Brand Central Station: What Makes A Winning Brand?

What’s the most important brand attribute? Speed? Flexibility? Friendliness? Try trust.

Applied Research & Consulting got 550 Internet users on the phone, divided them up into 5 age groups and asked them about online brands. The results showed up in the special Interactive Future edition of Advertising Age last month. And there, we learned what is important to surfers of all ages.

The most important brand characteristics to these surfers across the board were:


Those between 13 and 17 years old were in league with those in the 36 to 55 and the over 55 age groups in their opinion that security was the number one factor. Between 18 and 25, convenience took the top spot, and in the 26 to 35 category, trustworthiness was primary.

It feels as if there are two primary emotions driving the Internet Zeitgeist. Fear, and impatience.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Web surfers are nervous. They are apprehensive. The brands we grew up knowing and trusting have taken a back seat to the brands that have become household words overnight. Were not using the same search engine that Grandad drove when he was 16. We’re not going to the same portal that Great Aunt Martha drank when she was in school. We’re not ordering from the same online catalog that Mom and Grandma and *her* mother ordered from when they needed clothes for kids going back to school. So we’re not as confident as we used to be.

We hunger for safety. We want to deal with companies that can be trusted. Companies that promise to protect their customers’ interests and come through on their promises.

We want assurances that the products will live up to the specifications and that the colors will match what we see on the screen. We want a solemn oath that our credit cards, our buying histories, our surfing patterns, our very clickstreams will not be sewn into a patchwork of who you surmise we might be and what you speculate might interest us and then sold on the open market like so many pounds of recycled newspapers.

If you want to win our purses, you have to win our trust. What does that take? Security, trustworthiness, and privacy.

These are the promises you must hold out and the values you must adhere to. These are characteristics that are earned, not conjured by creative talent. If you want to build these characteristics into the minds of your marketplace, start now and be ready to dig in for the long haul. One DoubleClick/Abacus fiasco and you get to go back to square one and start over again.

Is it so hard? Not really. It just means sticking to old values like integrity and, well, trustworthiness. But it becomes increasingly difficult when coupled with the other two traits modern consumers and business look for when dealing with vendors: convenience and speed.

We want it as easy as can be and as fast as possible.

Convenience is so crucial to our cumulative lifestyles that Amazon’s 1-Click purchasing feature was deemed patentable. You can argue about the logic of patenting a button on a Web site all you want, but when Barnes and Noble customers are given that second button to click, some of them change their minds.

We want to make decisions and move on with our lives. If you make me pause to reconsider my decision, I’ll do just that and not always in your favor.

JoAnna Brandi ( likes to epitomize this particular cultural trait while surfing by muttering, “Come on, come on, I don’t have all minute!”

When it comes to speed, we have been handed the most perfect instant-gratification tool since television. You want entertainment? One click of the remote and you have more channels than you can spin through in an hour. Download the music of your choice in an instant. Call up pictures of the latest news stories on a whim.

But when it comes to the archetype of online instant gratification, there’s nothing like Videos, games, music, DVD’s, snacks — all delivered in under an hour.

Upon entering, you are asked for your zip code. The resulting catalog shows only those things which are in stock, at the warehouse that serves your neighborhood at the moment. Once your order is place, it is printed in the four corners of that warehouse where four pickers are grabbing items off the shelf and sending them to the core packaging station. From there, your box is conveyed out to the parking lot where motor scooters are standing by with pre-routed delivery instructions at the ready to make sure your Snickers bar, Coke, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and the latest DVD movie at your door in under an hour.

You want speed? You got it.

Is the winningest brand to come down the pike to meet the modern demands of hungry consumers? Only if they delivery on time. Only if they deliver what I ordered. And only if they do not deliver my name and address to thousands of marketers who are salivating for a detailed listing of my personal preferences