How to create brand “must-haves”

Updated: Oct 17, 2019


Innovation. Most companies claim they are all about it. Leaders know that they can't afford to stand still. For brands to be relevant they need to create experiences customers crave. They need to innovate or die. But most organisations struggle with it. In this post we examine how to innovate and create "must-haves" for customers to ensure brand success, drive growth and make competitors less relevant.


The pinnacle of brand strategy is to help companies produce a genuine “point of differentiation” in their offering which becomes this “must have” for their target audience. A brand which commands a “must have” in their category renders competitors irrelevant (at least less relevant - until they catch-up). Once experienced, target consumers will not consider any other alternative brand which does not have the “must have”. They really “must have” it. Nothing else will do.





What is a brand “must have”?

We can define a “must have” as a radical innovation which creates an offering which contains something that consumers “must have”. Usually these innovations are complete game changers. Think the wireless. Think Walkman. Think iPod. Think iPhone.


“Must haves” usually don’t completely re-invent a whole category completely but simply add something new to it. Something which has not been seen before. Something highly valuable for the specific consumer who it is designed for. But we are not talking minor incremental improvements. To create a “must have” you must jump. Leap. Catapult the customer into a world they have not been in before.


Why create “must haves”?

Creating “must haves” has huge benefits for a brand.


  1. Less competition. “Must haves” make competitors irrelevant (or at least less relevant). When we talk about bringing a radical innovation to market a brand does not simply become “preferred”. We are talking about making it the only brand a consumer thinks about to solve their problem or to fulfil their need.

  2. Growth. When you invent a new category or subcategory you can dominate it bringing in a huge difference to the bottom line. You can command a higher price point because consumers can only get what you offer from you. There is value in that. You will own that market for as long as it takes for the competition to catch you up. Think Coca-cola. Think Ikea.

  3. Attraction - you will be able to attract, employ and retain top talent to join you on your quest to help and serve consumers. You will be doing something exciting. Something meaningful and worthwhile. You will be changing the world. You will also attract a more loyal forgiving customer because you will have created something they can't get anywhere else.


Features of a “must have”

In his book Aaker on branding - 20 principles that drive success, David Aaker suggests there are seven things which “must have” can improve or enhance a brands offering with. Usually a “must have” has multiple of these. His list is below with my explanation beside each - have a look at each area.


  1. A feature - a part of the offering, useful to the consumer, which is not available elsewhere

  2. A benefit - such as convenience or speed

  3. An appealing design - like something of beauty

  4. A system offering - for example an integration with other products

  5. A new technology - a radically different way of doing something

  6. A product designed for a customer segment - like a very focused offering designed completely around one type of customer.

  7. A dramatically low price point - doing something that previously was expensive, cheap

Aarker also adds that a “must have” can be based on customer relationships. A service which does not involve the offering directly but is important to the customer. He lists the following customer relationship ideas (my explanation given after each point) which help to create “must haves”:

  1. A shared interest - such as a cause the brand and the customer are both interested in.

  2. A personality - the brand communications in a way which resonates

  3. A passion - something which the brand is involved in which the consumer is passionate about also

  4. Organizational values - the customer and the brand have aligned values


How do you create “must haves”?

This is, of course, a huge subject but in short: you have to innovate.


You have to design. You have to take chances. For innovation to take place leaders need to create a culture which encourages ideas. When leading creative teams I would always tell them that “Fear is the number one enemy of creativity” and that I wanted them to fear not coming up with ideas more than fearing coming up with wrong ideas. The future is creative human thought - the robots can do the rest.


The key to creating “must haves” is to look at things from the customers perspective. Sharpen up on exactly who you are serving and why. Look at their un-met needs. Look at their problems. Look at their goals. What are they trying to become? How can you make them stronger?


You need to embrace design thinking. You will need to work with customer focus groups to develop ideas. You will need to collaborate. You will need to get uncomfortable. You may need to challenge your own preconceptions.


All of this creative thought though should be based on your brand. On the reason you exist beyond making money. On your collective purpose. Once you have your brand thinking in place innovation around the customer you exist to serve slots on top and as you gain momentum your culture will fall in line also.


Tips on creating your “must haves”

One exercise I love to do with teams is to encourage a full day swarming workshop and use design thinking techniques to create ideas which can then be followed up and tested.


  1. Assemble your team - you need decision makers in the room but also people who know the customer (or even a customer themselves!). It is also handy to have people who know what the competition are up to and anyone who understands recent market or customer research you may have conducted.

  2. Map out the customer journey - not simply from their interaction with you but in regards to their wider story. What are they trying to achieve, solve or become? How do they become aware of this and where do they go for help and advice before deciding on a course of action? Try and create a set number of simple stages of the journey and then dive into the detail.

  3. List out the expected norms - for each stage list out what is normal. What is everyone else in your category doing for customers at this stage? What is typical. What are the assumptions.

  4. Flip the norms - Take a look at those lists of what “normal” looks like. This is your opportunity to innovate. What can we create which goes against the grain? How can we be abnormal in a useful and exciting way? How can we solve the customers' problems or make them feel things that normal experiences don’t deliver? Look at Aarker's lists above and evaluate your ideas against them. If you tick most of them you may well have stumbled into a “must have”.

  5. Prototype your ideas - select a number of the ideas you feel have legs. Prototype what these might look like. Sketch or wireframe them together. Come out of the room with something tangible which you can use to explain the new innovation.


At the end of the day, you should be at a place where you have a number of ideas you could potentially take into customer focus groups to share and explore. Create things you can show people. Don’t simply ask them about the idea.


As Henry Ford famously said:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So - I hope you found this inspiring and interesting and it jogged some thoughts for you on your brand and offering. Get creating “must haves”.


Good luck in changing the world for the better and building meaningful brands.




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