Steve Woodburn, MAS, is an account manager for Staples Promotional Products. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve always been fascinated with brands, their products and the names chosen for those products. Some become iconic and last for centuries while others struggle to survive even a few years. DuPont, Colgate and Citibank have been operating for 200+ years while scores of others including Eastern Airlines, Linens ’N Things, Circuit City and Pontiac couldn’t make it. Video tapes, records, cassettes, film for cameras, dial-up internet, typewriters, answering machines and public phone booths were all once huge businesses and now are ancient relics on the trash heap of “old” technology.
So what makes a brand iconic? Why do some make it and others don’t? Here are a few of the reasons I believe brands stand the test of time:
- 1. Innovation
Begun in 1976 as Apple Computer, Apple dropped the word computer from the name in 2007 for obvious reasons. Apple is an icon among icons and has morphed and grown by creating not only new products, but completely new technologies. Consistency is a key to brand longevity, and Apple has shown its products to be consistent in quality, cutting edge technology and, as a result, consumer loyalty. While this iconic company will never best Microsoft or IBM in size or revenue, the niche this brand has created will continue to grow as long as the company continues to innovate. The combination of marketing, innovation and visionary leadership makes Apple what it is today.
- 2. Vision
Visionary leaders such as Apple’s Steve Jobs are rare, and I would contend he was the Thomas Edison of our generation. After being ousted from Apple in 1985, he went on to form Pixar, creating a new world of movies starting with Toy Story. Returning to Apple in 1996, his leadership led to iMacs, iPods that created a new way to listen to and purchase music with iPods through iTunes, iPhones that transformed the world of cell phones and, most recently, with iPads that reinvented how computing is done. He didn’t invent these products and technologies in a vacuum, but his visionary leadership, salesmanship, charisma and philanthropy made him one of the most revered men in business.
- 3. Creativity
Chewing gum, a rather innocuous product developed commercially in 1848, has taken on new life through creative branding. In 2007, the Wrigley Company debuted “5,” a brand that incorporated unique new packaging and very un-gum-like names such as Cobalt, Flair, Rain, Solstice and Vortex. With by far the largest share of the chewing gum market, Wrigley continues being an early adopter by optimizing its website for smart phones and being very active on Twitter and Facebook. Being a relatively inexpensive purchase, gum has continued to gain sales even during these challenging times, and indications suggest these trends will continue. Are there more creative products out there? Sure, but few have taken creativity and innovative packaging to such heights.
- 4. Family Values
Little did Walt Disney know that his creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, would lead to a multi-billion dollar enterprise that would span the globe. His visionary leadership was built upon creating entertainment that could be enjoyed by the entire family, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that a Disney film had anything but a G rating. Likewise, his theme parks are venues where families go to spend time together and share in the magic that he helped create. While the company has changed throughout the years, those family values he stood for are still apparent in all of the businesses touched by the Disney name.
- 5. Consistency
As the worlds most well-know brand, Coca-Cola exemplifies all the qualities above, which places it on a pedestal in the world of brands. From basically a recipe for delicious tasting sugar water, the company has built a brand that is as diverse as the world is wide. One visit to the World of Coca-Cola exhibit in Downtown Atlanta will give you a glimpse into how they‘ve managed to capture the spirit of the nation (and then the world) through the advertising campaigns and premiums in the more than 125 years the popular beverage has been around. From visionary leadership to consistency to vending machine technology, Coke is the company to study when you want to understand how a brand stays relevant and profitable throughout many decades and generations.
A brand can have all of the qualities above and still fail—especially if the product or service it supports can’t find a place in the consumer’s heart and wallet. Some brands, however, are able to transcend the everyday and come to represent more than their product or service; they become a part of our culture.
So what brands do you connect with and why? What draws you to one brand over another, and would you pay more for that brand? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Oh, and if anyone introduces themselves as Rain, chances are they’re chewing too much gum!