Roz Calder and Michael Cook, Directors, NeedScope International, at TNS

Irresistible brands are every marketer’s dream. Their magic evokes powerful consumer desire. It makes choosing them inevitable and competing with them impossible.

Pricing strategies or marketplace domination don’t create irresistible brands. In fact, irresistibility often enables a brand to command a higher price than its competitors. And they come in all shapes and sizes – local, global, market leader, challenger. What unites them is the compelling way they meet consumer needs; the essence of their irresistibility.

Meeting consumer needs sounds straightforward but complication arises from the fact that consumers don’t share the same needs. What is irresistible to one consumer repels another. Irresistible brands recognise this and identify growth opportunities based around the needs that they know they can satisfy the best.

Proving the power of irresistibility
TNS set out to unlock the key to irresistibility, compiling a database of over 2,000 brands from NeedScope studies conducted since 2011.

Using this data we created a new measure of irresistibility; the brand IQ, or Irresistibility Quotient. This precise measure of how a brand satisfies consumers within a particular need-state goes beyond functional measures of needs and brands to incorporate social identity, emotive and symbolic perceptions.

An IQ of 100 is perfect irresistibility – although we’ve yet to find a brand achieving that! What’s most important is the exponential relationship between a brand’s IQ within a need-state and its corresponding usage by consumers with that need.

TNS Brand study - Chart 1

Unsurprisingly, brands with a low IQ in a particular need-state underperform in that regard. With an IQ of 50 a brand still has no usage advantage. But by 60 the advantage is significant and above 70 it drives exponential growth. This is the benefit of building irresistible brands.

Across our 2,000 brands, the average IQ is 57. Only 5% reach an IQ of over 80; a further 12% have a maximum IQ between 71 and 80.

We found significant differences by geographic region. The average IQ is higher in developing markets, where increased competition forces brands to be truly irresistible.

Irresistible brands, with high IQ scores, unite whole companies and deliver year on year growth. They are better protected from external factors like recession or competitor activity, and generate better return on marketing investment because spend is focused. These benefits don’t happen by accident; irresistible brands are managed every step of the way.

Understanding the drivers of irresistibility
A validated measure of brand irresistibility is valuable but marketers need more to create and manage an irresistible brand. They need to know the drivers of irresistibility and how to diagnose them. We have identified eight drivers of irresistible brands. Every brand with an IQ over 70 performs well on these drivers. Much more than just outward signs of irresistibility, these each play a unique role in making a brand irresistible.

The first two, Know-how and Momentum, are hygiene factors – necessary to get past first base on the way to irresistibility. The next three drivers create the real magic – Differentiation, Emotion and Symbolism. The final three, Nexus, Alignment and Unity, bring cohesion to every aspect of an irresistible brand.

A closer look at the 8 drivers of irresistible brands:

Know-how: credentials and expertise
Know-how is evidence of competence in the category which gives a brand licence to operate. Product performance, technological superiority and leadership all contribute to brand know-how. This can be built up over a long history in the category, or earned instantly with a break-through technology or expert endorsement. Gillette continually demonstrates know-how in male shaving while Nike gleans its expertise from leading sports stars’ endorsement.

Evaluating brand know-how is straightforward, using measures of quality, leadership and expertise.

Momentum: brand vitality
To be irresistible, a brand needs continual development and refreshment. This Momentum is a sign of life in a brand which shows it is not stagnating; consumers need this to stay interested.

Evidence of momentum comes in many forms, like new products and services and new ways of talking about the brand. Samsung currently has high momentum, built up through recent years of innovation. Coca-Cola’s momentum comes from continually refreshing its positioning to be relevant to a changing youth culture.

Measures of innovation and relevance can be tracked to evaluate momentum but in general, it is necessary to conduct a full audit of a brand’s activity over time, relative to competitors.

Differentiation: recognisable, defendable difference
Irresistible brands are unlike others on the market. They are well differentiated in the eyes of the consumer but this is not differentiation for the sake of it. Irresistible brands have a point of difference that matters to consumers and it permeates every level of the brand.  We evaluate brand differentiation at a deep level; the sharper a brand footprint within the NeedScope psychological map, the more distinct a brand is in consumers’ minds.

Emotion: brand meaning and purpose
Irresistible brands tap into a universal human emotion which gives them meaning beyond the tangible, making them an easy choice. Our unconscious System 1 brain drives our decision making; it operates automatically and has an immediate, intuitive response to things, whereas our slow brain requires reasoned arguments. Irresistible brands cater to both, making the choice easy for consumers and giving the brand the unique spirit that is so hard to compete with. This is typical of iconic brands such as McDonalds, Apple and BMW.

