Viewpoint -- Staying Power

Some brands stand the test of time, while others gallop off into the land of Pintos.

A 30-something colleague and I were discussing old TV shows that don't seem so distant to us. For example, we remember watching The Price Is Right when contestants donned roller skates, and the width of Bob Barker's collar would have easily covered the contents of a malfunctioning bustier. When Alberto V05 and Ford Pinto's were fabulous gifts.

Watching old TV programs -- complete with original commercials -- reminds us that some brands have enormous staying power while others simply fade away. Some brands have found the fountain of youth, moving from generation to generation without much cosmetic work. What's their secret, and why do other brands fail?

According to Rob Frankel, author of "The Revenge of Brand X" (2000, Frankel & Anderson), there are several reasons why brands fail. It could be that the concept is strategically bankrupt. "There's no good creative without good strategy," writes Frankel. "And if you create your brand without thinking it through, don't start whining when it falls flat on its face."

Or it could be blamed on the "do-it-yourself disease." Branding is not as simple as choosing a logo, there are many nuances that need caressing. "Trying to develop your brand by yourself has about as high a success rate as removing your own appendix," says Frankel.

For those brands that do succeed, resting on laurels could be the kiss of death as well. "Once you create a great brand, you've got to keep nurturing it or it will eventually die," explains Frankel. "That doesn't mean sacrificing your brand equity for every fashion or fad that comes along. But it does mean that your brand's core values have to be able to respond consistently to changing market conditions and still remain intact."

One example Frankel gives is Kodak. "After dominating the world's imagery . . . Kodak's empire began crumbling in the late 1980s," writes Frankel. "Sitting back on their fat cash reserves, Kodak must have thought that the digital revolution was just a fluke. The same kind of thinking that dismissed Elvis and rock and roll as nothing more than a passing fad."

Another example is Timex. "There was a time when you would ask anyone in America -- maybe even the world -- which wristwatch was the most durable, quality timepiece. Without hesitation, the answer would be 'Timex,'" says Frankel. "Anyone who was breathing at that time can still remember the campy demonstrations Timex splattered all over the media in which Timex watches 'took a licking and kept on ticking.'"

According to Frankel, fashion-oriented watches were the cause of Timex's loss in market share.

But what about the brands that work? Those brands that seem like they can never lose?

Frankel lists his Top 10 Brands That Really Sing. Of those top 10, six are manufacturers:

  • Harley-Davidson There are some brands that have cultivated their allegiances so smartly as to actually incite violence at the thought of besmirching their good name. Harley-Davidson is such a brand.
  • Apple Computer Apple doesn't have a user base. They've got a cheering section. Like Harley-Davidson, Apple Computer was getting badly beaten in the marketplace. And just like Harley, it was Apple's diehard, brand-loyal fans that eventually came to their rescue.
  • Rolls Royce Without nearly as much mass advertising as most, Rolls Royce has managed to niche its way up to the top of our consciousness, to the point where anyone positioning themselves as the best in the business frequently refer to themselves as "the Rolls Royce of" whatever sector they happen to inhabit.
  • Craftsman Ask anyone -- especially anyone who doesn't know very much about tools - and they'll gladly tell you all about Craftsman. How professionals use them. And how you can return them if they ever break -- no matter how long ago you bought them.
  • DieHard . . . the DieHard battery is just about the only battery that has a brand image. . . . They even named it right. Think it's no big deal? Think about this: How many car batteries can you name?
  • Head & Shoulders Shampoo Yes, it's old. Yes, it's boring. And, yeah, it probably is one of the most heavily advertised hair-care products out there. But the beauty of Head & Shoulders shampoo is that it has one clearly articulated purpose in life: to help you get rid of your dandruff.

There are obviously myriad other brands out there that deserve a tip of the hat, and a place on The Price Is Right. For those brands, remember the path that Moxie soda took (before Coke and Pepsi, Moxie soda was the No. 1 cola maker in the country) and heed Frankel's advice: "Once you create a great brand, you've got to keep nurturing it or it will eventually die."

Traci Purdum is an associate editor at IndustryWeek. She is based in Cleveland.

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