Which brands are “meaningful” to consumers? Not very many.

What makes a brand “meaningful”? Multinational advertising, PR and research firm Havas SA has studied this topic for the past decade, conducting a survey every other year in which it attempts to rate the world’s most important brands based on consumer responses to questions about select key brand attributes.

According to Maarten Albarda, the methodology behind the Havas surveys is solid:

“It looks at three brand pillars: personal benefits; collective benefits, and functional benefits — and then adds in 13 dimensions like environment, emotional, social, ethics, etc. plus 52 attributes such as ‘saves time,’ ‘makes me happier,’ ‘delivers on its promises,’ etc.”

The Havas research is both global and quantitative — including more than 350,000 respondents in over 30 countries.

The 2019 Havas research shows that ~77% of the 1,800 brands studied don’t cut it with consumers. This finding came in response to the question of whether consumers would care if the brands disappeared tomorrow.

That’s the biggest disparity ever seen in the Havas surveys. Two years ago, the percentage was 74%.

Which brands perform best with consumers? The top five ranked for 2019 are the following:

  • #1 Google
  • #2 PayPal
  • #3 Mercedes-Benz
  • #4 WhatsApp
  • #5 YouTube

Four of these five are brands that are all about “utility” — helping consumers deal with actions (watching, searching and sharing). The odd one out here is Mercedes-Benz — suggesting that there is something enduring about the time-tested reputation for “German engineering.”

What’s equally interesting is which high-profile brands don’t crack the Top 30. I’m somewhat surprised that we don’t see the likes of Apple and Coca-Cola in the group.  On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson comes in at #6, which seems surprising to me because I doubt that J&J has the same kind of consumer awareness as many other brands.

The Havas research reveals that the highest ranked brands are ones that score well on purchase intent and the justification of carrying a premium price. Repurchase scores are also higher, making it clear that a meaningful brand translates into meaningful business benefits.

In addition to reporting on international results, Havas also releases a U.S. analysis. Historically, U.S. consumers have been even more parsimonious in choosing to bestow a “meaningful” attribution on brands.  In fact, the percentage of American consumers earmarking specific brands as indispensable hovers around 10%, compared to the mid-20s across the rest of the world.

The reason why is quite logical: American consumers tend to have more brand choices — and the more choices there are, the less any one brand would cause consternation if it disappeared tomorrow.

Click here for more reporting and conclusions from the Havas research.

The Ugly Other Side of Entrepreneurship

mA few years ago, I recall seeing a film made in India called Three Idiots. It’s a comedy about the college experience in India.  But there’s a serious undertone in that one of the issues dealt with in the movie is the pressure that many students feel about competing for precious few slots in top universities — as well as the pressure to excel once enrolled there.

In one scene, one of the students attempts suicide by jumping from a fourth floor dorm window.

The extreme pressures to succeed aren’t limited to India, of course. For years we’ve been reading articles about equally competitive environments in other countries like China.  Even the United States isn’t immune if one thinks about the elite private colleges and top public universities.

Unfortunately, the drive to succeed often follows students into the professional world in unhealthy ways. Several weeks ago, it was reported that a 33-year-old entrepreneur from Hyderabad, India named Lucky Gupta Agarwal took his own life after an app he had been developing failed to achieve the user acceptance and popularity he had anticipated.

The venture had started promisingly enough. After working for a number of years as a software engineer in a large Mumbai-based company, Mr. Agarwal developed a social networking app he named KQingdom that enables users to chat and photo-blog on the same app while earning rewards points for content created.

Mr. Agarwal believed that the features of his app were ones that were missing from Facebook and other social networking options.  He did many things right: He tested the app with fellow techies and social network users.  The app went through two years of development and alpha/beta testing to ensure that it worked smoothly.

When the app was listed on the Google Play store, it earned a 4.8 out of a possible 5.0 rating.

But Agarwal fell victim to over-rosy projections. He claimed to his family, friends and industry colleagues that the app would become more popular than WhatsApp.  He hired a staff of five to assist in the launch of the product.

As it turned out, after being launched in mid-2014 the app failed to garner the publicity or the engagement levels that Agarwal had anticipated. His financial situation deteriorated.  After having to lay off staff and downsize his operations, the entrepreneur sank into a depression that lasted for months before he ended his life several weeks ago.

In the wake of the news story, in the social commentary I’ve been reading on LinkedIn and elsewhere it seems that Mr. Agarwal’s situation isn’t an isolated one — even if the measures he ultimately took were unusually drastic. Clearly there are many, many other entrepreneurs who encounter a mismatch between their start-up expectations and the harsh reality.

Simply put, too many entrepreneurs don’t plan for failure even as they work for success. Even if a new product sufficiently fills a market need (whereas many of them fail for this fundamental reason), there’s still the challenge of implementing effective marketing and sales strategies, forging an efficient team of employees working together towards a common goal, and fending off nimble competitors who quickly react to new market moves with countermoves of their own.

And one other thing: Looking out from the safety of a job inside an established business, it’s very easy for a would-be entrepreneur to sense the shortcomings of staying in such an environment.  The siren call of becoming the head of one’s very own business is strong.

Unfortunately, many people are ill-prepared temperamentally to be entrepreneurs; it’s a big reason why so few ventures succeed. For every successful entrepreneur, there must be hundreds who fail — or whose efforts never even remotely achieve the level of success anticipated and hoped for.

Tragic incidents like the Agarwal news story remind us of the potentially tragic consequences.