The top brand winners and losers in 2014 come down to two things: the importance of Target Market and the importance of brand.

No company or individual is ever all things to all people. What matters is that it does the right things to the right people. Here is the list:

Winners

Tony Bennett

The 88-year-old Bennett, along with his collaborator Lady Gaga, had the number one selling album (Cheek to Cheek) this year, a great career accomplishment for someone who just years ago was considered a “talent whose time had passed.” It’s a lesson on how to “Go Rebrand Yourself” even when all others believe your brand is finished.

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With the help of his son, Danny, the duo targeted a younger audience that was unfamiliar with the brand, got them to sample his musical style, and then become long-term customers (not just fans)—a lesson that we all can use in our respective lives.

Central to this new strategy was that there were no changes to Tony's formal appearance, his singing style, and song selection (generally the Great American Songbook). This resulted in a consistent image so important in personal branding. The outcome was that it made Bennett a fan favorite to both young and old.

US Soccer

Who would think that American Soccer would have such a year? With the 2014 World Cup on every millennials’ hand-held device or state of the art visual media receiver, even TV ratings exhibited record high numbers. An estimated 26.5 million people in the U.S. watched Germany defeat Argentina, the Nielsen company reported. In addition, more than 750,000 people were watching the game during a typical minute online through services provided by each network, along with 1.8 million unique viewers on ESPN’s WatchESPN app.

This is by no means an accident and is based on real behavior change data. Almost every male and female below the age of 30 played soccer as a child. So it makes sense that it would be simply a matter of time till this sport received the respect in the U.S. as it has around the world.

The lesson here is that brands are dynamic, which means that they must adapt to changes in demographics if they are to survive. When one thinks strategically an amazing thing happens—Growth.

Michael Strahan

Michael Strahan, former professional American football player, Hall of Famer, "Live with Kelly and Michael" talk show host, "Good Morning America’s" on-air personality, NFL commentator, and now movie star ("Magic Mike II") has to be the number three 2014 Brand Winner.

Strahan gives us a game plan for rebranding a product, service, or ourselves. Transitioning (or rebranding) from football player to on-air personality is not an easy task. Both vocations require skill, preparation, and opportunity, but few can integrate these talents as effortlessly as Strahan. His “man’s man” demeanor and his opposite sex sex appeal make him the perfect alpha everyman—the man every man would like to hang with and the man that every woman dreams about.

All brands ago through stages. Rebranding is one strategy where decisions must be made on whether to attract the same or different target market. Brands like Michael Strahan teach us how to transition by being true to our brands through embracing those changes that are consistent with our core product features. So, when one is about to experience a life change, consider Michael Strahan and “Go Rebrand Yourself.”

Star Wars 7

The "Star Wars" 88-second clip with more than 60 million views is on track to be the most-watched trailer of all time, according to the Hollywood Reporter. For any brand to have this kind of pre-purchase buzz is a lesson for the news junkie/business-minded and is why it captured the number four 2014 brand winner position.

The "Star Wars 7" marketing team knew from the start that brand loyalty would drive this promotional online tactic and for that reason created story lines on why the "Star Wars" originator (George Lucas) had not seen the film, as well as the many parodies that are being cited on the web. As they used to say,” no publicity is bad publicity.” This PATA (People Are Talking About) clip only adds to the hype, excitement, and the eventual ticket purchases when it comes to a theatre near you next Christmas—2015. Yes, 2015.

It’s hard to imagine utilizing any promotional tactic one year in advance, a no-no in a galaxy long, long ago. The biggest challenge is to keep this brand fresh and still exciting so that sales are strong when released and continues over time. The answer for "Star Wars 7" marketers and for us is to think like customers and then and only then will the force will be with us.

Macy’s

If you have ever attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or watched it on TV, you understand the importance of branding and its impact on customers. Even if you are not a Macy’s customer, one can appreciate how the parade mesmerizes children—and their parents as well—and then motivates them to shop Macy’s. This year, as a matter of fact, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren estimated that 2014 had more than 15,000 people show up at its NYC location, which he characterized as “more than the store has ever seen.”

The Macy’s brand is synonymous with shopping. Through its events-driven promotions (Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy’s July Fourth Fireworks, and Macy’s Flower Show), sophisticated shoppers are reminded of the name even when considering different ways to make their purchases, which leads to the sales Macy’s wants and needs.

Macy’s formula is to make the shopping process a pleasure by providing an atmosphere conducive to buying products either on-site or online. This is why it made the 2014 Brand Winner list.

Losers

Bill Cosby

The solution for Mr. Cosby’s brand recovery is for him to actively engage in the controversy by taking control rather than letting the story control him. Up to now, he has done relatively little, but there seems to be an indication that more will be seen in the weeks to come. 

It would help Mr. Cosby if only he would involve his audience through interviews (perhaps even with his fans), podcasts, social media videos, and all those tactics necessary for communicating the Bill Cosby side of the story. It also means being true to his brand by being contrite, admitting that he made some errors in judgment, and that a new chapter in his life has commenced. He must do something that connects with his customers, period!

