The brand utility has become an established phenomenon and there are inspiring success cases. But the App stores are also full with apps that will never be found, let alone be used.

Lets evaluate, just like a year ago. This time I'm doing this with Mark van Rossem. Mark is online strategist at Heineken, he was involved with various brand utilities at Heineken. 

We are curious if the lessons learned are similar on the 'brand side' and the 'consultant side' and are having interesting discussions. We aim to summarize our conclusions in a top 10 list to help colleagues working on similar subjects.

Below you find the first results. It's work in progress, but we would like to share what we've found so far to get your feedback. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let us know, we're happy to use it to finalize the list.

Digital vs. tangible

1. To start with the most obvious: a brand utility can both be digital and tangible, but digital is a more fertile environment.

Digital makes it easier to subsidise a service with marketing budget - a brand utility is a service that is - partly - given away. Digital also makes a trial and error approach easier: service is a process, that will often need adjustment. Also, it's easier to distribute a service in a digital environment, because digital is much better - and cheaper - scalable. This scalability increases the marketing potential.


2. Within the digital domain mobile is the most important catalyst of the brand utility. Mobile is increasingly able to understand the individual user and its unique context. This way, it's becoming easier to offer a service that is specially suitable to a certain situation.

But mobile also has its pitfalls. Because a mobile service can be developed quite quickly, the average quality is decreasing and it's more difficult for the good to set itself apart from the mediocre, since the offerings in the app stores are so numerous.

Unlocking vs. adding

3. Brand utilities can 'unlock' or 'add'.

The first category unlocks processes and data for the end-user that were only available for the internal organization. The consumer gains more control and can better influence the brand experience. An example is Fiat's EcoDrive.

The second category adds an 'active' service component to the proposition. The brand promotes itself by doing something extra, the user will have to do less. Think of Twelpforce of BestBuy.


4. A brand utility should have PR potential: it's a service that is not only useful, but also disruptive, because of its unconventional approach. This attracts attention to the brand and gives it more marketing power. In other words, a brand utility is a marketing service instead of a service that needs to be marketed.

Mass media

5. Therefore, it's probably a bad sign if a brand utility needs to be supported by mass media. The means and the end are mixed up, because the brand utility itself should increase the marketing power of a brand.

Of course, there's a flip side to this statement. A combination with mass media can be effective to improve the growth curve of a brand utility. But fundamentally, a brand utility should be able to create its own momentum.

Affection vs. conversion

6.  Brand utilities can be used for 'affection' of 'conversion'.

The first category of brand utilities are an alternative to advertising, but they are basically doing the same thing. These brand utilities are creating a certain suggestion, for example that the brand is sympathetic or contemporary. But the core proposition is not supported in an intrinsic way and the brand utility will not directly result in conversion. An example is Nike's True City.

The second category improves the customer journey. These brand utilities support the core proposition of a brand intrinsically and increase conversation. This should also result in affection, but there's a difference between cause and effect. An example is Nike+.

Conversion counts

7. Affection shouldn't be an end goal for a brand utility. Otherwise, the brand utility faces the same pitfall as advertising: it increases the gap between what a brand suggests and what it sells to its clients.

Conversion should be the main goal. This also better fits the USP of a brand, its reason for being. Conversion has more long term value, because of its fundamental link to the brand essence.

Almost normal

8. In the end 'subsidy' - a brand utility is - partly - 'given way' and 'PR' - a brand utility has extra marketing power - are the only denominators between a brand utility and a normal service. Because a normal service is also useful, results into conversion and is fundamentally linked to a brand's core. But in the case of a normal service, a customer has to pay full price and normal services don't necessarily result into buzz.

Business development

9. This means that brand utilities can best be initiated by business development, just like a normal service. This stimulates a holistic, media independent approach and puts a brand utility closer to a brand's core proposition. If a brand utility is initiated by marketing, for example, there's a danger that it results into an isolated, short term campaign.


10. A strong brand utility will eventually become a commodity, just like most normal services. Customers will feel its normal that the service is offered and other brands will soon offer similar solutions.

A nice example is online payments services by banks: they first were eye catching brand utilities, that followed an 'unlocking' approach and were well linked to the brand's essence. Now, they're a hygienic factor for a bank's service portfolio.

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