What do Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Levi Strauss & Co., Volkswagen, KFC, Marlboro cigarettes and Mrs Balls Chutney all have in common? They all have lived through at least one World War, the rise and fall of Communism, the 'flower power' 60's, the first man on the moon, bad hair of the 1980s and not to forget the most recent financial crisis.
None of these brands is an absolute physical necessity, yet these brands have always been a part of our lives - and don't seem to be going anywhere.
If you take time to consider some of the great brands that have always been around, they pretty much still look the same, taste the same and feel the same. For example, in the 1920s, Marlboro the world's largest selling cigarette brand, initially targeted female smokers with their 'Mild as May' tagline and feminine focussed advertising. In the 1950s they changed direction to a more niche market of male smokers - but since then, very little has changed to the Marlboro brand. That's over 60 years with still the same cowboy 'Marlboro Man', product and packaging. 60 years of success without much radical change is rather astounding.
The great brands that have been around for many generations have all stuck to their brand values and personality. They've been consistent, while adapting and refreshing themselves as consumers and market conditions have changed - but all have done so without comprising their core brand essence. Take Coca-Cola for instance - from 1886 to 2005 the famous beverage brand has had 168 different taglines, yet their brand positioning has remained fairly consistent.
As the saying goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Coca-Cola learnt this the hard way when introducing 'New Coke' in 1985, a reformulation of the product with a campaign slogan of 'The new taste of Coca-Cola'. New Coke attracted great consumer backlash and subsequently led to the re-introduction of the original, classic Coca-Cola.
So what can brands of today learn from the good, old favourites like Coca-Cola, Marlboro and the others I have mentioned?
Firstly, ruthless consistency over time pays. Cadbury has always stuck with their signature purple; and consistently market their 'glass and a half' of milk in each chocolate. Similarly, Volkswagen has constantly focussed on people. KFC has the ever present Colonel Sanders and special '11 herbs and spices' recipe consistently applied to the marketing campaigns. Consistency is critical to ingrain your position and message to customers. When a company, product or service is unpredictable or confusing, the reputation of a brand becomes questionable and simply cannot build momentum.
Next, rather refresh than radically change: People fall in love with a particular brand for a specific reason - whether it is what the brand stands for, its personality, its product or service offering or the message it sends out. Like a person, if any of these characteristics change fundamentally, the brand can lose its integrity and subsequently its fans. Levi Strauss & Co. has achieved success as the classic jeans-wear brand with a brand essence that has remained fairly consistent over the decades. Yet, when Levi's discovered that a large proportion of women were unsatisfied with how jeans fitted (or rather didn't fit) their all-importantderrière,they quickly responded with the Levi's EVA range that was designed especially for ladies with a few more curves. They did this without compromising their classic heritage or completely overhauling their product range. A refresh from time to time is essential to stay abreast of market trends and to avoid complacency. In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken refreshed their branding and name to KFC taking into account that people were opting for healthier methods of cooking and therefore chose to focus less on the 'Fried' in their name.
Finally, don't underestimate the power of your product (or service) in building and maintaining a strong brand. No brand will last over time if the product and the value associated with it, is not up to scratch. The strength of Mrs Balls Chutney lies greatly in the product itself. No other competitor, locally or from aboard can even try replicate or improve the taste and flavour of this South African favourite. The reliability of the product is solid and thus, the power of the brand is undeniable.
Though many of the famous brands may not be necessities or items that guarantee our physical well-being; they still are cherished and loved throughout the world. Through careful brand management these great brands have made us smile, satisfied our cravings, brought people together and most importantly, have been dependable. They've been around before most of us were born and will most likely be around for many years still to come - they've truly been brands that have stood the test of time.