The brands I admire most have a long-standing commitment to their core principles, the things the brand stands for in the mind of consumers. Whether you like the brand or not, you know what it stands for.
I suspect that one of the reasons brands tend to zig and zag so much is the impact of organizational dynamics, or the human desire to make a mark — what happens when a company changes its marketing agencies, swaps out Chief Marketing Officers, or lacks a brand steward… Because the new marketing leaders (or agency guys) want to show a difference in their work versus what was done by the prior team, those changes show up in brand expression or a lack of alignment between “brand DNA” and company behavior, or product functionality.
It’s hard to come up with a list of brands that have stayed true to their core essence. Apple and Ivory soap come to mind… Maybe Southwest Airlines.
Unfortunately, it’s easier to come up with a list of brands that have lost their way. Here are just a few of the once strong brands whose core promise has been diluted over time:
An odd assortment, I’d agree, but I can explain why, from my POV, these brands are no longer delivering on their essential brand promise.
Take BMW, for example. As someone who grew up loving the responsive power and nimble handling of the original 3‑series models, I find their current 3‑series sedans a far cry from the “ultimate driving experience” that BMW promises. Adjectives like heavy, sluggish, and slow to respond come to mind instead of “ultimate driving experience.”
Unlike BMW’s usual iconic designs, this model is hard to tell apart from other manufacturers’ sedans at a quick glance. To my eye it’s ungainly and heavy looking. (My perspective comes from long experience as an owner/driver of 3‑series models. My first 3‑series was the 1985 model, followed by the 1997, 2000, 2003 and now 2006 models.) To the extent that the BMW brand aspires to “badge status,” it’s painful to see what has happened to the 3‑series.
Ben & Jerry’s
Or take Ben & Jerry’s. I was lucky enough to be in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1980s when the founders of Ben & Jerry’s introduced their new “Cherry Garcia” flavor. The B&J founders showed up at the Congressional Office Building in rumpled tweed jackets, Birkenstocks — their “Vermont-urban” fashion sense — and down-home values. They proceeded to entertain the assembled senators and other politicos with an old-fashioned ice cream social. The ice cream tasted great, of course.
Now that their company has been acquired by a big corporate behemoth, the ice cream no longer tastes the same. Needless to say, the quirky personality attributes associated with the founders have largely disappeared, except in the humorous names given to the flavors.
I wonder if a percentage of the profits is still donated to charitable foundations? Somehow it’s hard to imagine that’s still the case…