Building a Brand with Staying Power
How Ford, ADT, Oreo, and IBM stay relevant in a challenging and dynamic era of marketing
By Chuck Kapelke
The past two decades have seen a dramatic shakeup in business, as the digital revolution created new opportunities — and new challenges — for brands of all kinds. Longstanding stalwarts like Blockbuster Video, Woolworth's, and Nokia faded away as new disruptor brands like Tesla, Netflix, Dollar Shave Club, and Airbnb rewrote the rulebooks.
While some established brands were too slow to adapt, a select group of companies — including some of the oldest, most iconic brands in America — have not only survived the dawn of digital, but have come out stronger than ever. From Ford and ADT to Oreo and IBM, these brands have managed to use the vast array of channels available to remain relevant and contemporary, even as the world around them has changed.
"Staying relevant is a continual battle, because in most industries you have challengers jumping in and questioning the status quo," says Dipanjan Chatterjee, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "A traditional brand cannot afford to rest on its laurels. In fact, they may be perceived to be somewhat slow-moving and lethargic, as people tend to ascribe creative momentum and greater novelty to new challenger brands. It is critically important to continually evaluate the customer experience that you're providing and make sure that you don't open up the opportunity for challengers to come in and question your business model."
Even the oldest, most established brands can (and must) learn new tricks to survive in the modern era of marketing. ANA spoke with marketing leaders from four enduring companies about how brands can keep things fresh today — and into the future.
Ford Motor Company
With a TV spot aired at this year's Super Bowl, the 114-year-old Ford Motor Co. sent a clear message to the world that it intends to remain a player for years to come. The ad showed people stuck in different ways being liberated with the help of various Ford products and innovations, including ride-sharing and bike-sharing services that the company is launching.
"We have really been focusing on broadening our efforts beyond just being a company that makes cars, utilities, and trucks to another area we call 'mobility,'" explains Dave Rivers, manager of U.S. marketing content at Ford. "Congestion can be a huge pain, and Ford is at the forefront of trying to solve for that … through ingenuity, which is one of our core values as a company."
Through its marketing, Ford is aggressively challenging the perception that its vehicles are fossil-fuel dinosaurs. For example, the company sponsors a yoga and mind-body wellness series at Wanderlust events. At these, it hosts a marketing pavilion called the Zen Den, where visitors can learn about Ford's range of cars and SUVs, including its electric vehicles, and sustainable practices. "We change people's opinions of the brand overnight, and it's another route into their heart and mind as a brand that embodies values that may be similar to their own values," Rivers says. "We're getting awareness down to the grassroots level."
Key Takeaway: Ford stays young by defying expectations and being responsive to consumers' expectations, while also retaining a connection to traditional core values instilled by Henry Ford himself. "Stay true to your brand, but constantly be innovating," Rivers says. "Find the white space — that area that others aren't necessarily inhabiting. We use trial and error a lot, and we do that because we want to learn."
With the advent of smart homes and the Internet of Things, the home security industry should be ripe for digital disruption, but Boca Raton, Fla.–based ADT, a company founded in 1874 as a telegraph company, has built its business on adapting to emerging technology.
"The category has changed a lot," says Tana Barton Haas, who recently left her position as VP of channel and product marketing at ADT, reflecting back on just the past half-decade. "New entrants cause you to rethink who you are as a brand. As consumers have gotten more educated, that has required us to rethink where we want to play — and how a changing consumer perception impacts us."
Rather than "wait and see," the company has been proactive in embracing new technologies. "We were first to market with the new smart home/security combination solution in 2010, which allowed us to shape some of the story around it initially," Barton Haas says. "It gave us more control over our own destiny."
Instead of trying to fend off popular new technologies like Amazon Alexa, Ring Video Doorbell, and Nest smart devices, ADT has forged partnerships with those companies. "If you think of us as the staid ADT, you wouldn't expect that we're working with those very tech-forward brands that everyone knows," Barton Haas says. "That helps keep us current and gets us into conversations with other customer groups that otherwise might not have originally thought about ADT."
