Seven Secrets of a Successful Brand

June 9, 2003

Secret 1: Every brand has a secret code

Of course, this secret code needs to be discovered. It has always been fascinating to find out that customers are very sensitive to their brand's unconscious codes, when Brand Managers or the advertising agencies are not. This obvious disconnect results in a lot of frustration from a consumer's point of view and inevitably, to low sales figures. The remedy for plummeting sales is to break the unconscious codes of your brands by applying the Archetype Discovery Process. The latter uncovers the reference system created in people's minds through the first imprint, i.e. the mental wiring they use unconsciously to refer to your brand. Discovering this first imprint is a crucial part of the process which identifies the time (i.e. at what age) your brand is typically imprinted and the emotional connections (logic of emotion) which helped to create the imprint.

Once this information has been discovered, it is possible to summarize a brand's unconscious code in one word! This exercise might often prove difficult but it is always very powerful and carries multiple payoffs. For example, when working on Folgers coffee, we found out that the brand's unconscious code could be summarized as "Aroma". This one word gave Folgers an incredible advantage over other brands which valued "off-code" elements such as "taste." Taste is "off-code", aroma is "on-code". It is not surprising that Folgers has been using its code successfully for more than 10 years.

Secret 2: Always be "on-code"

Once you have discovered the secret code associated with your brand, it must be respected. Every brand-related initiative should always be "on-code". Ralph Lauren is a very good example of remaining loyal to a brand's code. From choosing the location of their stores to the design of its products, its advertising, Ralph Lauren always remains consistent with its code, which is "Privilege."

On the other hand, Cadillac happened to be "off-code" for many years. For example, a small Cadillac is "off-code". Another example of the danger of being "off-code" was directly experienced by Plymouth. The brand showed no apparent consistency, gathering models which Chrysler did not really know what to do with, such as the Prowler. When Cadillac launched the Escalade, they suddenly had an "on-code" product (by chance at the time) which struck a chord with the market and became a great success. Dennis Rodman bought six of them. This is just more proof that the code refers to a structure, not to some content. You can always be creative with content but you have to respect the structure, the code. The Porsche Cayenne is "off-code."

Secret 3: Every culture has a secret code

Every culture can be understood with one word. When talking about the French culture, this one word is "to think". As for the American culture, the equivalent word is not "to think" but rather "to do". The Canadian culture can be understood through the word "to keep" and the British culture through "to be". Once you understand the code relating to specific cultures, you suddenly understand the reasons underlying people's attitudes and behaviors in these cultures.

For example, it was no surprise to see Americans wanting to go to war (remember "to do") and the French wanting to think more about it. The Canadian code explains why Canadians are known as peace keepers and the British code, why British citizens can't see why they should become Europeans. Indeed, according to the Brits, there is nothing better than British identity.

Secret 4: Never go against the secret code of a market

Every market or category, like every culture, has its own secret code. Never go against it! It will never work. If Americans ask for "big", "powerful and more", give them just that. If Germans want engineering and new technology, give them what they ask for. If the Japanese request the attention to details, then make sure they get it. You must respect the codes of every culture in which you have a presence.

To this end, "CultureWatchTM" has been developed. "CultureWatchTM" is an extremely powerful tool for brands wanting to be successful in various markets. Today, it is the dream of every Brand Manager to be successful worldwide. However, it becomes very clear that even global brands have to understand the variety of cultures which constitute the world today. People trying to promote genetically-modified food in France obviously don't understand the French code for food and it doesn't look like they will be getting it right any time soon.

Secret 5: Have a consistency checklist

Now that you know the codes for your brand(s) and market(s), every initiative should aim at reinforcing them. For example, do not try to tell the French that you "think" more than they actually think themselves. In order to promote the PT Cruiser in France, we gave them the impression that most of the ideas we proposed came from them. All we did was to "put them" into practice. The French like to think but definitely resent the idea of having to do anything with their thoughts. Doing is almost vulgar to them when compared with being at the origin of the idea.

Once you have your consistency checklist, you should stick to it. It takes a long time to build a brand, but only a very short time to destroy it. Consistency is the key. Pantene is not just a shampoo, Pantene is "food for your hair", food for growth. The new line of Pantene products should add new vitamins, fresh cells and all kinds of "food for growth". The message shouldn't be limited to "cleaning or protecting your hair."

Secret 6: Monitor your competitors

Once you know the code of your category, be it coffee, shampoo or cars, you should always keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. Are they "on-code" or "off-code?" Is their newest product "on-code?" Is their new campaign "off-code?" You should not have to worry about a new product if it is "off-code", but do pay attention to the one that's "on-code." That's where the real competition is!

Of course, your competitors never know what's "on-code" and what's not, but you do! You are, therefore, in a position in which you can predict the success of their advertising campaign, or its failure, just by looking at it! These elements should help you to develop the right strategy at the right time. When competitors appeal to the cortex (numbers, price etc), you know it always represents a great opportunity for you to own the reptilian!

Secret 7: Keep investing in your brand's emotional bank account

Most Brand Managers are judged upon their results, especially at the end of the financial quarter. As we saw earlier, a brand is like a child in need of constant love and care. The Prowler was a good example of showing such an attitude. Because of its incredible design, Chrysler got a lot of PR and the car ended up on most of the front pages of all car magazines at the time. The Prowler is "design", not performance, not engineering, but design.

Chrysler stuck to "design" and it worked. They might not have made much money with this car but it was not the idea after all. They invested in the Prowler to create an image for Chrysler cars as being cool and synonymous of design. To emphasize its strategy, Chrysler should come up with a new "Prowler" on a regular basis, one that has a spectacular design that would help to strengthen Chrysler's identity. Every brand should always have a pre-emptive positioning and an emotional, consistent plan to grow and reinforce its image.

Brands are the real value

They trigger reference systems in the customer's brain corresponding to first imprints. Companies which really care for their brands will grow, others will fail.

A.G. Lafley at P&G has demonstrated that paying attention to brands can turn a company around. However, Porsche might have lost its market by not respecting its secret code.

Finally, remember that corporations should be created along the same lines as brands. A CEO is a Brand Manager. Phil Condit at Boeing is in charge of the Boeing brand. Jeff Immelt and A.G. Lafley are in charge of the GE and P&G brands respectively. Rick Wagoner is in charge of the GM brand. We have actually broken the secret codes of these various "corporate brands" and the companies to succeed will be those that respect their respective codes and consistency checklists. Success will be measured in terms of stock market value. A.G Lafley, by taking over as CEO of P&G at $48 a share and taking it to the $90 a share mark has already shown that the "brand" strategy works.


"Seven Secrets of a Successful Brand." Presentation. Dr. G. Clotaire Rapaille, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Archetype Discoveries Worldwide. 2003 ANA Global Marketing Conference, 06/09/03.