Skip to main content

What Makes A Brand Successful?


Building a successful brand is highly intentional, yet there’s still a level of magic involved to make it stick.

Think about the queen today. Yes, I mean Queen Elizabeth.

See, when I say “the queen,” you know I’m not talking about the queen of France, Russia, Thailand, or Japan. No. I’m talking about Queen Elizabeth because whether you look at it from the standpoint of celebrity or politics, the monarchy of England has a powerful and successful brand.

When it comes to what makes a brand successful or what taints a brand, we could talk about the disruptions, crises, and chaos that have been caused by members of the royal family these days. For example, one of Queen Elizabeth’s sons, Andrew, was caught up in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and was immediately removed from all royal duties. Why? Because his actions violated the brand the royal family is committed to upholding.

We could also use successfully branded celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey, as examples of successful personal brands.

Whether it’s a personal brand or a company brand, the recipe for what makes it successful is the same.

What is a brand?

Back in the day, one of the big New York agencies from the 1950s described a successful brand as having “share of mind.” This means their audience automatically thinks of that particular brand or company when a word or product is mentioned or when they need what that brand offers.

This works with logos too. Just think of a familiar brand logo, like Coca-Cola, and there’s an immediate share of mind in the audience, even though the brand is 135 years old.

Brand-makers believe there isn’t room in people’s minds for more than one representative of one category. So, what makes a brand successful has to do with positioning in the brain—that is, mental real estate, a connection, a belief system, a story.

My sense about brands is that they have a historical impact and momentum to them. Whoever created the brand in the first place doesn’t have to be active to keep it going. If it has claimed its place in the marketplace of images, ideas, and messages and has maintained its reputation by being consistent and clear, it has a life of its own.

I feel this transcends logical intent, as there’s still a level of mystery as to why something like a brand takes hold in the first place.

For example, you can’t just write a book on how to have a personal brand like Michael Jordan because for every successful personal brand, there are thousands that didn’t make it. Others may have even had a much more significant investment in their brand than Michael Jordan and perhaps even greater talent or skill. There seems to be a mysteriousness about this.

As far as successful brand creators go, Steve Jobs is iconic. It’s almost as though he had an artist’s view of what makes a brand and a gut instinct about what would be successful. His brand wasn’t about work efficiency or work breakthrough. He offered something else: a unique membership to be a part of something special.

He also had an impressive and more impactful second act in business after getting fired and coming back to Apple. It was the great American comeback, and part of the DNA of American culture is this respect for reinvention.

The power of personal brands.

Most people probably can’t name Ford’s CEO, but they can spot a Ford from blocks away. On the other hand, Tesla’s CEO has a brand of his own. My theory is that we always need a visionary to look to, and there was a void when Steve Jobs died. That void got filled by Elon Musk.

Tesla’s a mature business, but it’s not a profitable company if you discount all the government subsidies and loans. Elon Musk’s personal brand, however, is very profitable. I suspect that about half the value of Tesla’s market price is a belief in the man, not the technology. He is at the core of what makes the Tesla brand what it is today.

Speaking of cars and branding, the branding of Ford cars pales in comparison to Ford pickup trucks. If you look at all the advertisements, pickup truck ads are very emotional and draw on America’s past. Consumers connect to that, which is why the number one selling vehicle in 28 out of the 50 states was the Ford F150 in 2018. Yes, a pickup truck, not a car!

If you talk to anyone about cars, chances are they’re part of a robust customer base for at least one of the top five car brands. That’s because these car brands are powerful, and people build a personal relationship with their car and value what that car’s successful brand says about them.

What makes a brand successful?

In today’s world, what makes a brand successful? With all the data to be harvested and tested, we can make informed decisions and practically guarantee a brand that sticks, right?

Not necessarily.

Even the most well-funded brands can fail because there’s still a particular element of magic that can’t be measured or predicted. More on that another time.

Still, there are some non-negotiables when it comes to what makes a brand successful. So, build from these four key pieces of a successful brand to set a perfect stage for that magic to occur.

  1. An emotional connection.
  2. Some sort of unique membership for the consumer.
  3. Trust.
  4. A story.

To learn more about what makes a brand successful, visit the Strategic Coach Resource Hub.

About the Author

Dan Sullivan is the world’s foremost expert on entrepreneurship in action. He is the founder of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of The Strategic Coach® Program. Visionary, creative, wise, playful, and generous, he is a true champion of entrepreneurs worldwide.

Profile Photo of Dan Sullivan