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The 7 Pillars of a Modern Brand

What makes a great modern brand? Gone are the David Ogilvy days when marketing was about selling an emotional benefit. Next was the Trout and Ries era when it was the position you occupied in the minds of the customer. Then it was Apple, who taught us that the way to intractable loyalty and unprecedented market cap was through design. A modern brand is now about serving instead of selling. It's multi-layered, building on the past rather than rejecting it. Emotional benefits, positioning, and design still matter, but purpose does, too. It's the brand activist era, in which brands inspire and empower consumers to be what our role models told us we could be: the change we want to see in the world. Here’s what it now means to be a great MODERN brand.

1. A CLEAR BRAND PROMISE – A modern brand has a clear, meaningful, and ownable what’s-in-it-for-me. It’s clear because it’s easily understood and articulated by all stakeholders. It’s meaningful because it genuinely serves customers whether it’s solving their problem or helping them dream, decide, and fulfill their aspirations. It’s ownable because its promise and proof are dramatically different, and the organization is uniquely qualified to deliver and dominate its segment.

Example: Allbirds, Volvo, Slack

2. FUNCTIONAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS – A modern brand has a functional benefit that speaks to the minds of customers, and an emotional benefit that speaks to their hearts. The functional benefit is usually the reason customers try you; the emotional benefit is the reason they stay. Often, the emotional benefit is not overtly communicated, but that doesn’t lessen its importance in driving loyalty and advocacy. Example: AirBnb, Away, Starbucks­­, Blackwing pencils

3. COMPELLING PROOF – A modern brand demonstrates clear, compelling proof that it delivers on its brand promise. Brand owners reinforce this proof through every customer touchpoint, from feature set and customer service to storefront or package design.

Example: Trader Joe's, Everlane

4. CONSISTENT EXECUTION – A modern brand consistently delivers on its promise. It enables customers to know exactly what to expect every time they experience the brand. This consistency has even more value: it simplifies our lives. A modern brand is also messaged in a consistent way because brand owners understand that consistency breeds trust and recall.

Example: Amazon, UPS, Taco Bell

5. ELEVATED DESIGN – A modern brand has a simple but powerful aesthetic sensibility. Brand owners elevate design because they the know the unconscious pleasure we get from it. They understand that design is what enables an upstart to win against entrenched competition, to engender intractable loyalty, and to drive market cap. They treat design as a strategic asset and not as a me-too-make-it-look-like-Apple mandate.

Example: Apple, Method, Tesla

6. A MEMORABLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE – A modern brand delivers an unexpectedly delightful, memorable, and frictionless customer experience.

Example: ZAPPOS, Virgin

7. A PURPOSE – A modern brand has a purpose of improving the well-being of people and our planet beyond just the purchase transaction. Brand owners inspire and empower us to join their tribe in making a difference in the world because they understand our need for meaning and belonging in an increasingly impersonal world.

Example: Tom's, Sword & Plough, Patagonia, AllBirds

Are you building a modern brand?

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