How Top Brands Stay At Top | MACE Framework

January 18, 2022 by Vinay Karode

Summary: MACE framework is a really simple tool that product managers, business owners or anyone who wants to build a long sustainable brand can use. Apart from building a strong brand, integrating MACE (Mastery, Accessibility, Cadence, Ensnarement) improves the customer experience drastically.


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What makes brands like Coca-Cola, Apple, Tesla withstand the test of time and become durable and long-lasting? Understanding how these big brands achieved this will help any new brand or startup become durable.

We'll explore a framework that'll act as a lens to look through to determine how sustainable a brand or startup will be in the future.

I first came across this article in Harvard Business Review, and it made so much sense that I wanted to create an easy to understand slide-deck that you can refer to quickly.

So the big question is, what makes a brand durable even as business models, technology and consumer behaviour radically change? And knowing the answer to this will separate a successful brand from a brand that is doomed to fail. It's also important to understand what a brand means in this context because I think this framework we're about to discuss is universal and can apply to products, startups and businesses.

A Brief History

Historically, if we look at top brands since the 1950s, we notice that they rarely changed in rankings once they cemented their foot in the top10 brand list. This trend continued into the early 2000s, but then something drastic happened. After 2010 we noticed that the top brands that stayed on the top-list for a long time started dropping off. And between 2011 and 2021, we see almost all top brands displaced by new incumbents.

This rapid turnover of top brands is partly because of consumer behaviours becoming digitised and new business models that have blindsided many traditional brands. And if that's the case, how has Coca-Cola, invented in 1892, remained one of the most valuable brands? The key here is that the durable brands are adaptable, as we'll see.

MACE Framework

The four elements of this framework are mastery, accessibility, cadence and ensnarement. Let's look at each in detail.

1. Mastery

Implement a publicly visible, non-transferable reward system into your product, so your consumers can receive these rewards for engaging with your product. These rewards can be in scores, points, reputation, followers, etc.

Accumulating such rewards gives the consumers a sense of mastery limited only to your product as they are non-transferable to other products. And this helps your brand in two important psychological ways.

  • Endowment effect (overvaluing losses): Here the consumer assigns more value to their efforts or contributions within a product as they had to sacrifice a small amount of time or attention.
  • Familiarity effect: where the consumer starts preferring a product merely because they are familiar with it. These factors make the consumer much less willing to switch to a competing brand.

An example of a product that rewards mastery is Nest Thermostats. Nest tracks energy savings and rewards a Nest Leaf for an eco-friendly setting. And achieving Nest Leaf becomes challenging over time, thus encouraging users to interact with the device continuously.

You will also notice rewards for mastery within a product in gaining followers on social media, collecting points or votes on Reddit & Stack-overflow, etc. Thus variable reward system allows a business to build a long-lasting brand.

2. Accessibility

Make your product more accessible, and depending on your product, this could be appealing to different age groups, availability on device types, low payment barriers, etc. Three simple ways to make your product more accessible are:

  • Entry-level pricing: Make your entry-level products ideally free or as cheap as possible. You can leverage strategies like subscriptions, deferred payments, etc.
  • Sales channel: Distribute your product or service on as many channels as possible. Digital products can be made available on many devices or app stores. And physical goods can be sold directly on social media or fulfilment centres for faster delivery. Services can use partnerships or affiliate marketing to increase reach and accessibility.
  • Appeal to a broader range of consumers: First-time customers help increase the customer base and move past the growth limits. Marvel films outperformed rival DC by appealing to all ages with light-hearted humour and PG-13 ratings.

Mobile games are some of the best at being as accessible as possible. And they're usually free to start playing, available on multiple devices and appeal to broader demographics and languages. So use accessibility to build a high growth brand.

3. Cadence

Constantly strive to be at the forefront of people's minds by creating news and content around your brand.

  • Keep releasing new products or news related to product updates. A great way to achieve this is using a mix of long and short videos on your website or social media
  • If you've made a webinar on a topic or recently spoken at a conference and have a recording of it, create micro-content from this long-form media and maximise marketing videos.
  • Encourage user-generated content such as reviews, testimonials, case studies.
  • Keep in mind to communicate everything, even failures.

Think about the top tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and you'll notice that they constantly have conferences where they release new products and updates. This frequency of news & events keeps their brand fresh in people's minds.

Even startups and smaller brands can keep their customers updated with notifications, emails or social posts on what is going on with the business. This frequent flow of updates leads to the familiarity effect, where the user is more likely to choose a familiar brand when they come across a new competitor.

4. Ensnarement

Truly brilliant brands are masters of making themselves sticky with their consumers. And brands can improve stickiness by building switching costs and creating network effects.

  • Data Trap: One of the reasons people find it extremely difficult to get off of social media platforms is network effects. Consider switching off from being connected to friends and followers on a social network, which can sometimes be psychologically painful. And most social platforms have chat features or direct messaging, which adds another layer of switching cost if you decide to delete an account.
  • Learning curve trap: Think of adobe products like photoshop or premiere pro. Knowing these tools take time and effort, a user is less likely to switch to a competitor as they'll have to learn an entirely new software tool.
  • Exit trap: Some companies sell products under a contract that creates stickiness, as the user will have to pay an early termination fee if they decide to leave.

Using the MACE framework described above, we can make better decisions for our businesses or generate new product ideas or features to build a long-lasting brand.

Vinay Karode
Vinay Karode loves reading, filming videos, helping brands with strategy. And holds a Masters Degree