Four rules for maintaining iconic brands

By Gethin Tasker

HP sauce

In a constantly evolving and increasingly fickle market place why do some brands fail and what is the secret to remaining iconic, commanding loyalty and ensuring financial reward?

Iconic brands are symbolic. They represent something of our culture and way of life and are instantly recognisable in a crowd. They live at the forefront of our minds, continue to resonate with generations of consumers and play an enduring role in their everyday lives. Iconic brands behave like living beings, they have personality and attitude and can perform amazingly, but they also need care and respect to keep them healthy. Even icons can diminish and die if we fail to look after them properly.

We have a duty to preserve and maintain these brands, keeping them relevant to ensure their place on the supermarket shelves in the short and long term future, through adversity, recession, competition and social change.

Many successful brands have remained relevant by staying true to their heritage, reverently maintaining iconic design assets that have altered little over the decades.

Marmite has capitalised on its polarising product qualities. Love it or hate it, few brands boast fan clubs, websites and merchandise or expand their market to encourage more people to experience the cult of Marmite. Embracing numerous product innovations the brand marque and image have remained consistent to its origins and yet proved adaptable enough to support playful marketing campaigns.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup holds the honour of being Britain’s oldest brand. The distinctive Victorian design, celebrating the biblical fable of Samson and the lion, remains one of the most endearing ‘brand stories’ and has not significantly changed since its introduction in 1883. Like Marmite it has successfully extended into new contemporary formats but kept, at its heart, the original tin which remains an intrinsic part of the brand identity. Its next challenge is to find an appropriate place in our increasingly healthy, reduced sugar, diets.

Remaining iconic requires a continual reassessment of a brand’s heritage, its place in the contemporary market, and its ability to innovate in a brand appropriate way.

From icon to extinction...

Achieving iconic status does not guarantee invulnerability. Neglected, with no budget allocated for innovation or maintenance, many brands have diminished in stature and significance. Others have fallen victim to social change or competitive technologies rendering them less effective and out of favour with contemporary consumers.

A British table fixture for generations since 1864, Robertson’s jam has finally been laid to rest. Experiencing declining sales in a growing market it’s the victim of endless controversy surrounding its use of the Golly. Central to its brand, the continued use of this character has been at odds with changing attitudes and acceptance of racial stereotypes, however well intended and nostalgic. 

Male attitudes towards grooming have evolved considerably over the last thirty years. Faberge’s Brut ‘splashed on all over’ by Henry and Barry simply fails to connect with today's more sophisticated views about self confidence and attracting women and remains a slightly embarrassing reminder of the way we were, despite the fragrance being of good quality.

Recognising the threat to your brand...

Established brands need to continually respond to change and remain relevant to evolving consumer behavior and attitudes. Those that fail to evolve to deliver engaging benefits and experiences can find themselves isolated and struggling to maintain a loyal consumer base.

We’re witnessing the demise of the breakfast favourite HP Sauce. Several factors contribute to its inexorable decline but arguably the real problem is its failure to recruit new consumers growing up in the fast food world where the less complex taste of tomato ketchup reigns supreme as the choice for the younger generations.

Today cleaning brands talk less about hard work and more about convenience and speed. So when the values of the Vim brand are inextricably linked to the image of aching knees, scrubbing brushes, pails of water and an aggressive scouring powder then you know it’s potentially in for troubled times.

Reviving a brand back to iconic status

1) Your consumers. Look beyond the brand’s traditional consumer base and understand the current market and their fundamental needs and aspirations. They may not have changed much but they might shed light on how to effectively position your brand. At ECHO we create engaging portraits of the consumer and scenarios that bring their experiences and environments to life.

2) Your brand values. Really examine what your brand delivers and check whether its core values are still relevant and compelling to the new generation of consumers. We work with you to define and express a singular compelling universal need that resonates across all target consumers and connects back to the brand.

3) Your product attributes. Identify all the assets, values, memories and imagery from your brand’s history that can be resurrected or dialled up to recapture and communicate what the brand is all about. Functional or emotional reasons for being, unique product attributes, physical experiences. We then determine which elements are superfluous to the central brand idea and which are vital for its success.

4) Translate strategic thinking into tangible design. Typically, your design has to deliver on two separate levels, which will both be inextricably connected in execution. First, the design must aesthetically deliver the right messages about your brand. And the design must also provide an appropriate functional experience during use. If the function is engaging and incorporates pleasurable, tactile feedback into the use then you can start to create rituals and experiences that directly increase consumption, repurchase and product loyalty. 

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