Business publications love copy about how any established product or brand more than two decades old is under attack and struggling. However, quite a few brands are doing very well, thank you.
Because those brands “get it.”
They see their brand and the marketing supporting it as investments and understand that, like a person, a brand personality starts from day one and everything is has ever done contributes to a customer’s perception of it. This perception is key to how performs as a business at this very second, and the historical investment helps smooth the process of innovation and new product development or repositioning. They look at this history as a strength rather than an albatross, see their culture as a resource to be nurtured, and understand a brand’s soul gives something that people can believe in.
Here are my six favorite examples:
As toy that was developed to help inspire children and foster discovery, a core value has been a commitment to the development of children. So as play and child development have become more technology-focused, so has Lego. Here are they ways they did it.
First, they diversified into larger than life “discovery centers,” small amusement parks and dynamic, hands-on retail experiences. These appeal to kids, but also the adults who grew up on the product and now have kids of their own.
Next, they focused on innovative and dynamic extensions to their base block sets, using electric engines, gears and “codeable” sets that create moving, remotely controllable and dynamic toys.
Most importantly, they developed a media/production strategy to create branded sets for entertainment and hobby properties like Star Wars, Volkswagen. This strategy also included media of their own, like video games and movies. Each one of these have creation as part of the storyline and action, which subtly reinforces the brand and creates an interesting creative challenge for the team overseeing the production of the movies. But it’s a challenge that requires them to be ultra-aware of the brand’s history and brand, putting it at the center of their job.
Jeep has arguably the strongest fan culture of any automotive brand in America. The culture is all about adventure, freedom, utility and authenticity, and fans invest their own money to customize their Jeeps to fit their life.
Like all automotive products, Jeep needed to update designs to integrate technology and materials after over a decade, but there are key, practical design changes that would be inauthentic to the brand. So what did Jeep do?
They created a panel of about a dozen hard-core Jeep fans who own, restore and upgrade their own Jeeps to work hand-in-hand with the design team as they created the new Jeep JL. The result was a great balance of the classic and the contemporary that brought the Jeep up to today’s standards while still respecting the past.
It seems to be working fine, as 70% more JL’s were sold than the previous year and it’s sales are almost as high as the Toyota Camry.
As a company developed with the core value to “cause no unnecessary harm” the outdoors, Patagonia has always put the environment first. This has led them to develop its own supply chain the minimize ecological impact and, as consumer politics have changed, expand the company philosophy to encourage consumer action.
This comes to life through the Patagonia Consumer Action Works, which can be found on their website. Also, they have developed a political voice around the environment to encourage voting, and address anti-consumerism by encouraging fans to either fully “use up” their durable product or resell it through their Worn Works website.
All of this is incredibly PR-able, but more importantly goes back to the original purpose at the core of the brand.
As the music industry became more digital, home audio hardware was left behind. Sonos was developed to help the world listen better, since digital music was both mixed differently and was relegated to digital players with low quality speakers.
Walking the line between mass audio and audiophile, Sonos has always kept regular people at the center of their user experience and product development. Their packaging is designed so owners can remove the product intuitively without damage, their app walks you through the set up of the system easily, allows for room-specific tuning and has literally 100s of digital sources are integrated.
Hardware development remains limited, as they focus on the design and pricing of a few, key products for the enjoyment of music and video. Which is important, since the best brands understand that just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you should do everything.
The result is a brand that has an effect on people’s daily life, as it makes playing and experiencing music in the home accessible and better to anyone who buys Sonos.
A classic shoe brand, it has always played catch-up to Nike in spite of being 15 years older and initially having better performance credentials.
But the brand with three stripes has gained plenty of ground in the last three or four years through a combination of product innovation (UltraBoost and AlphaBounce technology), to better compete with Nike on the court and smart partnerships (Parley for the Oceans, Yeezy and Stella McCartney) for those who are more about lifestyle than fitness, as most people are.
Last, they have made a strategic decision to use only recycled plastics. Sustainability has always been an issue for a product that uses lots of cloth and plastic. By committing to using only recycled plastics (most of which will be ocean plastic), Adidas has gotten ahead of consumer trends and cultural norms all while giving new customers an excuse to sample their innovative products.
Your move, Nike.
The last example is a classic that most marketing people know well. Suffering from jetlag on a trip to Thailand, Dietrich Mateshcitz sampled a local drink that was purported to supply a kick of energy. Shortly after, Red Bull was formed in partnership with a local businessman and the rest is marketing history.
The drink that “gives you wings” was a grassroots marketer well ahead of it’s time. The entire brand was built bottom-up through events like Fluetag, sponsorships of sports that required both energy and concentration and branded content well before content was a “thing.” Each marketing idea was an investment (and in the case of their content operations, a big time and money investment).
By constantly investing, innovating with flavors and formulas to keep up with consumer tastes and health trends, the brand has continued to see year-over-year growth, even as tastes have moved beyond the core product. It also developed the content playbook that everyone from GoPro to Huckberry have used to launch their own brands.
So what’s the point?
The point is, marketers need to know their brand’s history, constantly use it as a filter to validate and improve what they are doing and invest, invest, invest in the brand in both big and little ways, because it gives people a reason to care about your products.