Brands study brings together multiple factors of influence into one composite score allowing for an easy ranking and comparison across brands. But individually what are the most important elements a brand needs to deliver in order to be #1?

Familiarity Trumps Awareness

Many brand managers think of ‘awareness’ as the first stage in a brands’ development. And while it is true that this is typically the starting point for a relationship with consumers, ‘awareness’ truly is just an entry point.

Top brands need to focus on more than just awareness, and develop ‘Familiarity’ amongst consumers. Many brands have high awareness but weaker levels of ‘Familiarity’, or a true understanding of what the brand stands for. Familiarity must be built along with brand awareness in order to achieve higher levels of Brand Equity and become #1.

Familiarity can be considered a basis of growth for brands. In Ipsos’s database of Brand Equity scores, there is a strong correlation between those with high Familiarity and brand loyalty – consumers with high levels of Familiarity are more likely to have high loyalty and high Brand Equity.

Brand equity

To be the best, drive for high levels of Familiarity for your brand and don’t be satisfied with only using more simplistic measures of awareness.


While Familiarity starts our brand off on a path to being #1, Relevance is the strongest contributing factor to Brand Equity. In most cases, consumers are not likely to have heightened perceptions for a brand that isn’t relevant to them. A great example of this comes to us from the Most Influential Brands study – amongst Boomers (50-68 year olds) the CBC ranks as the 6th most influential brand in Canada…but for Millenials the CBC doesn’t even make the top 10. The heightened Relevance of the CBC amongst the older demographic clearly makes a difference.

One of the most important aspects of Relevance is that the value of Relevance grows exponentially – you can’t have too much. And smart marketers position their brands so that the brand can be relevant across a wide range of consumers and occasions.

Making your brand relevant to different types of people in different situations gives a brand the broad appeal it needs to be #1. The Apple IPod became so popular because it delivers escapism no matter who you are – you can find people of any age, religion, colour, etc using one. And the advertising played on that ubiquity, showing silhouetted characters that almost anyone could identify with.

Great brands have come to appreciate this need to be more than just the functional product. Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee – it positions itself as a luxury escape. Dove doesn’t sell soap…it sells self-esteem for women. By approaching their marketing in this way, great brands don’t limit themselves to finite moments or occasions when consumers may choose them. They open the door to being the brand of choice by more people on more occasions.  They open the door to being #1.


The Competitive Context

Across all the measures, factors and attributes that we can identify to help a brand become #1, the most important thing to keep in mind is that this really is a competition.

Whether or not you believe that Familiarity is more important than awareness, or that Relevance is the strongest contributing factor, what is ultimately true is that whatever the measure, you need to beat the other guys!

In life, people have choices. As they go through their lives, consumers make hundreds of choices a day. Shampoo to wash your hair in the morning? Literally hundreds of options. Cereal for breakfast? Also, hundreds of options. Cars to drive? An almost limitless number of options.  And in order for there to be a #1, there has to a #2…and probably a #3.

What makes this principle important is that it means the absolute level of any metric you choose is not the only important metric. What matters more is – are you better than the other guys? So don’t limit your assessment to just an absolute level of awareness or market share. Sharpen your focus to include an analysis of the ranking. Consumers may feel a lot of love or closeness to your brand…but do they love it more than other brands?


To achieve this we can use a relatively simple proxy for Brand Equity that allows us to rank brands within a consumer’s set of considered brands. A slider metric is simple and intuitive on its own, and when combined with the powerful insight of ranking brands allows us to provide a measure of Brand Equity very strongly correlated to market share.

Closeness slider

By incorporating the slider scale in everyday tracking research, smart marketers can understand the impact of their marketing activities on consumers’ perceptions of closeness to their brand and seek to continuously improve towards the goal of being #1.


So much of what consumers know about brands stems from the brand’s communications – the voice of the brand. Having worked with a long list of top brands in Canada and around the world, what have we learned over the years about communications for #1 brands? Most importantly, effective ads tend to be simple, relevantly differentiated and own-able.


This principle is becoming more and more important in an age when the clutter and confusion of communications continues to reach new heights. Often, advertising that tries to be too clever runs the risk of not breaking through because too few people “get it”. Avoid the lure of creative that relies on your audience to understand some deep-seeded nuance or parody or some other element that isn’t 100% clear. While some small minority might appreciate complex or complicated creative, the majority will not, and to be #1 we are striving for mass appeal.

Some of the most common sins against simplicity include situations or settings that aren’t immediately clear (and relevant); disconnected audio and visuals that don’t appear to work together; and trying to communicate too much in one piece of creative.

Relevant Differentiation

One of the most consistent predictors of great advertising is how relevant it is to your target and how well differentiated it is. This concept is grounded in the earlier discussion related to advertising overload – there is so much noise bombarding consumers today and more often they are proving that they will only focus on content that has real meaning for them.

Brand Integration

When creative executions perform poorly on measures of branding, agencies and marketers often make the mistake of thinking that means “making the logo bigger”.  But ads don’t do poorly on branding because the logo needs to be bigger – they do poorly because the brand isn’t well integrated into the story.

So while brand presence is a factor, #1 brands will “ladder up” their creative executions and ensure iconography and brand cues are included, and most importantly, that the role of the brand is well integrated to ensure the advertising breaks through.


Ask yourself whether or not the ad could exist if you swapped out your brand and replaced it with your competitors. If your ad is great, the answer will be No!

Where Do You Go From Here?

As discussed, part of the challenge in setting a goal to be the #1 brand is in how to measure that. By virtue of the fact that the comparison will likely cross categories and industries, it may be that the most effective way to do this is to use a calculated measure that incorporates a range of factors and attributes, similar to Ipsos’s Most Influential Brands study.  In this way you are not limited by a myopic or singular metric that doesn’t provide a holistic view of your brand’s performance.

And while this overall measurement will help establish the end game (We’re #1!), it is also important to understand and measure the top drivers of what makes brands great in the minds of consumers. And don’t forget to evaluate your brand’s absolute performance as well as its relative performance versus competitors. Working with a reputable research agency that understands Brand Equity, what to measure, how to measure it and how to consult and advise on appropriate actions will ensure you are progressively improving towards the goal of being #1.

*Photo credit: