Consumers love brands with the highest ‘IQ’, new research from TNS reveals


What it takes to be an irresistible brand

New research has revealed the drivers of irresistibility, telling us specifically why the world loves L’Oreal, Red Bull and Audi – and why other brands never quite make the cut.

Experts at TNS have analysed over a thousand household names to identify the collective components of the world’s most irresistible brands. What was once thought to be an intangible quality has now been quantified by TNS and companies can access the tools to make their brands more desirable than ever, the company claims.

To diagnose irresistibility, TNS has developed the Irresistibility Quotient (IQ) based on how well a brand meets the needs of its target consumers.

Using NeedScope, a proprietary research system, TNS has uncovered what lies at the heart of irresistibility, which will be critical to helping brands actively improve their IQ. Eight drivers of irresistibility contribute to a brand’s IQ: Know-how, Momentum, Differentiation, Emotion, Symbolism, Nexus, Alignment and Unity. It is only when applied as a complete framework that businesses can take their brands a step closer to becoming an irresistible choice.

A perfectly irresistible brand would have an IQ of 100 against a particular consumer desire. Only 4% of brands evaluated achieve a score of 80 or higher, underlining how few have unlocked the secret of irresistibility. Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between those brands with a high IQ and commercial success. For example, TNS has found that one of the world’s most famous pen producers, Parker, achieved an IQ of 80 or higher in some of its strongest markets.

When Johnnie Walker, the no. 1 Scotch whisky brand in the world, was assessed against its target consumer desires, it was found to have greatest potential for irresistibility with consumers who want to feel assertive and confident. A deliberate focus on activating the eight drivers of irresistibility has helped the brand globally score an impressive IQ of 79 with these consumers.

Roz Calder, director of TNS’s NeedScope International, said: “Competitor brands have long wondered what gives Johnnie Walker a hold on the market. We now know that it is irresistible because the brand has become almost synonymous with what these consumers want; once they decide they want a whisky, there is only one choice they can make. This makes competing with them very difficult – unless you are equipped with your brand’s IQ and can unlock the drivers of its irresistibility.”

For every brand with a high IQ, TNS found hundreds are insufficiently applying the drivers of irresistibility and therefore underperforming. Almost one in three brands (29%) have an IQ under 50, failing to recognise their consumers’ primary needs and the motivations behind their purchase decisions.

Generally, brands performed less well in developing markets, averaging an IQ of 54 compared to 62 in Europe. In mature and highly competitive markets, brands in well-developed categories can only survive by carving out and defending distinct territories with truly irresistible brands. What’s more, those brands that remained true to all the elements of irresistibility are also the ones that have best weathered the economic storm, suggesting irresistibility helps recession-proof brands.

TNS found that brands with the highest IQ are also the bravest in recognising they can never appeal to every individual. Category leaders like Audi (automotive) and Bose (technology) know what their most loyal customers want and, in applying this, are prepared to turn others away. This explains why courageous ‘love it or hate it’ brands have gone on to become category leaders.

Roz said: “Becoming one of the world’s strongest, most popular and recognisable brands does not happen by accident. These brands have scrutinised and applied the drivers of their irresistibility. These traits are deliberately and determinedly engineered over time, to make the brand an instinctive choice, and to make competing with it impossible. Rivals in their categories have two choices: either they can focus on becoming irresistible themselves, or they must be prepared to get out of the way.”

The eight drivers of brand irresistibility

1. Know-how: Is your brand a credible expert?

Credible know-how is a basic hygiene factor for any would-be irresistible brand, providing the System 2 brain with conscious proof that this particular brand knows what it is doing. Know-how can be earned over time by product performance (Bang & Olufsen), instantly achieved through technological breakthroughs (Dyson) or acquired through expert endorsement (Nike and sport).

2. Momentum: Can you stay ahead of the game?

Irresistible brands evolve in ways that keep consumers interested and engaged. They remain true to the characteristics that made them irresistible while anticipating and leading change. For Coca-Cola, gradual evolution over the course of a century has delivered exactly the cadence required; for Samsung, in a category defined by constant change, a wave of high-quality innovation has been required to deliver real momentum.

3. Differentiation: Do you have the courage to stand for something?

Irresistible brands don’t just need a point of difference; they need a point of difference that really matters to consumers, and the courage to focus on this point of difference even when it means rejection by some. In Dove’s case, a differentiated and decisive brand positioning around ‘Real Beauty’ has enabled it to claim ownership of product qualities such as moisturising, in a way that others find difficult to challenge.

4. Emotion: Do you know what your emotive meaning is?

Emotion gives irresistible brands unique meaning in the eyes of their consumers, and an instinctive attraction that goes beyond rational reasons for purchase. Mastery of emotion in relation to particular consumer needs lies behind the magic of irresistible brands. For instance, a pharmaceutical brand may use white laboratories and lab coats to address an emotive need for reassurance and control; financial institutions may use symbols of tradition and power to evoke emotions of stability. Irresistible brands know what their emotive meaning needs to be.

5. Symbolism: Do you have your own emotive language?

Symbolism is the language of emotion and a key set of triggers for decisions by our fast, intuitive brain. Irresistible brands understand the symbolic meaning in everything and apply the secret language of colours, shapes and images to evoke particular emotions. In the fragrance category, perfume brands rarely use words to describe their products, but differentiate themselves through symbols such as the materials of the packaging, shape of the bottle and the colour of the liquid within it.

6. Nexus: Do the different elements of your brand add up?

Brands satisfy three layers of conscious or unconscious consumer need: functional, social and emotional. When the ways in which it addresses these needs flow naturally from one another, the brand has high Nexus. These types of brands are more convincing as the emotions they stir are strongly reflected in their function and social identity. Red Bull’s bold, adventurous proposition ladders through all layers of the brand. The social identity is young and cool, the product has many active ingredients and promises to vitalise body and mind by giving you wings.

7. Alignment: Is your brand consistent across touchpoints?

Aligning look, message and emotion across every different touchpoint is one of the greatest challenges for would-be irresistible brands. Once achieved, alignment enhances irresistibility and maximises marketing budgets. Audi’s promise of refinement and class and emotively linked product promise of cutting-edge technology and design, informs every aspect of its identity: from brand logo to retail showrooms – every touchpoint is a temple to design and technology.

8. Unity: Could your brand remain recognisable across products and categories?

Irresistible brands provide owners with a powerful asset that can often be leveraged across several products and categories, stretching their appeal while retaining an inherent unity of brand architecture. Virgin has proved an irresistible brand in categories broadly related to entertainment, where its maverick emotive positioning has strong resonance; when it stretched into Cola this brand unity was challenged. In contrast, Johnnie Walker has maintained impressive unity of brand architecture across a range of variants that enable it to appeal at many different price points.