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The world is rewarding digital-minded, customer-first, technology-driven brands.

It’s no coincidence that the five most valuable companies in the world — Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon — all share several key characteristics that are becoming a prerequisite to success today.

They are all:

  • Focused on customer-driven channels – and globally present on any channel at any time
  • Managing data – they take a customer-driven channel approach and marry it with data management
  • Creating personalized experiences – they use data to provide personalized interactions at scale

And this makes sense. Customers now demand personalization — they want the companies they do business with to know them, value them, meet them where they are, and even teach or show them new products they may not know they even want.

These brands are now setting certain expectations among all consumers that you must live up to. But how will you know when you’ve done so?

A Digital, Platform-Driven World

Philipp Westermeyer, Co-Founder of Online Marketing Rockstars, recently explained how he identifies and categorizes top-performing brands at Emarsys Revolution in Berlin.

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Philipp remembered back to 2011 when the most valuable companies in the world were Exxon, PetroChina, Apple, ICBC, and Shell. What’s changed in the last seven years?

Today’s most successful companies are all are digital brands that know how to market. They live their values, and their values permeate through every brand touchpoint.

Even second-tier (the 5-8 most successful) companies — brands like, LinkedIn, Uber, and Netflix — do the same thing, so it’s not limited to those aforementioned five, either.

“We live in a platform-driven world,” Westermeyer said. “Very few companies can create massive value. But how do you do that?”

The answer might be closer than we think — right in front of our face, in fact.

Cell phones are the most prevalent digital device in the world. This phenomenon is largely due to the invention of the app — and it’s a global trend.

Today’s most popular apps — or at least their purpose and function — are common around the globe. While the content and interactions in-app may not feel like marketing, these savvy brands know how to engage, impact, and delight without it feeling intrusive.

The line between when an app provides a utilitarian (or entertainment or informational) purpose and when it’s used for marketing is becoming more blurred. But successful brands, without a doubt, have a solidified mobile presence with a killer app.

Let’s deconstruct what else successful brands do.

What Successful Brands Do Right

Uniquely successful companies have a different understanding of what their product is. With these brands, every function and discipline within the product merge. The product, payment, and fulfillment is the marketing.

Great brands also create platforms, and cultivate communities within them. Let’s look at a few examples of great brands — and how they manage their “platforms” — in action.

Example: Amazon

Amazon is the most vertically integrated company in the world.

The e-commerce/technology giant owns and operates almost every aspect of the fulfillment process — from their manufacturing plants, to online access to every imaginable product, to the delivery process, Amazon controls the entire customer journey.

Their marketing has become their promise of quality and quickness. Amazon Prime promises two-day delivery, for example. Amazon Alexa — their personal smart assistant — literally sits in the middle of your living room or bedroom.

Source: Philipp Westermeyer

Amazon has figured out how to be as close to the customer as possible — a modern-day characteristic of a successful brand.

Example: Tesla

As if their cars (their sleek design and energy-efficient promise) aren’t enough of a selling point, what really separates Tesla from the pack is their all-encompassing brand experience.

Tesla is more than a car. Tesla’s overarching strategy begins with their app and in-store experience, is propelled forward by the iconic owner and force behind the company, and culminates with buying their one-of-a-kind final product, an automobile.

“Teslas are great cars — but great cars are everywhere,” Westermeyer said. “The platform starts in downtown Hamburg, at their POS store — right next to Gucci & Prada. This is part of the product. They literally sell cars where couples and families stroll on a Saturday afternoon. And the people who buy Teslas? They’re like rich Elon Musk fanboys. They want to buy a part of Elon Musk.”

Source: Philipp Westermeyer

The well-known Musk — the innovative brand leader, and forward-thinking face of the company — is as much a selling point as the features and functions of the cars. The store, the app, the leader, and the cars all make up the holistic Tesla experience.

Example: Casper

Have you seen Casper? No, not the ghost!

This innovative, up-and-coming mattress company has reinvented the sales process.

The direct-to-consumer business model allows consumers to purchase mattresses online, and return the mattress after a trial if they are not satisfied — at no cost to the consumer.

Source: Philipp Westermeyer

More importantly, the brand creates an experience. Casper brings people in touch with their product and helps them feel it. How much closer can you get to consumers than providing a product that they sleep on every night?

Casper’s “100-day trial” period might cost in returns, but they believe it’s the only way to cultivate trust and the kind of experience they need to provide to differentiate themselves in a commoditized market.

These American companies share a common vision: to be as close to the customer as possible and to lower the barriers of entry to their product.

These brands also aim to create a circle of life — to get new consumers in, and keep them moving through the cycle until they become loyal users and evangelists.

“You can’t gain if you can’t retain,” Westermeyer says. That’s exactly what great brands do.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to own the world — like an Apple, Amazon, or Facebook — to be a successful brand.

Today’s most innovative companies share several characteristics: they value and excel at the customer experience — mastering their digital, omnichannel presence. They create a community of customers that remain loyal because of their product — which, ultimately, consists of the entire brand “platform.”

According to Westermeyer, other ways to break apart from the competition and complete your brand’s “platform” include:

  • Stores → Stores are one element to complete or compliment your brand. Tesla and Apple set the standard (800+ stores in the best cities and places in the world), and their real estate is a big part of their marketing.
  • Events → Events help foster brand awareness and are the best way to create in-person interactions in a non-sales environment.
  • Influencers → Partner with niche industry experts to spread your message and borrow their audiences. Influencers exist for every company, large or small.
  • Podcasts → Podcasts can help with marketing — telling your story and creating an audience that wants to hear from you.

Stay true to who you are, and use the resources at your disposal to create something truly unique. Successful brands understand their brand and their product, understand their customer, then mesh these together for the ultimate experience. That’s something you can do, too.

Check out Philipp’s full-length, 42-minute presentation from Revolution, here