What makes some brands last so long?

Recently our team got into a debate about the relative value of a brand’s heritage. Some believed the longevity and endurance of a brand brought intrinsic and positive value; others argued that a brand with a long and storied history might have overstayed its welcome in a modern market filled with innovation.

We happened to be discussing thermostats, of all things. In one corner we had Honeywell. Mark Honeywell invented the home thermometer in 1906 and for over a century you really couldn’t walk into any home without seeing a Honeywell thermostat hiding in plain sight on a living room wall. It would be impossible to argue that Honeywell wasn’t a strong and enduring brand, and that the Honeywell name, specifically, brought value. 

In the other corner, we had Nest. In 2010 Tony Fadell decided that current thermostats were simply inadequate and he became super motivated to bring a better product to market. A year later the Nest Learning Thermostat was introduced.

Today if you put two thermostats down in front of a homeowner and ask them to choose one – would they choose Honeywell because it is a strong and enduring brand with a 100+ year history? Or would they choose Nest because it is a modern brand that helped reimagine all that a thermostat can do?

Of course times change and brands do too, so how does one become, and stay, enduring? I read an article a couple years back that said enduring brands have five things in common:

  1. Provide a consistent customer experience over time
  2. Respect and protect the heritage of the brand
  3. Conduct research consistently among customers
  4. Have a tactile component – from the roar of a Harley Davidson engine to the shape and feel of a Coke bottle, most enduring brands combine visual with other senses
  5. Have the confidence to charge slightly more

I would add a 6th thing to this list: enduring brands need to adapt with the times. Two years back Harley Davidson successfully introduced its first electric motorcycle. Five years ago if any Harley employee who even uttered the notion of an electric engine they might have been shot (I am only slightly joking). But today the new motorcycle is turning heads and even played a starring role in Ewan McGregor’s movie “Long Way Up”, where he and a friend traveled from the tip of South America to Los Angeles on electric Harleys.

As a brand steward for many Fortune 100 companies over the last 30 years, it is safe to say that the teams I work on treat enduring brands with reverence while doing our best to adapt them with the times. Unfortunately, not all new brands are met with enthusiasm. The world just wasn’t ready for recycled Scott bath tissue (toilet paper) 25 years ago. Oh well…perhaps we were just ahead of our times.

Have an enduring brand that needs some new life, or a new brand looking to become an enduring one? Drop us a line at connect@shiny.agency – we’d love to help.