David Allen Aaker is an American organizational theorist, consultant, professor emeritus at the University of California, and vice-chair at Prophet.
This week on Remarkable People, Guy Kawasaki interviews David Aaker, hailed the “Father of Modern Branding,” serves as Vice-Chair at Prophet, a global marketing and branding consultancy. He’s a recognized authority on branding, has developed several recognizable concepts including the Aaker brand vision model and has received numerous awards for his contributions to the science of marketing. In 2015, David Aaker was inducted into the American Marketing Association Hall of Fame for his lifetime achievements in marketing.
He's been called "The Father of Modern Branding." If you've ever read anything about branding or brand strategy, my guest today requires no introduction. I'm talking to David Aaker, author of over a dozen books and hundreds of articles about marketing and branding, Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and Vice-Chair at Prophet, a global marketing and branding consultancy. Given this season is about positioning and brand platforms, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask David directly about his brand vision model, which most people refer to simply as "the Aaker Model." We also talked about two of his most recent books, some of his favorite brands, a few books, and his advice for junior people in the branding industry. Aaker on Branding I kicked off the conversation by asking David about one of his latest books, Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success. David says he wrote the book because employees at Prophet were asking him what they should read and he was tired of saying "these 40 pages in this book...these 80 pages in this book." He wrote Aaker on Branding to "capsulize the main ideas that were in each of those books" into a "Reader's Digest version." Aside from the brand vision model (see below), other big-picture advice in the book includes: "Move from brand competition to subcategory competition if you want to grow." Regarding portfolio strategy, "you have to make [a family of brands] work so they generate synergy and they generate clarity and they generate relevance." Develop a "shared interest program." Tell stories. The brand vision model (the Aaker model) Seven of the principles in Aaker on Branding have to do with what he calls "brand vision," which others (including Prophet) refer to as "brand positioning." David says, "There's a lot of things you can call it...actually, the terminology is not so important. What is important are some fundamental ideas." He created his brand vision model (originally called the brand identity model) because he was convinced advertising agencies were doing it wrong by attempting to reduce brands to three-word phrases. Brands are multidimensional, so David created a model that allows for any number of elements (some are core, others are extended and "provide extra texture and guidance"). He's also against "fill-in-the-box" models that force strategists to populate a model with ideas that may not be relevant to the brand in question. For example, a product brand won't need organizational values and a B2B corporate brand may not need a brand personality. I asked David what determines whether an idea rises to the level of a brand vision element. According to David, elements should: Differentiate from other brands, Resonate with customers, and Be something you can deliver (either a proof point, which you can already deliver, or a strategic imperative, which is aspirational but attainable). David agreed, however, that not every element has to meet all three of these criteria, although there's "no hard and fast rule." The model consists of 12 elements arranged into four dimensions: Brand as Product, Brand as Organization, Brand as Person (including brand personality), and Brand as Symbol. David clarified that these dimensions are really there to ensure you've thought about every possible way of expressing the brand's identity, rather than requiring the strategist to answer every question or fill in every box. Creating Signature Stories Next, we turned to Creating Signature Stories, David's most recent book. To write the book, David first had to define "what is not a story," given how overused the word has become in branding and marketing today. It's not facts, programs, descriptions, or attributes. He says, "It's a narrative-a once-upon-a-time narrative. It's involving, it's authentic, it's intriguing, and it has some sort of a 'wow' factor. It really jumps out at you. It's something you want to share with others because it's so entertaining, so informative, so relevant. And it has a strategic message." Throughout the conversation, David gives several examples of great signature stories, including UCHealth-specifically, Becky's story. David's has four high-level pieces of advice for creating signature stories: Believe in the power of stories. "You just have to get religion." Find strong stories. Not just any story will do. Figure out a way to get the stories produced so they're effective. Good presentation is key. Figure out a way to distribute the stories effectively. As to why stories are important for brands, David says, "Stories are just unbelievably powerful. It's astounding ... It turns out that stories get attention. It turns out that stories persuade-they change perceptions. ... They avoid counterargument." And the emotions from stories are transferred to the brand telling them. This is known as "affect transfer." Wrapping up In a handful of wrap-up questions, David shared his appreciation for Dove soap and their Real Beauty campaign and two "elephant books" (Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff and Who Says an Elephant Can't Dance by Lou Gerstner. David's advice for junior people looking to get into the branding industry is to take advantage of the fact consultancies and client organizations are "just absolutely terrified about becoming relevant in the digital age." If you're young, he says, take advantage of the fact you understand social media, statistics, or data analysis, and use that knowledge as a way to open the door. To learn more about David, visit davidaaker.com. That URL will redirect you to his blog on the Prophet website, where you can also read about his latest books and find links to buy them. You can also follow David on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Medium.
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