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The 'Curse' of the Icon Brand. 10 tips on how to stay relevant without letting go of the past.

Updated: May 6, 2019

Managing an icon brand is a great privilege as a marketer. Being the caretaker of a brand that is woven into the fabric of a consumer’s life or a country’s heritage is quite an honour and a responsibility.

However, it is not all rose-coloured glasses looking after a brand that everyone loves. Just because consumers love the brand does not guarantee they will always buy it over other competitors.

Evolving an icon brand to suit the changing needs of today’s consumers or to be more competitive in today’s dynamic marketplace is tough. Setting the icon brand up for the future without letting go of the past is a challenge that many marketers face.

Consumers usually have very tightly held perception of what an icon brand can and can’t do. The brand usually means something very specific to them. One question I have had to tackle personally….can a Tim Tam ever be more than a chocolate biscuit with its irresistible combination of chocolate, cream, and biscuit? Or could Vegemite ever be more than a strange-tasting but much-loved spread?

Pushing a brand too far out of consumers comfort zone in the pursuit of short-term growth and commercial benefits can be damaging to a much more valuable asset…..the long term brand equity.

But equally, not evolving your brand for today’s world is just as dangerous. Think of those many icon brands who have faded into obscurity because they didn’t innovate for the future. Yes, we are talking about you (again) Kodak, Blockbuster & Borders.

How do you ensure the brand remains an icon for future years, without damaging what made it an icon in the first place?

Here are 10 possible strategies you could employ to evolve your icon brand.

1. Leveraging one of your core brand values to enter new categories.

Lifting something your brand is famous for and using it as a platform for innovation and entry into adjacent categories is the most prevalent strategy used to evolve icon brands. Volvo is synonymous with road safety, which was the inspiration behind LifePaint, a reflective spray to keep bike riders & pedestrians safe on the road.

Source: Volvo

2. Think of innovation as more than just product-driven.

If your icon brand is so entrenched in its product format try looking at potential new occasions or emotional platforms as a way to get consumers to reassess your brand for today and buy more often. Berocca, the energy tablet had success by moving its key consumption occasion away from a hangover cure to prepping for a big day ahead, in response to our increasingly busy lives.

3. Celebrate time-honoured rituals in a modern, relevant way.

Icon brands often have strong but latent love because of the memories attached to rituals or special occasions that brands used to be consumed in. These rituals take years to create and are equity that new brands would kill for….so celebrate it! Arnott's Tim Tam recently bought back the Tim Tam Slam and gave the power to the people to share their version of the Tim Tam Slam. (side note - we LOVE Celeste Barber)

4. Charm people with your personality.

Brand Personality is the oft-forgotten strategic pillar to keep brands relevant and distinctive. When you have been around for a while with a solid reputation, you earn a license to be a bit more confident & poke fun at yourself. A famous example is the Old Spice revival with Smell Like a Man. Streets Icecream did an impressive job with some exceptional copy-writing and tongue-in-cheek humour on some of their heritage Australian ice-cream brands.

5. Be so absolutely unapologetic about what you are good at....and what you are not.

Celebrate what has made your brand an icon. Even celebrate your flaws. When you love something enough, you can accept its flaws and find it quite endearing. Marmite Love it or Hate it is the obvious example here, but more recently Carlsberg have taken a very interesting approach to this strategy. You have to love their confidence & honesty but lets see how it plays out.

6. Hand your brand to your devoted consumers.

Allow them to make their mark on the brand. The Superbowl is one of the worlds most talked about advertising events. So what better way to celebrate your brand's special role in your consumer's lives than handing them the responsibility to create the ad that will cost you millions of dollars in placement. Dorito's long-running Crash the Superbowl competition has ran for 10 years, but here is my favourite (Side note: Biased view. I have owned two adorable Pug dogs)

7. Support a social cause, charity or community event

But make sure it is one that is intrinsically linked to your existing brand equities. Sanitarium has created a hugely successful brand asset in the Weet-Bix Tryathalon. This event strengthens the brand's long-held equity in the ‘Aussie Kids are Weet-Bix Kids’ slogan, the physical energy benefit and emotional support the brand has long given kids to go and try their best at sport. The participatory event provides the brand with a direct connection with their consumer, building relevance & relationships.

Source: Sanitarium

8. Help consumers celebrate special occasions.

Bring the warm nostalgic feelings of an occasion & attach them to the brand. Both Cadbury & Hallmark have leveraged technology to enable their brands to take a more personalised role in celebrating these occasions

9. Content Marketing, Licensing or collaborations

Building a relationship with people or other brands that have the relevance and modernity you are seeking is a popular strategy but make sure the partnership is a good match and leverages some existing brand equities so it looks authentic. Lego have been the leader in this strategy first with The Lego Movies and now with Lego masters, the reality show. Leveraging their equity in colour, Crayola launched a range of crayon-based cosmetics with ASOS.

10. Bring back the good old jingle and celebrate the good ole days

If you are managing a heritage or icon brand that you think needs evolving, get in touch. We’d love to help. Our brand proposition experts can help you define the core values your brand needs to retain, identify the attributes it needs to evolve and guide you when writing the plan to get you there.

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