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You Will Never Finish Building Your Brand

5820117025_68c680d784_mImagine you are Ford in the 1950s. Your Lincoln Continental luxury car is the pinnacle of success. Everyone who’s anyone drives your car – President Eisenhower, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra – they all flaunt your brand. Your brand has become synonymous with the beautiful people, with wealth, with success, with power.

From a marketer’s standpoint, this is about as good as it gets. The idea of someone simply thinking of your brand and envisioning exactly what you want your brand to mean is something marketers lust for. As a marketer, or as a President or CEO of Ford, you might have thought that your work was done. No more marketing needed. No more product enhancements needed either, in fact. Your brand is where every other brand wants to be. Nothing can take it down.

Fast forward to 2013. CBS Sunday Morning ran  a story this past weekend about how Lincoln is trying to reinvent itself after, as Edsel Ford II said, “We took our foot off the accelerator.” Ford was so confident and so reliant on the success of Lincoln that not much effort was made to update the brand. As we all know, however, time keeps on marching forward. People still respect the Lincoln name, but now it belongs to people who are of retirement age. It’s a car for people who have retired and are still well-off. It’s a relic of the past. It’s something to be admired in a wistful way while driving around in your Chevy, Camry or your Hyundai. It’s not a car you buy.

Ford has allegedly given a billion dollars to the development team to redesign Lincoln, to make it hip and more modern, and to reinvigorate the brand. In a lot of ways, it looks like they are really having to start from scratch.

A Brand is Like a Child

One of my favorite movies is the movie Parenthood, starring Steve Martin, Diane Weist, and a very young Joaquin Phoenix, among others. Jason Robards, who plays Steve Martin’s father, notes at one point that when you are raising a child, you are never, ever done. You think you’re done when they turn 18 or when they move out of your house, but you are ALWAYS their parent. You always have to care.

A brand is much the same way. There is never a point with your brand when you can say, “Well, our work here is done.” The reasons for this are numerous. Times change. Technology changes. The kinds of products and messages people like changes. Fashion changes. Business models change. People grow old, people are born, people grow up and enter the workforce. The ground on which your brand sits is always shifting. It is always being lapped at by the waves of the sea. If you decide that your brand has reached the pinnacle of success, those waves of time will just keep eroding the ground on which you brand sits until, like Lincoln, it tumbles into something looked back upon nostalgically as a good marketing lesson now passed.

A brand is never done growing, changing, evolving, or renewing itself. You are never done building it. If a marketer ever tells you that their work for you is done, you know the time has come to make changes, significant changes, in your marketing team.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenjonbro/5820117025/ via Creative Commons

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13 comments on “You Will Never Finish Building Your Brand

  1. Even old people change. Sometimes for the worse!

  2. How true! Cadillac went through this same branding crisis about 10 years ago, realizing they needed to reach people in their 50s rather than in their 70s. The result was Caddy commercials featuring Led Zeppelin music. Talk about cognitive dissonance! Hopefully Lincoln will find a less awkward way to upgrade its brand.

    • They mentioned Cadillac in the story. In fact, I think the guy who is now redesigning Lincoln worked on Caddies before he moved over. They asked him what he had thought about the Lincoln name when he was on the other team and he sort of shuffled by the question. Heh.

  3. Wonderful point Margie. I was thinking about something similar last night — great brand names from the past that are no longer so great, except in historical context. Westinghouse. Motorola. Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Saturn had a shot at greatness. Hostess. It’s like a field of broken dreams.

    It’s simply amazing how long Nike has stayed on top of its game. Since the late 80s, the only thing that’s changed has been “Who’s number 2?”

    Among all the other work, brands need to have an compelling essence or purpose or mantra, and tirelessly pursue it.

    • I think this is something a lot of social media practitioners miss, too. It’s easy to talk about storytelling (well, not easy, but it comes naturally). However, what happens when your story changes or when your audience wants to hear another story? You can never go on auto-pilot with these situations, or if you do, expect some potential negative ramifications.

  4. And like he house renovation. 🙂 never done.

  5. So true. Your brand is yours forever. As times change, so must your brand adapt and evolve. Great post Margie.

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