Key Takeaway: ADT's internal practices help its marketers work in close collaboration as they focus on the customer experience. The company has set up cross-functional virtual teams that bring together people from different functions and business lines. "It's about thinking holistically," Barton Haas says. "That's made a big difference in terms of cross-pollination of ideas, and also left and right hands understanding what the other is doing."
The Oreo cookie brand is more than a century old, but the brand still seems as fresh and modern as any on the market. The key to Oreo's youthful spirit is a strong core concept — the "twist, lick, and dunk" ritual, which can be stretched in countless directions. "It's a universal idea that has remained a key part of our DNA as we've expanded," explains Justin Parnell, global director of Oreo at Mondelēz International.
This year, Oreo's team took the ritual in a new direction with the "Oreo Dunk Challenge," a global promotion that extended across 50 countries. The company hired celebs Shaquille O'Neal, Christina Aguilera, and Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. to promote the challenge through in-store displays, product packaging, and spots for TV and social media. The brand also tapped online stars like Dude Perfect, a team famous on YouTube for amazing trick shots, to dunk cookies in dramatic fashion (a recent Oreo-sponsored clip of Dude Perfect, below, has been viewed more than 43 million times as of this writing).
Oreo also created a Snapchat filter that let consumers create their own dunks and share with friends, and they launched an app that allows users to scan a cookie and "flip it" into space, where it is tracked by Google's technology before landing in a glass of milk somewhere on the planet.
Meanwhile, Oreo's product team has come up with countless variations to suit the tastes of consumers in local markets. Cookie-buyers in China can eat Oreo cookies flavored with green tea while Americans can indulge in red velvet-, birthday cake-, or Peeps-flavored Oreos. "Product innovation has been a key growth driver for us," Parnell says. "Flavors have been a way that we continue to surprise consumers and keep the brand more inventive and playful. They garner a lot of consumer and PR buzz, and they help keep our brand top of mind and relevant."
Key Takeaway: Initiatives like Oreo's Dunk Challenge travel well through social media, but it takes a bold creative strategy to make it happen. "We talk about marketing that's 'sticky,' experiences that you can't help but remember and that continue to elevate the brand experience," Parnell says. "It's important to experiment with new media opportunities and take risks. Not everything will work, but some things will work beautifully."
When it comes to high fashion, IBM is not the first company that comes to mind. But last year the tech company generated buzz by partnering with fashion designer Marchesa to design a "cognitive dress" for the 2016 Met Gala and the event's "Man X Machina" theme.
"The dress used Watson APIs to select the color palettes and fabric, and it had lights on it that changed based on what people were tweeting about the event," explains Ann Rubin, VP of branded content and global creative at IBM. "It was modern and different and unique for us to be at the Met Gala. Those kinds of things make you think differently about IBM, yet at the core it's about technology — about man and machine working together."
IBM is a model of how a company can redefine its brand to adapt to a changing marketplace. Once known primarily for selling mainframe computers, the company today bills itself as a "cognitive solutions and cloud platform company" with expertise in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.
IBM smartly partnered in sponsoring the promotion of the surprise hit film Hidden Figures, and it reached out to new audiences through sponsorships with companies like Daybreaker, a company that holds 6 a.m. workout parties. "We did an event where everything was powered by Watson," Rubin says.
"You're not going to stay fresh and relevant if you don't evolve with the changing media landscape."
— Ann Rubin, VP of branded content and global creative at IBM
As with all innovative brands, risk-taking is key to IBM's strategy. "You're not going to stay fresh and relevant if you don't evolve with the changing media landscape," Rubin says. "You have to go to your audience and be relevant and contextual and compelling and newsworthy and provide utility. Give them something they can't get from anyone else. Enable them to experience your brand in new ways. What keeps you new and fresh is taking risks and trying new things."
Key Takeaway: IBM's marketers avoid the pitfall of losing their core identity by applying a filter to ensure that all creative ideas are true to the brand. "There are about 10 filters that we use," Rubin says. "How does this relate to business today? How does it get people to understand Watson and cognitive? There is no shortage of ideas with our amazing agency partners. You need a construct to say, this passes muster, this doesn't. Everything goes through a discussion process."
Image credits: Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.; Karolina Kurkova, Ovidiu Hrubaru/Shutterstock.com
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