Building Brand Runways



Marketers focus on their brands and customers as the family jewels–and they are. But there is another kind of marketing asset that I call “runways” and if you don’t have them, you will miss huge opportunities. In this ADD world of rapid-fire Twitter streams, long-tail options, and media multi-tasking, you must be in the right place at the right time or the moment is lost. Runways are relationships your company can create with trading partners and consumers that make your brands accessible, and give YOU access to markets and marketing options you otherwise would not have. Let me illustrate.

Retail runways. A large consumer packaged goods company like Kraft or Unilever leverage relationships with retailers to make their products available where 80-90% of people shop (what other media deliver that size audience these days?). Because Starbuck’s didn’t have this runway, they needed to partner with these companies to sell ground coffee and specialty ice cream. Think about the omnipresent end-of-aisle display of Entenmann’s baked goods in supermarkets. Another company, Mission Tortillas, has also created standing displays of their products in supermarkets. These displays are runways that can create instant trial (no need to advertise) for any new variety.

Social media runways. Starbuck’s has a social graph of over 4MM across Facebook, Twitter, My Starbuck’s idea, etc.; something Unilever does not have for food products. So, for Starbuck’s ice cream, while Unilever provides the retail runway, Starbuck’s provides the social media runway to build interest–great runway synergy for their joint venture. On the other hand, regarding the new Levis “go forth” campaign, sharing via social media would accelerate faster if the Levis social media runway had been previously built.

Account management runways. For many B2B marketers, their best runway is their own group of customer representatives. The biggest mistake B2B companies can make is to think that marketing is solely an externally focused activity and not align their own best asset–the client-facing ambassadors in their own company–to the new message or offering. Sounds obvious? I have actually lived through this battle with a marketing team at a prior company I worked at. Are you putting energy behind driving your marketing messages internally as well as externally?

Runways are only limited by marketers’ imagination. Amazon just filed for a patent to deliver advertising via the Kindle. Gaming platforms beget game sales and can deliver advertising. Ducati motorcycles’ sponsorship and hospitality presence (and winning record) at the Superbike World Championship events is a runway into enthusiast sports biking communities around the world.

Runways not only create access, they augment a brand’s meaning and value. Brands are about expectations, so where customers expect a brand to be present becomes part of the brand. Marketers should direct innovation efforts towards building brand runways as well as building the brands themselves.


Like well-paved airport runways, building good brand runways will make the takeoffs and landings much smoother.

Image by Joi

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Joel Rubinson

Joel Rubinson is Chief Research Officer at The ARF, where he directs the organization’s priorities and initiatives on behalf of 400+ advertisers, advertising agencies, associations, research firms, and media companies. Joel is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active blogger. He holds an MBA in statistics and economics from the University of Chicago and a BS from NYU and never leaves home without his harmonica. Follow him on Twitter: @joelrubinson.

About the author

President and Founder, Rubinson Partners, Inc., marketing and research consulting for a brave new world and also on the faculty of NYU Stern School of Business, teaching social media strategy. Formerly the Chief Research Officer at the Advertising Research Foundation.