Top of the Pyramid

How do you create a brand that consumers need, not just want?
Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at and


Familiarity is a driving force in purchasing. According to Nielsen’s Global New Product Innovation Survey, almost 60 percent of respondents preferred to purchase new products from brands that are familiar to them. Almost a quarter said they purchased because it was from a brand they like. Look around, and there is no denying that we are generally brand consumers.

Branding is more than a logo. Understanding the role your company can play in the mind and heart of your consumer is essential to creating your brand.

In her book Branding is Sex, author Deb Gabor notes, “The best brands in the world are the ones that say something about their users. In other words, branding is about how a product or service contributes to the story you are creating for your own life and how you articulate that to other people.”


Branding Starts with the Consumer

There are marketers who believe branding starts with the company — specifically what the company does or produces and how it wants to be perceived. But although the company may control the image of the brand, the truth of the brand lives in the needs and desires of the customer. Therefore, the customer must always be at the center of your brand strategy, whether you’re managing a B2C or a B2B brand.

Way back in my days at the University of New Orleans, my professors introduced me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you look at branding as an inside-out process, you’ll see how it falls exactly into the pyramid. Brands have to meet an individual’s functional needs (bottom of the pyramid) even to be considered. In the casino industry, we call that “table stakes.” As brands fulfill the emotional needs of the consumer, you see the brand moving up the pyramid. Once a brand is at the top, it is supporting the customer’s need for self-actualization much in the way brands like Nike and Apple do.

In her book, Gabor uses automobiles as an example. The baseline requirements — tires, engine, AC, etc. — put practically any automobile at the bottom of the pyramid. For any of those auto brands to move up in a consumer’s pyramid, the features have to make them feel a certain way — a way that is unique to each driver, be that comfortable, secure, cool, etc. The car they eventually purchase is the one that allows them to bring their self-image somewhat to life, i.e., “When I drive ____, I am _____.”

Brands at the top of the pyramid are bonded to their customers, rather than fighting for a share of the market. When that bond is reached, you have repeat customers.

Online recipe site, for example, is in a highly competitive space. But while publications and websites like Food and Wine and, for example, create dreams of putting a five-star meal on the table every night, that is not the reality for a large portion of the population on an average Wednesday night. By asking users why they loved and understanding what the brand could indeed be proud of, the team ultimately focused on helping home cooks deliver  great meals on a busy weeknight. Every element of Allrecipes’ brand story is designed to give each site visitor self-confidence in the kitchen. Each decision, even the smallest, is taken into account so visitors can feel they can easily accomplish their goals. This level of attention to detail allows to differentiate itself.

Undertaking this level of examination will help you start to form your brand story —one that tells the story of the user and how your brand deserves a spot at the top of their pyramid.