The holy grail of brand building


We all know them: the brands that consistently outperform the market, that sustain their brand value year after year and retain a nearly unbreakable bond with their customers. There is an abundance of opinions on what constitutes the root cause of their success. And understandably so; their success stems from a plethora of reasons. QVARTZ engagement partner Rasmus Sørensen has studied these brands in depth and gained quite a bit of insight into what it is they do that many others fail to do. According to him, “no inherent brand traction will stand without a competitive value proposition; no inherent brand traction can exist without a business system geared to deliver unique customer engagement across touchpoints in a digitalised world; no inherent brand traction can remain without a leadership that can rally employees around a shared inspiration, and so on”. Building and maintaining a strong brand is certainly no walk in the park.

How to cook up a great brand

Thomas Kunz is another seasonal player within the field of strong brand building. Thomas holds an extensive CV, counting no less than 25 years and five CEO titles within the French multinational food products corporation Danone, one of the biggest global players around within fresh dairy, baby food, waters and medical nutrition. Throughout his career, Thomas has built, nurtured and grown brands that most of us are quite familiar with. One of them being Evian, the “fountain of youth” mineral water brand. In recent years, Thomas has made a living of consulting other big co-operations on their brands, portfolio management and innovation.

There is a saying in marketing; the person who said it first, owns it. Selling still water on bottles – even of poorer quality than what runs in your tap at home – might seem obvious or even commonplace today, however, before someone exploited the opportunity and turned still water into a multi-billion business, no one else had seized this potential to make a fortune on water.
“Unless someone has already exploited it in marketing, there is probably a chance that – if done intelligently – as a brand, you can really claim something”, says Thomas, and continues, “Building great brands is the most sustainable way for companies to grow their profit. Once you have a great brand, you can command premium prices. When you can command higher prices, you can invest more money, and thereby grow much faster. So having a great brand very often creates a positive spiral of growth on both the top and bottom line. Basically, for any B2C company, building a great brand is pretty much the holy grail of success.”
According to Thomas, a great brand will always contain two indispensable elements: relevant differentiation on the one hand, and the creation of emotional proximity on the other. Making the brand into more than a product that fulfils a simple function, and instead into something that the consumers can identify themselves with, is essential. “You have to be relevantly differentiated, which is something that is very often underestimated. And you have to personally connect the consumer to your brand. These are crucial brand ingredients. But, as we all know, in order to cook a great meal, you need to know what to do with the ingredients. Every circumstance differs a bit. I always hear people say that it is difficult to build a brand in their industry. To that, I always respond that if you can create brands; truly great brands, within still water, then I think you can do it within your category, too.” Indeed, creating a brand on par with the world’s leading brands is a multidisciplinary exercise; you need to have a competitive value proposition, the underlying business system to deliver and a leadership that can unite the organisation around a shared aspiration – only to name a few of the requirements. To Rasmus Sørensen, a shared decisive trait among leading brands is consumer identification, which he defines as an inherent resonance with existing consumer narratives. “In order to reach this state, you need to craft your brand definition from deep insight into what existing consumer narratives to resonate with. This may sound like an endless tour de force into deep psychology, but by applying a structured approach, it actually becomes quite a manageable task,” says Rasmus.

if you can create brands; truly great brands, within still water, then I think you can do it within your category, too

Rasmus Sørensen

Rasmus Sørensen – Engagement Partner at QVARTZ – joined QVARTZ in 2012 with more than 11 years of operational experience from market-leading advertising agencies. His passion has always been creation of compelling brands and effective marketing strategies for industry-leading clients, primarily in Europe and North America. He continuously finds personal inspiration and contextualization in studies about the Universe.


They say that two heads are better than one. Imagine what we can accomplish by adding the 450,000 industry experts within the Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) network to our business. GLG is an American expert network that operates a membership-based platform, which provides independent ad-hoc consulting services around the world. Since January 2016, QVARTZ has teamed up with GLG on projects, enabling us to include unique industry insights from leading experts from all over the world to secure even better solutions for our clients. Thomas Knuz is one of them. The collaboration is part of our Open Garden approach where we join forces with other companies, representing the best within their individual industries, to create better solutions together.

Thomas Kunz

Thomas – Independent investor and Strategic Advisor – is no novice within the dairy industry, after having spent 25 years of his professional career in Danone. Having worked and lived across the globe, he now works independently from his base in Switzerland. Besides his passion for brands, he is a keen reader and an engaged golfer with an avid interest in politics.

In a lethal fight with mosquitoes

Though the importance of having a truly strong brand is greater than ever, the rules of brand building have become equally more complex. For one, the way to interact with consumers has changed drastically: “Previously, if you had the money, you could make a 30-second commercial, and that was half the job. The commercial had to be good, of course, but you could actually capture most consumers using very few choices of media”, Thomas explains and elaborates, “Today, communication flows are much more complex. The biggest difference has to do with who is in control. 30 years ago, brand owners had full control over the communication because it was a one-way dialogue.”

Today, this is surely not the case. In these days of digital communication, manufacturers have no way of controlling the dialogues about their brand. Consumers can make or destroy a brand, with you being only one part of the equation. With one-way communication being long gone, brand building has indeed become much more complex – but also much more accessible: “You can build brands today with a surprisingly small budget. However, the authenticity of your brand has become increasingly important. Many industries are fragmented into small, local, authentic brands, and big brands really struggle with this. Because big companies know how to fight elephants and lions. But they don’t know how to fight mosquitoes”, concludes Thomas.

Often, the notion is put forward that brand building in a world characterised by ever-increasing transparency is futile. According to Rasmus, this is a mistake: “Rising transparency, consumers’ ability to instantly compare products and services on rational parameters – driven by the proliferation of digital touch points and social media – makes it more important than ever to have an emotional connection with your customers; a little loyalty beyond reason. If you fail to create that, you’d better have the lowest price or be the undisputed leader on raw performance to avoid a toxic competitive situation”.

Is your company up-to-date…

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Your next step?

Use deep insights into what existing consumer narratives to resonate with in order to reach the same state of brand identification as some of the world’s most powerful and profitable brands.

Take a look at our recent white paper on how to create inherent brand traction or read the case about how Jacob Schram, Group President for Europe at Alimentation Couche-Tard, together with his colleagues united several brands into one global brand; Circle K.

Rasmus Sørensen
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