Remember that kid from your high school? The quiet, hard working one. A little awkward at times. Told terrible jokes. Didn’t make a big splash in class, but always had the right answer. Got really high grades. Maybe wasn’t fantastic at sports, but had skills in music or theatre or writing. Didn’t have a huge group of friends, and wasn’t in the in-crowd. But would surprise you with at times with remarkable kindness, even when you maybe didn’t deserve it.
Remember her, or him? What is that person doing now?
Everyone has a story like this: “I ran into so-and-so for the first time in 10 years. Wow. Has he ever changed! Looks fantastic. Very successful. He has really made it.”
That’s elevation. Some brands elevate over time as well.
Take Volvo for example. My dad has always driven Volvos. North of 34 years, and counting. We now think of Volvo as a hip, safe, near-luxury brand. A brand chosen by young professionals and the established set alike wearing beards or power dresses, built for agency meetings-by-week, and kayaking-by-weekend.
This wasn’t always true. Volvos used to be dependable but boxy, unsexy, affordable, pedestrian cars, normally thought of as station wagons when station wagons weren’t cool. The Volvo brand has elevated, arguably dramatically, over a fairly short time period –less than 15 years – in both stature and value.
Volvo is that kid. And if you think back now with a little more clarity, you’ll sort out that he possessed a focus on achievement, a tremendous depth of quality and character, a centred sense of practicality, and a kitschy sense of humour. Aren’t those the key elements of cool now? And isn’t that exactly what Volvo, the brand and company, has always possessed?
Volvo isn’t the only brand to have achieved a significant elevation by staying true to itself. Here are a few others:
Lee Valley Tools. Once the bastion of only the hardest of hard-core cabinet makers. Purveyors of fine – in some cases hand-made – tools, implements and works of craftsmanship. Found in a limited number of cities, pushed into industrial parks on the edge of town. Or worse, available by catalogue only. No more. Now Lee Valley has fancy downtown showrooms and a wider customer base, coupled with premium prices. It is a cool place to buy a friend a gift. The brand is spoken of or displayed with pride in homes of amateur craftsmen and non-handy folks alike.
Dickies. Clothing for workmen, who actually get dirty every day, right? Coveralls? Painting pants? A brand known only to the lunch pail set, to those who drive pick-up trucks for the practicality and not for the optics? That may have been true a few years ago. Now, not so much. I see Dickies sold in surf shops, and skate shops. Sold by tattooed, edgy haired hotties with face piercings to tattooed, edgy haired hotties with face piercings. I see shirts and backpacks proudly worn by masters and PhD students on their way to school. Wow.
TSC Stores. If you haven’t lived in or spent time in small town Canada (well, Ontario and Manitoba), the TSC brand may not be familiar. It is kind of like the Home Hardware for farmers and other country folk. The stores were once confined to strip malls and b-tier stand-alone locations. In small towns. That’s certainly not true any more. Private equity money and strong leadership have pushed the brand to where many drug mart chains have gone in recent years – strong retail outlets in bigger centres with a focus on in-store experience.
Feb. 8: How did these brands achieve significant elevation? Look for it on the Your Business home page.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark’s focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.