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How enduring brands survive Add to ...

Want more than 15 minutes of fame? Think brand longevity.

As the pace of change accelerates, companies can face an agonizing dilemma: Should they stick to their existing brand image and risk looking dated and stodgy - or make changes and risk losing that special something that made them successful in the first place? The fact is, you have to keep up with the world around you while you keep your brand promise intact if you want consumers' love affair with your brand to survive.

Companies that grow stronger through the years have a strong sense of their brand; they can figure out what to add and what to subtract from the brand story, and always continue to capture the imagination. Take Chanel, for example. For a century, Chanel has sailed through the turbulent winds of fashion, deftly managing product diversification without losing its course. The brand's excitement comes from more than clothing and perfume - it comes straight from the romance of Paris. It conjures up everything that makes Paris the ultimate symbol of sexy sophistication decade after decade (despite cramped hotel rooms, haughty waiters and dog-soiled streets.)

So, how do enduring brands survive? There are plenty of lessons to be learned from companies that have weathered a few storms.

Deliver on your promises. There's nothing more deadly than failing to deliver, particularly now that unhappy customers can broadcast their feelings worldwide in a matter of seconds through blogs and chat rooms. When you buy something from Apple, you expect cool. When you buy Maytag, you expect reliability. What do customers expect from you? Are they consistently experiencing it?

Avoid sudden turns. The path to brand destruction is paved with companies that have abandoned their marketing strategies and shifted gears just as their momentum was building. Sharp turns are expensive to implement, confusing for customers, and killers when it comes to employee morale. Update your brand carefully, with laser-like precision. The best logo updates, for example, are those that feel fresh but are instantly recognizable as belonging to the same trusted brand.

Cultivate the fine art of storytelling. Not every company can trace its story back centuries, as Bushmills Irish whisky can, but every company has a story. Bushmills has crafted its story so well that it rivals an epic page-turner; by the time you reach the 20th century, you're biting your nails to know how the company made it through Prohibition. Find the human interest in your story and you'll set yourself apart from the same old corporate speak that only bores your customers.

Don't chase every fad. In the words of Coco Chanel, "fashion passes; style remains." Just because everyone else is flocking to a new trend doesn't mean that it's right for you. While companies have made their fortunes riding a huge wave, others have merely followed blindly like lemmings ... right over the cliff. Ask yourself if you have something that will set you apart from all of the other companies trying to capitalize on the same trend.

Scrape off the barnacles. Over time, brands can become encrusted with all sorts of things that don't serve them. At our agency, we use a process called "Disruption" to identify the conventions that hold brands back, make them feel stale and predictable, obscure their true essence, and rob them of their vibrancy. The outcome is a brand blueprint that galvanizes a company, guides marketing decisions and keeps the brand true.

Whether you use "Disruption" or another process, you need a way to sift through what's important and what's not, what is central to your brand promise and what is merely an accumulation of crud.

Believe. Nothing makes a bigger difference than passionate belief in what you're doing. Customers have an uncanny way of sensing if companies are authentic or if they're really only chasing a buck. If your vision of your brand is up for grabs, you'll be buffeted by every "good idea" that comes along. On the other hand, if you have a strong sense of purpose, it will be easier to resist the many, many temptations that you encounter along the way.

An inspiring example of consistency of vision is Kikkoman, a family-run Japanese company that has been producing naturally brewed soy sauce for more than 300 years. Their production methods have changed - from hand-made to fully-automated - but their commitment to quality has not.

andrea.southcott@tbwa-vancouver.com

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