Measuring emotion in a brand is not easy. We use projective tools and a psychological framework to reach the deeper, fundamental emotions driving brand irresistibility.

Symbolism: the language of emotion
Irresistible brands use Symbolism to bring emotion to life – the language of the fast, intuitive brain. Whereas the slow brain speaks in words and facts, the fast brain speaks in code, using symbols and associations. Like body-language, we all intuitively understand it; brands have to decipher the code and how it works in their category.

Irresistible brands recognise symbolic meaning in everything – the colour and shape of a logo, packaging, type-face, music used in advertising, bottle shape, design features and so on.


The perfume market uses symbolism to great effect. The ads above all depict a woman and a bottle of perfume, but with different symbolism each creates a different feeling.

Nexus: emotive linkage
Nexus is the emotive linkage running through a brand’s offer. Irresistible brands use emotion like a circuit linking every aspect of their image, including the product. Brands with high Nexus are not just cohesive, they are held together by emotion. Red Bull is a good example – consumers visiting the Red Bull website immediately see that the bold, adventurous brand promise 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.

To evaluate Nexus, we measure each layer of the brand’s image. NeedScope measures functional, social identity and emotive image discretely – showing that irresistible brands connect strongly across these layers.

Alignment: consistency across touchpoints
Alignment is about consistent brand touchpoints. Logo, packaging, pack format, communications, website, retail environment all need a consistent look, feel and message, and must evoke the same emotion.

Alignment enables each touchpoint to leverage the power of the others, optimising return on marketing investment. Audi is an excellent example of a well-aligned brand.

To measure Alignment we must undertake a comprehensive audit of every single brand touchpoint.

Unity: cohesive brand architecture
Very few brands comprise a single product offer, spanning more than one category. This demands clear brand architecture as a roadmap for management and innovation.

We found irresistible brands with many different brand architectures, utilising master brands, sub-brands and variants. This is viable as long as the brand maintains Unity. Like a well-functioning family it will grow and change over time, but always retain something that distinguishes it from any other.

Many brands successfully stretch from their core position, using sub-brands and variants. The map below shows a scenario of when a brand stretches too far, losing Unity; the further a variant is positioned from the Masterbrand, the less likely it is to succeed.


Building irresistible brands
These drivers provide a powerful framework to manage irresistibility. Knowing your brand IQ, and diagnosing what’s preventing it from being truly irresistible, allows you to find solutions. The starting point is building an understanding of consumer needs and competitive context. From here you determine which needs your brand can meet and how to achieve that. Clients applying this disciplined approach find marketing and investment decisions are easier to make.

Johnnie Walker: An irresistible brand in action
One brand applying this successfully is best-selling whisky brand Johnnie Walker. Using NeedScope, Diageo has built a comprehensive understanding of consumer motivations in the alcohol market and manages its portfolio to maximise these. Understanding its priority consumers, Johnnie Walker has actively set out to target the Assertion motivation. Everything it does is focused on making Johnnie Walker irresistible to consumers driven by Assertion.

The eight drivers of irresistible brands help constantly evaluate whether Johnnie Walker is on track.

  • Know-how Johnnie Walker outperforms the market on Know-how attributes such as quality and reputation.
  • Momentum The brand is over a century old but is simultaneously contemporary. The logo has changed gradually to suit the times, and a constant programme of innovation ensures Momentum.
  • Differentiation Despite operating in a competitive market, Johnnie Walker stands apart, particularly well differentiated at the emotive level.
  • Emotion Johnnie Walker outperforms other brands on the emotive criteria that are relevant to Assertion – instilling feelings of confidence, ambition and intelligence
  • Symbolism Johnnie Walker’s understanding of the language of emotion is apparent in every brand choice, from its colours to bottle shape and logo design
  • Nexus The emotive heart of Johnnie Walker, built around Assertion, links through every layer of the brand. Its social identity and the product itself are also strong and assertive
  • Alignment Every Johnnie Walker brand touchpoint has a consistent look and feel, evoking the same sense of boldness and quality.
  • Unity The Johnnie Walker brand family holds together very well. Variants are intrinsically similar, but target a different audience of consumers and situations within Assertion.

Globally Johnnie Walker scores an impressive IQ of 79 – no surprise given its high performance on the eight drivers of irresistible brands.

Roz Calder and Michael Cook are directors at NeedScope International, TNS