The secret behind the world's best brands

What is it that connects the great brands of the internet age? The brands that are constantly referenced by marketers as benchmarks of performance. The inspirational usual suspects from Red Bull, to Apple, to Google, and beyond. What is the behaviour they all share - no matter their market or position in it - that allows them to capture public imagination and escape cynicism and indifference?

Put simply these great brands don't win fans by creating interesting advertising; they win fans by being interesting companies, full stop.

They admire the boldness of Google's HR policies, and their future-building experiments. They admire Apple's lack of compromise, innovation, and the vision of their founder. They admire Red Bull's commitment to pushing human limits more than pushing their actual product.

We can see that advertising in its current form is not well placed to assist brands that fall short of this standard. It has found itself creating external proxies of brands, rather than simply improving them and amplifying the facts. As such is not equipped to replicate the success of the very best - no matter how creative or brave the work may be.


Basic is defined as the technique of brand building through altering or extending the internal elements of a business, rather creating external campaigns.

Defining this process as a discipline, giving it a name and some rigour, is essential for it to gain industry-wide traction. Only then will briefs for this kind of work begin to flow.

A step by step guide

Step 1 - Purpose Identification

This step is simply the creation of a strong brand strategy. What is it that only you offer that people want? What exactly is the point of your business? Equally you could call this "proposition", "message", "brand strategy" - there are many acceptable ways to define it - however the strength of "purpose" is that it implies concrete action, rather than simply communication.

There should be no distinction between an internal purpose and a consumer facing purpose. It might be that your internal one is a little more detailed for clarity (for instance Red Bull's is "giving wings to people and ideas") but they must share a common thrust, and must be equally practicable.

Step 2 - Business Alteration

When armed with a strong purpose, a business can then conduct an audit to evaluate whether brand and business align. We might look to the US clothing brand Patagonia, who run a policy known as "Let My People Go Surfing" time - essentially flexible hours so that if the surf's good, employees can come into the office late.

Yvon Chouinard discusses purpose at UCLA

The German supermarket chain, Original Unverpackt, has internalised its purpose more dramatically. It sought to own the space of "green shopping," but realised that for many stores this was a rather hollow claim, because of all the packaging waste they produced. Therefore, the brand built supermarkets that feature no packaged goods at all. Shoppers had to bring their own containers for everything right through to cereal and ketchup. While the purpose appeared rather unoriginal the store could trump competitors with a greater claim to authenticity.

Often the things that really bring a purpose to life can be quite non-invasive, easy to create, or even simply a spin on an existing practise such that of Patagonia.

Step 3 - Business Extension

As well as tweaking existing business operations, brands can also extend them. This is the technique most commonly employed by Red Bull, who constantly branch out into different relevant spaces, leaving their core drink operations relatively untouched.

The question to ask here is simply "if our purpose is x, what else should we be doing to achieve it?"

For instance, when Pedigree in New Zealand created their lost dog app "Found", it appeared that rather than doing an advertising campaign they had in fact produced a business innovation to better serve their purpose to "make the world a better place for dogs". In truth the model was closer to that of an ad campaign, but the feeling was different – it carried an air of authenticity.

For more ambitious brands, business extension around their purpose can mean more than great marketing; it can mean new business models. Airbnb for instance revolve all of their marketing and innovation around their purpose to help people "belong anywhere". This allows them to branch out well beyond the bed-rental space into areas such as dining at people's houses, using locals as tour guides, and more - blurring the line between marketing stunts and new business. Quite simply, they are seeking to live up to their purpose: every action becomes inherent marketing.

Where to from here

These are early days for an idea which aims to make marketing more integral and constructive within business and wider culture. Should the industry (brands, agencies, intermediaries) start to align their conversations around this shared language, then opportunities will start to arise in the shape of new budget streams, briefs, awards, trade bodies - but above all better, more authentic, more worthwhile businesses.