Building An Immortal Brand

Derrick DayeFebruary 14, 20123 min

Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. BSI readers know, we regularly answer questions from marketers. Today, Paul, a VP of Marketing in Rochester, New York who has this question on evolving a brand.

When should a brand be declared dead? Like Smith Corona or possibly Kodak? What are the signs it is time to let go or reinvent?

Thanks for your question Paul. I have heard people talk about brand life cycles. I am a firm believer that brands don’t need to have life cycles if they are managed well. They can live on indefinitely. Products have life cycles. Typewriters were made obsolete by computers and film was made obsolete by digital photography, but the brands under which these products are marketed don’t have to become obsolete unless they have come to be associated with the obsolete product category rather than a unique value proposition. What do I mean by this?

Disney can transcend product categories because its brand essence is “fun family entertainment.” If Hallmark defines itself as “caring shared” it can transcend the greeting card category and could easily extend into giftable candy and flowers and even romantic cruises. And even if a company that owns the brand name is devastated by a disruptive technology so that it has to file for bankruptcy, its brand name is still worth something (and maybe even millions or billions of dollars) if it has come to stand for something important to the customer that transcends the obsolete product category or format.

Take Kodak as an example. The name is worth far less these days if it is primarily associated with film and film processing. It is worth a little more if it is associated with point-and-shoot cameras, but even these are becoming less relevant with the advent of smart phone cameras with increasingly high resolution lenses. If Kodak stood for SLR cameras, it would be worth more because film-based SRL cameras have a direct analog in the digital world – digital SLR cameras. If it stood for capturing moments and preserving memories, it could transcend many technological disruptions, assuming the company owning the brand name could adapt fast enough operationally to keep up with the disruptions.

The bottom line: if a brand name has high awareness, positive associations and promises a unique value proposition that transcends product categories, the name can live on either as a part of the original company or by the new company that purchases the rights to the name. For a brand to live on forever, it must do two things: (1) define itself as a unique and compelling customer proposition rather than a product category and (2) extend into new product and service categories over time to keep up with technological and market changes. And often, it is the ever evolving portfolio of products and services itself that helps define the brand as a broader value proposition rather than a specific product category or format.

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  • Laure

    February 15, 2012 at 3:40 am

    Very interesting article. Moreover when you put it in the context of FMCG products. I work in a design agency as a strategic planner, and i truly struggle to make my clients understand that soaps can’t just clean your body and biscuits can’t just be delicious…With your permission I will use the quote ” transcend the product category and define the brand as a unique and compelling customer proposition” . Technology is not the only threat for these categories, reinventing themselves and bringing something more than the functional product benefit is not a plus, it is a crucial requirement to live and survive.

  • Roger Hicks

    February 15, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Well said. The Kodak story fascinates me, especially since Kodak technology invented digital photography in the 70s yet they remained focused on film. Also Blockbuster is an interesting case study. What was once an incredible idea with no sign of becoming obsolete, was quickly made obsolete with netflix and redbox.

  • Jim Vitale

    February 15, 2012 at 10:21 am

    The fact that you mention Smith-Corona and we know it to mean typewriters is absolute proof that brands don’t die – products do.

    Smith-Corona as a brand is still alive. It just doesn’t have any products to promote. What a great rebranding challenge that would be!

  • TC

    February 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Good article. Another way to talk about the challenge you’ve discussed is for organizations to build their brand around their “why” rather than their “what [they do].” A hugely successful example is Apple whose “why” is believing in always challenging the status quo. This “why” positions them to transcend product categories even while being highly associated with the very products for which they are known.

  • Darren Coleman

    February 16, 2012 at 4:51 am

    Great post. This makes a clear distinction between being a business (associated with a line of work) and a brand (associated with a key benefit, competence, value etc). The latter is far more powerful.

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