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Niche is Nice Iconic is Better

Niche is Nice Iconic is Better



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Published by Jake Pearce

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Published by: Jake Pearce on Mar 02, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Niche is nice, iconic is better
Set a brand path toward heaven 
 Monday, 1 July, 2002 
When filmmaker Milos Forman shouted “Cut!” for the last time on the set of 
One FlewOver the Cuckoo’s Nest 
, no one could have guessed its impact. For one thing, the movielaunched the careers of Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd. It is alsonow 11th in the Internet Movie Database’s “250 best films of all time” list and 20th in theAmerican Film Institute’s “100 greatest American films” list. It spawned imitations,forced a critical review of psychological treatment and is a byword for what we fearabout institutions and insanity. Oh, and it has grossed $US70 million in video rentals sofar.
It’s an icon.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have just a little of that for your brand? According to US marketing consultancyHarvest Communications, you can. In a short but pithy study into how
Cuckoo’s Nest 
and the grunge musicphenomenon (Nirvana et al) became cultural icons, Harvest thinks it has a model for tracking a brand’sprogress. It breaks brands into four market segments: niche, cult, mass and iconic. Harley Davidson hasmoved from being just one niche motorcycle brand, through a cultish biker phase, to become an icon of power and adventure. IBM, once in the niche market of business machines, became a mass market PC-maker and is now an icon of American IT success. Try it on a local brand. The Warehouse, once a nicheemporium, is now a mass-market brand that’s got potential to represent something iconic in the mind of New Zealanders. Team New Zealand has quickly moved from a niche brand with clever rigging, to a cultbrand with a dedicated following, to a national icon and modern pioneer.The benefits of landing your brand in that upper-right quadrant (see left)
are a little like owning the rights toNirvana’s music: huge. Iconic brands, like their cultural cousins, evoke the sort of loyalty, passion and long-standing awareness that ensure long-term financial security. Because icons last forever, right?
Well, actually, they don’t. That’s where the brand path idea reveals its limitations. Plenty of so-calledbusiness icons have been tossed aside. IBM has come close to following ICL, Burroughs and maybeCompaq into obscurity. Locally, think Ansett, Fletcher Challenge and Chase. The brand path is a useful toolfor tracking a brand’s history; it might even sketch out your hopes and dreams. But the here and now of brand development is in the grubby details of day-to-day management, product design, customer service andsales expertise.
Before even contemplating your glorious future as owner of an icon, ask yourself this: do you have theability to sustain your brand (and read “business” for brand) through to iconic status? The majority don’t —
 just as the majority of rock bands and movies end up in some retailer’s discount bin.To emulate the kind of emotional response a Harley Davidson gets requires more than just wishful thinking.It starts with this: a commitment to the core brand idea. I call it the brand essence, or the guiding principle.Harvest calls it brand belief. Most companies keep their brand essences to themselves, but you can take astab at what they might be. Good essences have both emotional and physical connotations. For Harley, it’sabout power. For Apple, it’s being smart. For Swatch, fun. Coke, refreshment. Microsoft, ubiquity.Vodafone, original solutions. And so on, and so on.It’s glib to say, but holding on to this brand essence is hard. In fact, I’d say it’s where most brand managers

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