The “strategic” part of strategic communications frequently involves enhancing and utilizing everyday communications to manage change and grow leadership in your sector.  And integral to this is branding—and developing a brand that has meaning and value—as we wrote in the following contribution to the Huffington Post:

This week, the global branding consulting firm Interbrand released its list of the world’s most valuable brands with a usurper taking the number one spot and dislodging Coke, the company that for 13 years has set the standard for brand value.  In first place now is Apple, followed by Google, pushing Coke to third in line.

It’s not that Coke has lost value; it’s just hard to hold the status quo against two companies that have defined the revolution that changed the way we work, play and share experiences.  It’s also impressive that the two built brand value on a steep incline, while the technology sector overall, by comparison, virtually flatlined over the past decade.  (Incidentally, Coke was incorporated in 1892; Apple in 1976; and Google a mere 15 years ago).

While it remains to be seen how Apple will fare in the coming years, minus its legendary and visionary founder Steve Jobs, its arrival at the top of the Interbrand heap offers some lessons about building brand value.

A Relentless Drive for Quality

Apple has always been about quality.  Its products not only do what they promise, but do it extremely well with few fumbles.  And the products are well designed: beautifully sleek and highly intuitive.

A Consistent Drive for Innovation

Apple is expert at coming up with new products that met needs that customers didn’t even know they had.  Contrast that to Blackberry, which in 2000 was the hottest phone because of its ability to deliver email on the same device.  For Blackberry, time seems to have stopped.  The firm kept making marginally better versions of its keypad phones, but against the touchpad competition, it just wasn’t enough.

Play that against Apple’s endeavors–first, with the iPod, which changed how we experience our favorite music.  Then the release of the iPhone that turned the phone from a talking and emailing device to an indispensable multipurpose instrument that is part communications tool, part home entertainment center, and part life experience catcher.  Apple’s iPad introduced us to the tablet, and transformed the “home computer” into a companion even more portable than a laptop. And, for those with persistently traditional needs, they continued to build great desktops and laptops.

A Focus on Simplicity and Ease of Use

Steve Jobs said it best.  “Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Great Shtickiness Plus Stickiness

Apple’s communications with customers and other stakeholders hits the nail for both shtickiness and stickiness. The company doesn’t just make great products; it markets them brilliantly.  They were memorable and distinct (shtickiness):  from Steve Jobs’ signature black turtlenecks and jeans, to Hollywood premier-style announcements of new products, to advertising that broke the mold (remember Think Different?) to the Apple Stores themselves, which are crowded with loyalists no matter what time of day.  And they grew loyalty (stickiness): iPhone fans are passionately loyal, Mac loyalists are fervently dedicated, and few would cross an “iron curtain” to sample the PC world.

Coke is an old brand and still indisputably valuable.  People love Coke and Sprite, and the Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi war is played out in restaurants around the country every day.  Coke innovates–note the relatively new lines of healthier products, such as bottled Dasani water, and the acquisition of Bethesda, Maryland’s Honest Tea company.  But no brand can afford to rest on past successes.  It must constantly be looking to the future.

As a former top “evangelist” for Apple, Guy Kowasaki, once noted, you have to “jump” curves, not just stay ahead of them.  And he illustrated that by saying that if he were in the refrigeration business, he wouldn’t be looking at the next generation of cooling technology, but at advances in biotech. Remember, he said, the goal isn’t better frig’s, but preserving food.

It’s that kind of thinking that all organizations, companies, and teams need to embrace.  They also have to have more than one finger on the pulse of patrons and future patrons.  As the Interbrand CEO Jez Frampton points out, “In today’s global and social media-obsessed marketplace, brand leaders recognize the need to be highly collaborative.” Companies must listen to their customers and, like Jobs, have the courage, imagination, and drive for excellence.  And they have to see around the corners, delivering the products and services that fulfill customer desires, even before the wish is made.