Lead Forensics

thinking from
the front lines.

Five ways to win: A model for building a whole brand.

Five ways to win: A model for building a whole brand.

By David Gutting
Senior Vice President,
Director of Strategic Projects

It’s one thing to recognize that the old ways are failing. But what does it take to build a new model? Start by recognizing a brutal fact:  Brands only win when people choose them. Most of the time, they don’t. Even the best brands are seldom the preferred choice more than 40% of the time. And 33% of brands fail two-thirds of the time.

CMOs get paid to increase the probability that brands will win in the marketplace and to reduce the level of failure. It’s a tough job.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the tenure of chief marketing officers continues to decline, down to 40 months, the lowest level since 2009. Interesting side note: the CEO average is 80 months. 

The Journal quoted Ford’s CMO, Suzy Deering, who described how different it is to run a modern brand compared to earlier eras. “There used to be a time that I believe marketing was thought of as pretty pictures and storytelling,” said Ms. Deering. She now sees the role as “an orchestrator of the business.”

She was referring to internal tensions that rise in modern companies over such issues as branding and data, diversity and inclusion, and new ad technologies. But her words are prescient, because the lesson of whole brands is that orchestrating the business is imperative. 

Style and Substance

The model we have developed gives you tools to do that. That includes the entire C-suite (not just CMOs), the board and key executives in all disciplines. 

On one level, it’s a new style of thinking. It sees the brand as everything a business does, not just as a tool of the marketing department. That is why it is so important for everyone in an organization to understand what a brand stands for and how it works. 

On another level, it’s a substantive, data-driven growth engine. The reason: the cause-and-effect link between the five brand dimensions we identified and the business

results they achieve. It’s the relationship between the Whole Brand Index and the Market Performance Average. In our exhaustive analysis of this relationship, a few things stand out.

1.The whole brand rules.

The Whole Brand Index is the single best predictor of brand success. We analyzed correlations between numerous variables in our study. No single brand performance dimension — not product, not experience, not a noticeable design system — is a better or more accurate indicator of how well a brand performs. 

The Whole Brand Index and the Market Performance Average are related at a level of r=0.75, or r2=57%, meaning that the WBI is a reliable predictor of how well a brand does in terms of its business outcomes.

Here’s a key lesson, one that goes against conventional marketing wisdom: Modern brands must excel at everything. It used to be that brands with a good product and great advertising could lap their competitors. That is no longer the case. Power brands are now like Amazon: they’re good at everything.  

2. Data strategy is not CRM analysis.

This model is data-centric, but on a macro level, not on a micro level. It’s not an exercise in analyzing movement through the marketing funnel. It’s an analysis of how an entire brand operates as a growth-producing system. 

It can integrate well with CRM and other effectiveness measures, but its greater value is in guiding a master strategy. 

3. Small differences = big impact. 

Brands that average a WBI of 81 or above achieve outsized market success. Their market performance average is, on average, 50% higher than the bottom 80% of brands. A brand with a score of 76 is respectable, but average. Think of it in GPA terms: Students with a 3.5 average (an elite level in our scoring mode) will get more scholarship offers than students with a 3.1 or 3.2 average. 

4. Categories differ and set the tone.

Health insurance and investment services are complex and hard for consumers to understand. That shows up in the data. WBIs and MPA scores are well below levels of other categories — even below the scores for airlines. Meanwhile, athletic wear is ferociously competitive at every level, much like luxury automobiles. 

Our model shows the nuances within categories, making it possible to design strategies to win against the unique circumstances that a category imposes. In skincare, for example, two old stalwarts, OLAY and Neutrogena, have survived the onslaught of new Instagram upstarts. How? By doing everything well. 

5. Whole brands beat the pandemic.

No one will look back on this era without weighing the impact of COVID-19. It was a once-in-a-century event comparable only to a world war. This year’s research, however, shows the resilience of a diverse set of brands that fuel the economy. While some categories, travel and fitness, for example, had painful upheavals, it’s remarkable to see how consistent brand performance has held up. 

This is especially true for the strongest brands, the ones that in our model have the highest scores for their Whole Brand Index (WBI). It wasn’t just Netflix that thrived during COVID. So did Walmart, often maligned as a logistics company that did marketing on the side. They improved their position over the last year and entered our top 20. In a brutal year for travel, Booking.com also landed in this elite group.

The Ultimate Scorecard

Here’s what’s even more important: when put into full practice, the model is a scorecard not just for one brand, but for the entire category. 

Whole Brand Thinking™, when applied with precision, builds powerful brands that grow faster, with more consistency than their weaker competitors. We learned that in our initial study in 2020 and we have replicated those findings, with more detail, in our 2021 study.

The Whole Brand Index scores how well a brand performs across five key dimensions that represent all the ways a brand goes to market. And it’s the most reliable predictor of success and brand growth than any other measurement.


We're on a mission to build a world with more whole brands, those ​​that spread their strength across a defined set of actions, grow faster, win more customers and have stronger cultures than the competition — those that act as a force for good.

The world needs us all to rethink how we’re doing business. That starts with here. Inspired? Join us at The Whole Brand Project, where we’re rallying innovative thinkers from all industries to join us.


Brand: A (R)evolution by Tim Galles

The Big Rethink according to Happify’s Gareth Kay

The Big Rethink according to Oatly's Heidi Hackemer

The Big Rethink according to Tim Galles

The Big Rethink according to Beautiful Business' Alan Moore

The Big Rethink according to University of Toronto Rotman School of Management's Angèle Beausoleil, PhD

The Big Rethink according to Whole Brand Index creator David Gutting

The Big Rethink: State of the Whole Brand 2021

An Open Letter to Whole Brand Thinkers by Tim Galles, The Muse by Clio

The Whole Brand Project: Join the movement

WARC  | The whole brand: Ending the divide between brand marketing and performance marketing

Barkley US

Jan 21, 2022

filed under:
Whole Brands


B Corp, Brand Culture, Culture, Diversity + Inclusion, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Sustainability, Whole Brands
Whole Brands
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