Size is not everything


By Neil Higgs: Director – Innovation and Development – TNS Research Surveys

It is tempting to attribute Top Brand status to brands that are simply big.  After all, if a brand is big, surely it is doing something right?  Yes, of course it is doing something right – but the key thing is to determine what that is – brands can be big for many reasons.

So why might a brand be big?

It is tempting to attribute size to marketing success.  This may be the case.  But it may also be that a brand is big because of history – it was first in – or simply superior distribution.  A good example of this might be SAA.  It has more flights domestically than any other airline.  This is a major plus for business people who might need the flexibility many departure/arrival time options.  Hence, in the business market, SAA scores highly on regular usership (64%) compared with its nearest rival, Kulula, at 38% and British Airways at 27% (Sunday Times Top Brands Study 2009, conducted in association with TNS Research Surveys, sample size: 400 top business people).  In previous years, SAA would probably have won first place in the Top Brands Awards due this very factor.

But there is a flaw in considering a brand a Top Brand just by virtue of size.  How do people actually feel about the brand? Again, considering the business sector, users of airlines rate the airline they use regularly on average as 6.9 out of en using a simple ten-point rating scale.  But SAA only gets a score of 6.6 amongst its regular users – below the average.  This is where a brand that is smaller might now have a chance to rise up the Top Brand rankings:  BA scores a 7.5 amongst its users – well above average.  Clearly, they feel more attached to BA than do SAA’s business users.

But, as they say, there is more.  We also need to look at the relative pull that a brand has amongst its non-users.  Here again, BA scores a 7.0 – well above the average of 6.0 that the average non-user scores a brand they don’t use.  Hence, it has a higher level of attractiveness than average.  Unfortunately, here, SAA is again below average.  As a result, BA managed to push SAA aside is this year’s Business awards.

However, it is a very different story in the consumer part of the 2009 Top Brands study.  Here, not only did SAA have the highest usership but it also had the highest user scores (8.6 against an average of 8.1) as well as the highest non-user scores (8.1 against an average of 7.1).  This is a case where a brand is perceived to be both Big and Beautiful.

Why this disconnect between business flyers and non-business flyers?  The study was not able to delve into this type of questions as it already covered some 60 categories of brands but it is likely that the more frequent traveller becomes more critical than people for whom any flight is quite an event.  Further, there is no doubt that SAA, as the national flag carrier, will gain some residual kudos.

There are also brands where marketing has truly played a major part on their success, creating both high usership as well as brand love in the form high user scores and high scores amongst non-users.  Two good examples of this are Coke and KFC.  Both are market leaders in terms of usership – but they also have the magic “something” that marks them apart.

Both have users that are much more satisfied than average – and both have a high levels of aspirational pull amongst non-users.  Both had the highest scores in the entire Top Brands study.

How have they achieved this?

Clearly both have wonderful footprints – their distribution is a key factor in their success.  But both have advertising that has become renowned for its brand building excellence.  Consistency of positioning over time is key.  In addition, both deliver on their product.  Win win win.  Vodacom is another winner for the same reasons.

This year’s Top Brands methodology has, for the first time, introduced this concept of brand love as a measure that is independent of brand size.  It enables us to distinguish between brands that may have similar usage levels but that have differing levels of happy and committed customers or that have a better attraction amongst non-users.  This has enabled us to avoid rewarding big brands that have gone to sleep in people’s minds – something that creates cries of “foul” when a big frowsy old brand that everyone loves to hate wins a Top Brand award.

Size, of course, is important.  But so is brand love – or, as I prefer to call it, “brand sparkle”.  Does a brand sparkle?  Apple does.  In the IT category (business), it rose to second place, only narrowly losing to HP, despite its smaller usage level.  Avis does.  Kulula and BA do in the business sample.

Makes you think, doesn’t it.

Technical note
The 2009 Top Brands study was conducted in June 2009 amongst 3 500 adults across the country and 400 top business people on  behalf of the Sunday Times.  For more details, please contact Neil Higgs on 011-778-7500 or 082-376-6312.


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