Branding is complicated. But a team of Boston Consulting Group experts has narrowed it down to eight rules that can help you rocket ahead.

“You need to follow them if you are to build an enduring brand,” Michael Silverstein, Dylan Bolden, Rune Jacobsen and Rohan Sajdeh write in their book, Rocket, which they say is dedicated to the proposition that mere mortals can create something immortal – a brand that lasts forever.

The eight rules are drawn from companies whose signature products and services are widely revered:

1. Don’t ask your customers what they want (because they don’t know until you show them).

This was, of course, a guiding rule for Apple wizard Steve Jobs, who realized people wouldn’t understand what he was dreaming up until they played with it. But you can learn from talking at length with customers about how they currently use your product and watching them in action, which is what BCG consultants did with a group of 26-year-old women on behalf of Victoria’s Secret, turning the then-stagnating brand around with a new line that was not only sexy and glamorous, but comfortable.

2. Woo your biggest fans (because they’re absolutely worth it).

One loyal consumer – an apostle – can generate eight times his own consumption through word-of-mouth advocacy to friends and family. As well, 2 per cent of your consumers directly account for 20 per cent of your sales and drive 80 per cent of the total volume through their recommendations. They deliver 150 per cent of your profitability – yes, the other 98 per cent of consumers subtract from profitability – by buying products and services without discounts. When Kip Tindell started the Container Store in 1978, he wondered who would come to an outlet selling empty boxes. But the women who found it crucial to organizing their lives raved to others, and it grew.

3. Always welcome your customers’ scorn (because you’ll come back stronger).

To keep advancing, you must listen to what’s not right in your customers’ minds. About five years ago, Frito-Lay hit a growth wall and worried people didn’t want potato chips. “But they do. You need to excite them,” Mr. Silverstein said. By inviting consumers to suggest and vote on new flavours, they engaged their apostles and drew attention with taste temptations such as Maple Moose, Butter Chicken and Montreal Smoked Meat.

4. Looks do count (because people really do judge a book by its cover).

Most consumers use their eyes in every purchase, looking for beauty. Indeed, target all the senses. A poster boy for this is Italian fashion designer Brunello Cucinelli, who offers stunning colours and the finest wool in sweaters. But he also fussed about presentation, opting for stark showrooms that displayed his quality and craftsmanship. “Most companies don’t spend a lot of time on point of sale. They don’t have a sense that if they aren’t exciting consumers with [their] eyes and nose, they are failing,” Mr. Silverstein said.

5. Transform your employees into passionate disciples (because love is truly infectious).

Zappos staff have become evangelists for its online shoe sales. “We love our customers,” one service rep told the consultants. “We aim to make a personal connection with everyone that calls. When someone calls, my job is for them to say ‘Wow’ afterward.” Mr. Silverstein raves about the executive who has two clocks on his wall, one recording the longest phone call that day and the other the longest call ever. Most call centres do the opposite, seeking short calls – but that doesn’t win you apostles.

6. Better ramp up your virtual relationships (because that’s what your customers are doing).

The consumers with the most disposable income have the least free time and so will be buying online, when they carve out time, 24/7. “Wal-Mart recently announced it will spend billions building in electronic retail. Amazon did that 20 years ago,” Mr. Silverstein noted. “Anyone running terrestrial retail better start running.”

7. Take giant leaps (because you’re not going to win with timid steps).

Don’t be satisfied with incremental improvements. Devote a big chunk of your research budget to dramatic change. Natura Cosmeticos, a Brazilian company, finds new ingredients in the Amazon and its portfolio has soared.

8. Find out what ‘schismogenesis’ means (because it will save your relationships).

“Schismogenesis” – a term that brings together division and creation – reminds us relationships are not stable. Brands are no different. They are always moving – up or down. When Toyota faced the sticky accelerator issue, it realized the company could encounter a tailspin; so executives dealt with the problem, increased dedication to quality and emerged ahead. On the other hand, Mr. Silverstein feels the National Football League is ignoring a crisis resulting from concussions, violence on the field and player’s objectionable behaviour off the field. The league thinks everything will stay stable. He thinks it’s dead wrong.

These are eight rules that are not easy to implement, but are worth applying to your own brand. Mr. Silverstein asks companies to rate themselves, and usually finds it’s only after a few hours they will finally admit where they’re actually weak. That’s when the improvement can begin.

Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Dec. 06, 2015 5:00PM EST
Last updated Monday, Dec. 07, 2015 3:07PM EST