What makes a brand successful?

According to a report from Interbrand released last week, Apple, Google and Coca-Cola are the “best global brands” of 2015 – but what really makes a brand successful? We ask designers what brands they think are doing things right.

David Kimpton
David Kimpton, creative director, Kimpton Creative

“For me a successful brand isn’t just about the bottom line, but whether it delivers consistently what it purports to be about.

With my British hat on, I would say John Lewis and Waitrose for their unflinching clarity of purpose. Without it, Aldi and Lidl have made it acceptable to shop in a discount supermarket, offering quality produce for less than its competitors.

A few months ago, when I bought a Volkswagen Golf, I would have said VW for its utter reliability – but now they have lost trust, which is an invaluable cornerstone of a successful brand.”


Emily Penny, founder, Colourful Design Strategy
Emily Penny, founder, Colourful Design Strategy

“Successful brands stand for something. They have a philosophy, a purpose, and values that not only excite their customers, but their staff too.

Forget logos – the most important channel for any brand is its people. Do they believe in it? If they do, it will shine through in every encounter with a customer and deliver authenticity.

John Lewis was founded on the socialist principle of ‘fairness’ and its partnership model is the bedrock of the brand. It translates into great customer service, competitive pricing, and customer trust. It has stood the test of time and provides a role model for brand building that’s more relevant than ever today, for brands big and small.

A successful small brand? I’d say Look Mum No Hands has legs.”


Michael Smith, creative director, Cog Design
Michael Smith, creative director, Cog Design

“For us, success is very rarely about the sort of profit increases that our industry praises so highly. I give a short presentation to new clients, titled ‘All Branding is Bullshit’. It’s an ice-breaker and cuts through the cynicism that many people feel when working with an agency.

Most people (often quite rightly) think branding is just sleight of hand, tricking customers into paying more for stuff.

But branding doesn’t have to just be about boosting profits – it can be used to persuade, align and inform in all sorts of different ways.

For instance, our naming and branding for Cast (an arts centre in Doncaster) is all about evoking a sense of community, engagement and pride. If a cynic is ‘a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing’ then we’re on a mission to take the cynicism out of branding.”


Lydia Thornley, founder, Lydia Thornley Design
Lydia Thornley, founder, Lydia Thornley Design

“John Lewis know who they are, they know who their customers are and the brand goes through the company like a stick of rock, from recruitment to service to advertising.

Apple has been extremely successful at brand-building through product design but what I think is really clever about Apple is that the company aligned itself with the design industry very early on.

At that stage, the brand was all about rebellion: a radically-different operating system that people who were used to studio equipment could enjoy and the platform on which the design software everyone was talking about would run. That built brand loyalty in the industry – there was a natural audience for good product design and that must-have factor spread to consumers and developers wanting to align themselves with that design sensibility.”


Dana Robertson, founder, Neon
Dana Robertson, founder, Neon

“We live in a world full of brands – some of which make a real connection with you, only to let you down, or sell out to the very man they were sticking it to. But a brand I have a real bond with is Rapha. Years ago, working late at The Partners, I remember chatting with Simon Mottram, a freelance strategy guy, who was just then formulating Rapha. His aim was to build something uniquely appealing to a very focused group of road riders. He kept it simple, real and approachable, creating products and stories about the things he liked – and then relied largely on word of mouth to get the brand talked about. Everything about Rapha is beautiful and detailed; the brand mark, the marketing materials, the product. I’m sure Simon has done very well out of Rapha, but I suspect his version of ‘sitting pretty’ is still being put out there, with two wheels under him, off on his next adventure – and that’s what oozes from every pore of the brand.”


Paul Bailey, partner, 1977 Design
Paul Bailey, partner, 1977 Design

“How you judge success is dependent on how you measure it. You might measure profitability, size of business, or media coverage.

In this networked age, a brand is something that is shaped and evolves through co-creation with people. If people want to be an active part of the brand, helping form the meaning, feelings and emotions of the brand, then you’re doing something right. When people accept an invitation to participate in developing the brand, that is success.

A great example of people co-creating a brand is GoPro. This is a brand which had an initial purpose and then created a platform through which people could add meaning, feelings and emotions to the company through their content (videos). Starting off with an extreme sports focus, the brand has evolved through people’s interaction, so much so that the best GoPro video I’ve seen so far isn’t a sport at all…

The greatest success for a brand is when people want to be a part of evolving that brand. Everything else – sales, profits, media, etc. – comes out of this.”


What brands do you think are successful? Let us know in the comment section below.

Discover more:

• Interbrand unveils “best global brands” – but is brand valuation brilliant or bullshit?

• Is there a formula for perfect branding?

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