Brand Activator/ Branding & Communications

'Brand Energizers': Big Need, Bigger Challenge


by Tom Stein
Chief Executive Officer
Stein IAS (Americas)

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With Small Business Saturday now in its third year of incredible success, I thought this an opportune time to write a post about "Brand Energizers."

As many of you know, the term and its definition are the work of Fred Aaker, the widely read author and deep thinker about "all things brand."

Fred discussed brand energizers in a recent blog post, defining the need and the concept as follows: "Brands need more energy to provide the visibility needed to be considered and also to support perceptions and attitudes." Aaker posits that the opportunity is to "create an ownable, internal branded energizer which is not part of the [product] offering per se, which has energy and use that 'branded energizer' to energize the target brand or subbrand."

Brand energizers, he notes, could be a “promotion, sponsorship, symbol, program, or other entity that by association significantly enhances and energizes a target brand and is developed and owned by the organization."

Examples of brand energizers take many forms. For Avon, it has long been the Walk for Breast Cancer. For, it is the now-ubiquitous Ghostbusters-style "no software" symbol. For Red Bull, it most recently was the Stratos mission with Felix Baumgartner.

In my view, the dilemma we face is that in our frenetic, noisy world, brands need energizers more than ever to manifest their purposes and value propositions in order to break through all that noise.Yet developing brand energizers is harder than ever–for the same reason brands need to develop them. To wit, there are a lot of brands out there trying to do the self-same thing.

As a result, there’s a whole lot of “five hour” energy being produced by hundreds of brands in any given market space. The sheer intensity of this energy is only matched by its lack of sustainable substance. This, in turn, compels audiences to “build up” their brand resistance. For those of you who remember your chemistry, it's almost like an endothermic reaction–a reaction that actually absorbs energy.

I started this post by referencing American Express' Small Business Saturday–a brilliant brand energizer that tapped the power of social early on. Small Business Saturday has proved itself out as a big, long idea. It clearly was based on a huge amount of on-the-money insight about the needs and sensitivities of small businesses. (Think back to 2010 when it was launched amid many small businesses' hand-to-mouth struggle to survive.)

Small Business Saturday was (and is) a concept that materially helped small businesses at the time they needed help in a big way. And it delivered in a big way. For sure, this benefitted American Express. But for sure, it also was a galvanizing cultural movement that almost immediately became a meme.

But for every brand energizer of the magnitude of Small Business Saturday, there are dozens that don't move the needle. . .or actually send the needle spinning in the wrong direction.

My point here is this: It's hard (and getting harder) to develop a potent brand energizer. This pushes brands to take risks.

I believe one has to take risks to get extraordinary return. But as the need for brand energizers intensifies, so does the need for brand marketers to make sure they have and leverage the right insights to achieve meaningful, sustainable relevance. That's the place real brand energizers are born.

About Tom Stein

The authors of the Brand Activator blog are from Stein IAS, BMA Global Agency of the Year.