A recent survey commissioned by rbb Public Relations and performed by IBOPE/Zogby International received a bit of media attention over the past few weeks, and with good reason: its most significant revelation was the fact that “83% of consumers would pay more for a product/service from a company they feel puts them first.”

The survey concerned the phenomenon of “breakout brands” that achieve the enviable goal of customer loyalty and steady market share by dealing directly with their customers rather than playing a never-ending game of Battleship with their competitors. And its list of 2012’s “Top 10 Breakout Brands” ran the gamut from universally-beloved names like Apple and customer service leaders like Zappos to controversial brands like Chick-Fil-A.

What led rbb to commission this survey? While researching older marketing strategies, founder Christine Barney noticed that brands no longer followed the classic “challenger” approach typified by the Avis tagline “We’re only No. 2 in rent a cars. So why go with us? We try harder”. This Don Draper-style message may have worked in the 60’s, but it’s no longer relevant. So how have branding strategies evolved?

Barney lists three primary traits of the “breakout brand”:

  1. They lead by putting the customer first, not distinguishing themselves from rivals. Customers don’t care about brand fights.
  2. They use market research and knowledge of their customer base to anticipate their customers’ desire. Did the public realize they wanted tablets before the iPad arrived?
  3. They communicate in ways that go well beyond traditional customer service, developing “rich feedback loops” with their customers.

Can any brand break out? Theoretically, yes—“breakout” does not necessarily mean new. Barney also lists three distinct types of breakout brands:

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