In addition, Cosby must be very careful that his responses are not only about him but also about the women whom he allegedly abused. The “we” rather than “me” approach would make any tactics he utilizes even more powerful than one that is unidimensional.

Some say that brands like Cosby can never come back. Branding and marketing professionals must believe that strong personalities who make a sincere effort can overcome the odds if their audience is willing to accept the new brand qualities that are being offered to them. The outcome of this sad encounter is up to his fans when Mr. Cosby decides to begin the brand healing process.

Malaysia Airlines

The mishandling of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappearance in March 2014 after leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the recent “Want to go somewhere but don't know where?” promotional tweet are the two reasons for Malaysia Airlines’ designation as the number two brand loser for 2014.

Branding is all about your customer and this airline’s communication insensitivity to families that lost loved ones is a pedagogical moment lost. 

If only this airline would have thought like their customers and considered their loss instead of worrying about its own, a great branding gesture could have been most effective. 

Thinking like one’s clients is a basic branding tenet that often is overlooked by marketers and should always be embraced. By sincerely establishing a concerned outreach despite the airline’s embarrassment, this brand could have achieved a new-found respect even in the emotion of the moment. 

True, every culture has different ways to deal with grief, but to be truly brand sensitive, we must look beyond our own perspective and consider those outside our frame of reference. The mantra “it’s not about you, but rather all about your customer” makes the most sense and should have been implemented ASAP when managing this very sad incident.

The NFL

The NFL is a brand loser for its handling of the domestic violence incidents that have plagued players like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson. If there is anything that the NFL can teach us it is how not to manage a brand crisis. 

Media types were quick to lay blame that resulted in major public relations gaffes that even the novice communicator would eschew. On the other hand, what the NFL did impart is how to build a brand so strong that even these seemingly aversive missteps can have little effect on TV viewership no matter what critics say.

When brands make mistakes, it is the Target Market that must decide whether it can live with the infraction. If there are two target markets for the NFL brand—the media and the fans—then we have to say that the NFL has really failed as a brand to meets the needs of the professional journalist segment. 

The fan demographic is not so easy to assess. Fan decision making is visceral and based more on individual brand perception than corporate brand management. This means that “People Buy Brands not Companies” translates into viewers caring more about their respective teams and favorite players than it does about the NFL. It is only when their favorite NFL teams and players make mistakes that the NFL Company Brand suffers.

For this reason, the NFL is not only a loser from a media perspective but also a winner for maintaining market share and satisfying the need to provide its customers with exciting sports play.

US Democrats

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. As marketing professionals, we must constantly evaluate whether our products and services are resonating with the respective target market. If they are not, changes must be made if we are to generate positive outcomes. The recent election results show that Democrats failed to understand this basic marketing and branding principle. As a result, they lost their Senate majority.

The Democrats’ marketing failure was a function of not thinking like the majority of their customers. Sure, many brand loyal voters showed up to support their party, but this was not enough to win market share. 

The problem was that Democrats thought like “all-knowing” experts who understood what the majority needed—not what they really wanted. It was like a beverage company not offering a low sugar option to its customers, when all the data showed that consumers want healthful alternatives; or when American car makers in the seventies missed the need to produce small, gas efficient autos, which foreign car manufacturers were glad to provide.

The marketing and branding lesson here is to always be looking to satisfy consumers’ (and in this case, voters’) needs rather than creating something that we think they want. Research and knowing what worked in the past are the techniques that we and the Democrats can learn from and is a very elementary branding rule: It’s not about you, but all about your customers.

Sting, The Singer

Sting is a brand that demands respect. With his estimated wealth of about $280 million along with his 25 American Music Awards, 11 Grammys, and his 75 award nominations, it’s reassuring to know that even the successful sometimes miss the marketing and branding boat.

You see, earlier this year Sting had this project he wanted to share with his fans—his life in song. A brilliant idea on paper. So he went to work writing songs for this exciting venue. What could go wrong?

After writing the songs for the play, surviving opening night, and then getting mixed reviews, a great accomplishment for a Broadway outsider to receive, audiences didn’t show.

A friend then told him the honest truth: “Sting, no one cares about your life, they want to hear you sing.” You see, Sting got stung by what we all often miss: it’s not about you, it’s rather all about your customer.

Many of us believe that we have the answer to solve a consumer or business need. The real issue may be that we, like Sting, are the only ones interested in the product (or service) that we want to market and that others don’t care. Even Michael Corleone in "Godfather II" understood this when he said to his consigliere, Tom Hagen: “Try to think the way the people around you think and on that basis anything is possible.” That’s solid advice for all of us to heed when trying to make professional changes in our lives.

The good news is that Sting has acted proactively. He will be appearing in his show, "The Last Ship," through January 10. It’s a smart marketing move that can remind us that it is always easier when you have marketing and branding in mind.

John Tantillo is branding editor for Fridge Magazine, the magazine for small business owners and entrepreneurs. He is the author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."