Are the ‘Superbrands top 20’ really that super?

I have enjoyed browsing through the glossy Superbrands book on the coffee tables of my marketing director friends over the years. The publication of this year’s list of top brands caught my eye because British Airways was featured in the top spot.

I have to confess at being very surprised that BA was voted number 1. As a regular BA traveller – and gold card member – over many years, the experience I have had over 20 long haul flights in the last two years (most in business class) can only be described as very average and well below the standards being set by some other airlines. Both product quality and service quality in my experience is unremarkable on BA given the price premium that business class passengers pay.

My experience of British Airways led me to scrutinise the 2014 Superbrands list and to my disbelief, I noted the inclusion of Boots in the number 15 slot, just two places below Amazon!! Boots seems to suffer from range (no two stores seem to stock the same products) and supply chain problems that cause me to leave the store empty-handed on about 50% of my visits.

Likewise M&S at number 18 – beset by a lack of a clear proposition, a change in direction with every new CEO and a customer base that has – certainly in the case of clothing – drifted to the competition.

I am not by nature a negative person – there are some wonderful brands included on the Superbrands list such as Mercedes Benz, Apple (of course), Amazon and the BBC despite its recent problems. But what caused my reaction was the (to me) obvious gap between the experience and the brand rating.

So how does this divide occur? How do 3000 consumers, surveyed in compiling the Superbrands list and my experience as a customer prove to be so different? I do not know the question that customers were asked nor the criteria used to rate and rank the top 20. However, the words of Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the Superbrands Council, give us a clue. In talking about BA he said “…..over the last two years, BA’s reputation has climbed to new heights, partly through the cementing of its successful ‘To Fly. To Serve’ positioning….”. So, it seems, the 3000 consumers may have based their views on brand perception and advertising rather than any first hand experience as customers.

“So what” you may say, “brand perception is important”. Of course it is and advertising, on a good day, can impact customers’ emotional and functional connection with a brand – something every good agency worth its salt is trying to do.

But here is my key point. If the experience that customers’ receive does not live up to the promise created by advertising and marketing then the outcome over time can only be a growing band of disappointed customers – who all tell their friends – and, as a result, the destruction of brand value. It is the insightful Marketing Directors who recognise this fact and focus their attention on delivering an experience that makes a big difference for customers – rather than create award-winning ads that in the long run do more harm than good.

Sadly I fear a number of the Superbrands top 20 have a long way to go to close the gap between aspiration and reality.