Ad Exec: Walking the tight-rope between heritage & modernity
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) Brands and businesses don’t always operate at the same speed, and decisions made for one inevitably impact on the other.
Perhaps you started as a craft brand, operating on passion and purpose, intent on changing the category, intent on changing the world. Then, one day, an opportunity knocked, you answered and your product range is now as wide as it is tall. You’re on every street corner, you’ve catered for varying needs and you’re championing the market.
Eventually, as it always does, a competitor will emerge, born of the same cloth but different in the now: more agile, more relevant, with fewer products and selective distribution. Your customers take notice and, before you know it, your leadership is under threat.
Evolving the brand
The choice to scale a product range or a route to market, to cater for varying tastes, or to spawn sub-brands, are all common ones that are presented to a business as it grows.
The brand will, no doubt, need to stretch to cover these new initiatives; however, in doing so, the authentic uniqueness inherent within it must be handled with kid-gloves. So many brands have lost their shine because they’ve become ‘too’ accessible, their products too mainstream, their vision too muddled.
Searching for relevance
In these trying times, when economic uncertainty has tightened purse strings, the attraction of ‘quick wins’ to clear stock, or short-term planning which fails to reflect the sensitivity of the brand, may result in an unknowing change in direction.
At risk, particularly, are products that rely on social acceptability and popularity to drive volume, as they chase a changing market, continually striving for relevance with the emerging-consumer set. What may be intended as an innovation may either strike a chord or be dismissed as a gimmick, eroding brand magnetism in the process.
Heritage in the now
Luxury brands, among them jewellers and car makers, have perfected the art of harnessing the purity of their heritage while incorporating language and design that speaks to the now, attracting cult-like devotees. The secret lies in balanced ambition and restraint, heritage and modernity.
Perhaps the fragility of luxury brands points their custodians toward being more-discerning in the pace and approach to growth but, even further afield, there are lessons to be learnt from products that have stood the test of time and still lead the market today.
Time will tell
The years can be a cruel mistress. Hindsight will tell you where you went wrong, where you lost touch, but foresight will enable you to walk a path of clarity that enables enduring brand vitality over even hundreds of years.
We live in times of unprecedented change, challenge and opportunity. The resilience of brands will be tested, and temptation will present itself time and again. Just as one should balance heritage with the multitude of opportunities presented by the modern economy, so, too, should brand owners have a discerning view of risk and reward. In the end, time will tell whether the decisions made were the right ones.
With a history of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the marketing ecosystem. His skills are now put to work daily as chief executive of digital technology and performance-marketing business, Nurun (www.nurun.com). He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.