In the past, tech brands such as Apple often were lauded by marketing gurus for their innovative product lines and ability to build loyal fan bases, but over the past year, some low-tech CPG brands have outdone tech brands when it comes to resonating with their customers, according to a new study by New York-based global strategic brand consulting firm Landor Associates. Quilted Northern, Jockey and Dawn took the top spots in Landor’s 2013 Breakaway Brands Study, which ranked U.S. brands based on successfully sustaining growth in brand strength from 2009 to 2012 using data from Young & Rubicam Group’s BrandAsset Valuator. Apple, which ranked in the study’s top 10 in 2011 and 2012, fell off the list and onto Landor’s “watch list” of brands that face uncertainty in the long term.
“This is the first time in four or five years that we’ve seen this many consumer staples on the list,” says Mich Bergesen, global director of financial services at Landor, who led the research study. “The strength of tech brands has plateaued, the tech cycle has matured a little bit, and big brands that have defined these categories are becoming just part of the landscape. The consumer brands, however, have demonstrated new momentum over the last three years, showing a sustained upswing in brand strength.”
Quilted Northern took the No. 1 spot on the list based on its savvy use of market research. Its brand awareness jumped after the company launched its 3-ply Ultra Plush toilet paper in response to market research that showed that affluent women over 45 were willing to pay more for higher-quality toilet paper. “It’s classic marketing. [They] understood their consumer well and addressed a specific need,” Bergesen says.
Dawn took the No. 3 spot on the list by demonstrating social responsibility, airing TV commercials and YouTube videos that highlighted the brand’s work in wildlife cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The cleanup efforts “seem to have given them a platform to build the persona of the brand in an otherwise commodity category,” Bergesen says. “For social responsibility, it’s got to relate to your core purpose. Dawn’s [cleanup efforts] were not contrived. They were consistent with who they are.”
Apple, meanwhile, fell off the list because of its failure to innovate with its recently-released lower-cost iPhone 5c: one example of Apple merely playing catch-up with its competitors in the smartphone market, Bergesen says. “Apple used to be bar none of the companies that would delight consumers with new product innovations and a user experience that was category-defining, and it seems that there are no longer new product launches and the new features, such as fingerprint technology, aren’t category-defining.”
One tech giant that did remain on the list, No.4-ranked Amazon, gained brand strength through use of its Amazon Prime program, which delivers perks to repeat customers. “Amazon sets an example for companies at any scale,” Bergesen says. “They’re using conventional marketing tools, things like loyalty programs, customer engagement programs like Amazon Prime. It doesn’t matter whether you were born in the tech era or not, those sorts of tried-and-true tools are necessary and brands are succeeding by using them.”