U.S. News

Brand Bonanza At Davos

By Annalisa Burgos, |News Editor, CNBC.com

The world’s most popular brand is putting its muscle behind another, though lesser-known, global brand, the World Economic Forum.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is co-chair of WEF’s annual meeting in Davos this week, along with other top executives that wield global brand power, namely Coca-Cola’s E. Neville Isdell and BP’s Sir John Browne.

Top it off with Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Rupert Murdoch and the heads of YouTube and MySpace, and you’ve got one of the biggest meetings of the who's who in brands.

Appropriately, Davos participants delved into the business of branding with a panel on Wednesday titled “Getting The Message Across With A Story.” Panelists including Nike brand president Charles Denson, Gucci CEO Robert Polet, Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden and BBDO New York CEO John Osborn discussed new ways to reach consumers in an increasingly competitive market.

“Brands are shortcuts that help people figure out what companies are all about and decide if they are interested in what is being offered,” said Allen Adamson, New York managing director of branding and design consultancy Landor Associates and author of “BrandSimple”. “In a world where there’s a clutter of information and consumer ADD is rampant, if you can’t get your message across in a clear, simple and sharp way, it becomes very hard to tell your story.”

That is clearly not the case with Google. The Internet search giant topped Landor Associates’ latest Newsmaker Brands Survey, which ranks the winning and losing brands of the year. Coming in second is the City of Las Vegas and third, the iPod. Popular video-sharing Web site YouTube and auction site eBay round out the top five.

Broad appeal is a key factor in creating a successful brand, Adamson said. “Target and Google figured out a way to talk to the masses in a compelling way.”

On the flip side, niche brands like W Hotels tend to lose, he added, because some people don’t understand what the brand is about.

Brand New World

“Brand power is not that I’ve heard of you,” Adamson said. “It’s in the brand’s ability to convey that it can offer something different and meaningful to the consumer.”

Apple, for instance, has capitalized on a “I can plug this in and do this myself” brand message in a field that confuses many consumers – technology.

But critics point out that the world has become too brand-obsessed, leading to social exclusion and overconsumption. That's the topic of a Saturday session called “Brands: Today's Gods?”, which is part of the Open Forum, running in conjunction with WEF’s annual meeting. This year, the Forum will be on a Wiki so Web users can discuss issues with the panelists, including Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive of global marketing firm WPP, and a group of academics from Switzerland.

Marketing experts say brands are necessary for commerce.

“An open economic market is driven by brand communication,” Adamson said. ”If it swings too far to the exclusion of others, yes that’s bad. And yes, a brand-driven culture can drive materialistic values, but brands can do good things too depending on who’s driving them.”

“We’ve become so brand-focused, because actual service and product differentiation is negligible,” said brand expert and Brand Keys founder Robert Passikoff. Products like Coke and Pepsi, for instance, are so similar that companies set themselves apart through branding that appeals to consumer's emotions.

In Brand Keys’ recent study on brand loyalty, Avis ranked the highest. That’s based on how well a company meets consumer expectations, which differ based on a specific category, in this case, rental cars. Guess who topped Internet search? Google, of course. And Target came in no. 1 in retail.

“Seventy-five percent of a consumer’s brand loyalty is emotional,” Passikoff said. “In cases where there are high degrees of meaning and emotional bonding, people engage more easily with the brand and they act favorably to it and the brand makes money.”

Cha-ching for Google.

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