What Makes an Enduring Brand?

July 28, 2015

There are many wonderful examples of marketing successes. Below, we examine five of the most enduring brands to see what lessons we can learn and put to use in our own businesses.

Tiffany: The blue box. Perhaps no other box has created more excitement and delight than the iconic Tiffany blue box with the white ribbon. According to the Tiffany Co. website, Charles Lewis Tiffany mandated that the coveted boxes could only be acquired with a Tiffany purchase. As reported by the New York Sun in 1906, “Tiffany has one thing in stock that you cannot buy of him for as much money as you may offer, he will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes.” The brand lesson is exclusive packaging tied to a powerful experience. Tiffany blue boxes epitomize Tiffany’s great heritage of elegance, exclusivity and flawless craftsmanship.

The Coca-Cola Co.: The contoured-shaped bottle. The bottle is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. This proves a point that not all enduring brands are about packaging an expensive experience. As my associate, Russ Napolitano, said in a recent blog on the subject, “What foresight the marketers and packaging engineers and designers had in creating such a bottle and to have it patented no less.”

Burberry: The classic check pattern. How does a coat lining become an enduring brand? This one is as interesting as it is puzzling. It is simply a fabric design — of a woven Scottish cashmere. When did it transcend from a coat lining to a design icon representing simple quality? First, it was distinctive and yet understated. As a trench coat lining it wasn’t highly visible, yet you always knew it was an original if you could get a glimpse of the lining. It has stayed consistent over time. Then, when it was applied to products such as scarves, umbrellas and purses it arrived as a standalone classic.

Cadillac: Reinventing luxury while reintroducing quality. The Cadillac brand has been under pressure for decades by the highly engineered German luxury imports. With so many luxury cars sold in the United States, why couldn’t America make a luxury car worthy of competing on the global stage? In recent years it has. The Cadillac brand has made a comeback starting around 2000. It began with a recommitment to design, quality and performance. Today’s Cadillac is well-engineered and fun to drive. It is comfortable without being the flying sofa of less spirited decades.

Harley-Davidson: A reinvented icon. The Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle, it’s part of a cultural experience. Left for dead as brand in the 1970s, the company was bought back from a holding company in 1981 by a group of diehard enthusiast investors who believed the brand could roar back to become one of America’s great companies again. The new management team reintroduced a retro design of earlier models while recommitting to high quality manufacturing. It worked, and customers returned.

Today, Harley-Davidson maintains a consistently well-managed brand from the sound of its engine, to the logo, to the culture. The company enjoys a huge brand following, which it nurtures carefully through clubs, events and even museums. This perpetuates licensing opportunities and significant revenue.

Were these brands originally developed to become enduring brands? Not always. Sometimes longevity itself is the reason they have become powerful: stick around long enough and you’ll have a following. The trick to harvesting the value of an enduring brand is careful management.

Managing brands for endurance – Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO – Provide a consistent customer experience over time
  • DON’T – Be all things to all people – focus on the customer experience
  • DO – Respect and protect the heritage of your brand
  • DON’T – Be afraid to refresh and reinvigorate brands that have lost momentum
  • DO – Conduct research consistently among your customers
  • DON’T – Over license your brand – it is a quick way to kill exclusivity
  • DO – Have a tactile component to your brand experience – from the Harley roar to the Coke bottle shape, most enduring brands combine visual with other senses
  • DON’T – Use endorsements without thinking through the consequences of failure
  • DO – Feel confident about charging slightly more for enduring brands
  • DON’T – Discount. It is one of the quickest ways to kill a premium brand.

A brand becomes a candidate for endurance when customers’ experience with the product transcends their expectations. Enduring brands provide not only a reliable experience, but also an aura of expectation beyond functionality. What is your favorite enduring brand? What are the qualities that make it stand the test of time?

This article was originally published in the Business Observer.

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