An Appreciation of Legacy Brands

September 25, 2017

contact-us_tm.pngI usually get excellent reviews from students who take my Branding Essentials workshop. But, on one end-of-class survey, someone left a comment that I focus too much on “old” brands. It’s true. I don’t talk much about Uber or Snap. That’s because they’re both so new it’s hard to assess their impact or success, as brands. Sure Uber disrupted an entire industry but that’s because of their business model, not their brand. Branding-wise they seem to be doing everything wrong, finding new enemies everywhere they turn in Trump-like fashion. Snap and Snapchat? Well, you’re right. I just don’t know enough about that/those brand/s. I focus on brands like Nike, Coke and Apple because a) everyone in the workshop is sure to know them and b) they’re all master branders with plenty of excellent examples to share with students. A legacy brand is a thing of beauty.

Legacy brands are, by definition, brands that have been around awhile … like, since before the internet? But, while some old brands are … well, just old, legacy brands are still fresh and relevant. Go to the websites of McDonald’s, Target, Lego, GE, Caterpillar or Harley Davidson. You’ll see businesses that are all vibrant, modern and successful. They’ve evolved with the times.

Legacy brands tend to be market leaders as well. But does a strong brand turn a business into a market leader? Or does a business, by virtue of competing its way into a leadership position, then by default, enjoy a strong brand? I believe it’s actually a little bit of both.

Businesses that get branding right tend to do a lot of other things right too. Legacy brands start off with excellent business models and value propositions. Then they excel at planning, manufacturing, distribution, pricing, human resources, and everything else required to move products and services. It stands to reason they’d be good at branding, marketing and sales as well. Legacy brands know if the brand platform is not sturdy, the marketing campaigns will go off target, and sales will plummet. So they’re determined do a good job building that brand platform.

One thing every legacy brand has in common is an absolute obsession with organizing its marketing communication around a single concept. For example:

Apple – Think different
GE – Imagination at work
Nike – Just do it

Then they energetically police their communication to ensure that no matter what specific product or feature they’re promoting that day, they do it in a way that is in alignment with their organizing concept. Coca-Cola may be running a special on 2-liter bottles and they won’t fail to tell you all about it. But they’ll end with “Have a Coke and a smile!” or some variation thereupon. Because spreading happiness is Coca-Cola’s organizing concept.

home-promo-shop.jpgA legacy brand can never be outdated because they know their markets are constantly growing and evolving. Legacy brands are committed to changing along with their markets. For instance, Harley Davidson knows there’s a limited age range in the average consumer’s life when he or she seriously considers buying a motorcycle. At this stage of my life, I’ve clearly aged out of being one of their potential customers. So it doesn’t help anybody if I like the look and sound of their bikes. Harley Davidson has to constantly create new bike designs that attract buyers who are aging into the target age range. And their visual identity, marketing communication and advertising all has to evolve and change with the bike designs. That’s the only way to attract buyers in that critical, now-or-never age range.

Relatively new brands like Facebook and Google can command astronomical valuations in astonishingly short periods of time. But those valuations are based on something other than the effectiveness of their brand. Google has broken its brand promise “Don’t be evil”, with disappointing regularity. And, as we’ve noted, Uber seems to be hell bent on driving its brand into the ditch. Maybe I’m forgetting somebody but I just don’t see any of the new brands that are doing it right.

And maybe that’s why I have so much admiration for these legacy brands. They have, over the decades, with very few missteps, always been able to do it right.

Just do it, indeed.

Best Branding Reads – Week of September 25, 2017

Newspaper Ad That You Can Only Read Outdoors
L.L.Bean creates advertising that truly exemplifies the brand. Excellent work.

Crocs at 15: The Brand That Refuses to Die
In spite of an avalanche of ridicule, people still swear by them. 

Five Insights About Gender And Brands
Brands that target one gender over another often fall into stereotypes and chauvinistic traps.

10 Questions To Ask When Crafting Brand Stories
It always starts by defining your market – everyone whose perception of your brand is vital to its future.

New Logo, Identity, and Packaging for Polaroid Originals
You thought Polaroid was gone forever, didn’t you. Here’s one zombie brand I’m glad to see return from the dead.

How Hard Is It to Draw a Brand Logo From Memory?
Wow. Bitter pill for those of us who promise to deliver memorable logos.

Coca-Cola Renew: “We Are Coca-Cola—And So Much More”
Coke is facing a tricky transition, keeping the product brand as is while the company brand moves on. Good luck.

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Innovating Brand Loyalty Programs
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Open Branding: Mozilla, Once More, Crowdsources Its Evolving Brand
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Live Events Are the Next Big Thing in Branding
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I drew the logos for each NBA team in sriracha on my tortillas
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