After running the Begin your own tradition campaign for 13 years, Patek Philippe launched their new global campaign titled Generations in 2013. The single common underlying theme between both campaigns is the iconic slogan “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”, which has kept its allure and impact for more than 20 years. It is the Just Do It of the luxury watch world.

In an article covering the search, selection and appointment of an agency for the campaign, Tom Delaney of London’s Leagas Delaney (who won the pitch and came up with the iconic slogan) explained the research, analysis, observations and thinking that went behind the creation of it. In sum, the magic moment of creativity was to create a campaign that showcased the joy and privilege of owning a product, and not focusing on the product in itself.

This portrayal of a strong emotional bond of owning and looking after a Patek Philippe continues to have a strong resonance with the brand’s target customers. The longevity and success of this global campaign (which is predominantly driven by print advertising) is a prime example of resilience achieved through a meaningfully different creative message that has long term appeal.

But resilience can be broken, and especially when the cause (in this case a brand) it is driving becomes irrelevant. In the case of Absolut Vodka, after more than 1500 print ads of the iconic bottle, the resilience was broken as the brand lost its premium status and image and became a mainstream vodka brand. Hence resilience of advertising messages is susceptible to the product’s competitive advantage and distinctiveness. The advertising message can have a strong appeal but the brand that it is trying to sell may lose its appeal, leading to irrelevance.

In this video (a beautiful 28 min watch), Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy talks about how and why W+K has remained independent till now and will do so for ever. Resilience, according to Dan Wieden, is about creating a culture that is so sticky that it becomes heart wrenching for people to leave the agency.

In these examples, I have attempted to explore resilience from three different angles…

  • Having the ability to build it
  • It’s vulnerability, and
  • Creating an organisational culture that strengthens it

The overarching theme of these three examples is resilience in brand building, whether it is an iconic luxury watch brand or a fiercely independent creative agency or a famous alcohol brand that lost its mojo.

It has been a long standing argument between brand builders and advertising folks on whether a brand influences its advertising or advertising influences a brand. For a moment, if we were to assume that it is a complete cycle that sustains itself, then resilience in brand building is strongly determined by the resilience of its advertising themes.

On the same note, resilience of an organisation is completely dependent on the resilience of its values, core purpose of coming into existence, how employees live and deliver on those values and its future strategy. Many organisations have attempted to showcase resilience in their existence through focused advertising campaigns.

In 2013, Bacardi launched a campaign titled “Untameable since 1862” showcasing the organisation’s (and the brand’s) resilience in surviving through earthquakes, fires, prohibition and eviction from countries.

In the world of brands, the word ‘resilience’ has some in-built bias. Resilience does not mean that a brand needs to have a 100 years plus history or that it needs to have a rich and complex legacy that needs to be protected at all costs. Resilience is about having a strong belief and having the ability to stick to a plan of action. Resilience can have the following characteristics when it comes to brand building:

Developing a defining set of perceptions over time

A product always has some ‘unique’ and some ‘overlapping characteristics. Developing a superior set of perceptions through a brand needs time, consistency and discipline
Developing a distinct visual identity

As consumers we tend to believe what we see. Visual interaction with brands is a critical mode of engagement when it comes to building strong brands. Even in a world where brand engagement has now moved to screens, having a consistent visual identity is one of the core tenets of strong brands. Designing, implementing and maintaining a strong and distinct visual identity requires resilience. The best designs are the ones that are ephemeral

Establishing a brand on a spectrum from mainstream to luxury

Emotional drivers of brand purchase have slowly started to overpower functional drivers as brands are increasingly being bought based on a set of experiences they provide (or enhance). Depending on the uniqueness of the experience, which a consumer can experience even before the actual purchase, combined with elements of exclusivity, legacy, premium nature of ingredients and sheer positioning, brands try to position themselves on a mainstream vs. luxury spectrum. This journey to attain luxury status or becoming differentiated in crowded mainstream categories requires resilience.

Decoding and articulating a brand’s purpose and sticking to it

Purpose is the reason a brand comes to life or is a set of reasons that are behind the refreshment of a brand’s positioning in a category. It is important for brand builders to realise that there is no shame in not having a purpose — brands are many a times born out of impulse or a glimpse of a sudden unfulfilled need or a copycat innovation that works or a category that has room for more. But regardless of that a strong brand needs to stand for something — whether we want to call it purpose or values or a manifesto or ideals it doesn’t matter. We can collectively call them a set of beliefs. Brands need to stick to a set of beliefs and that requires resilience.

Maintaining a high level of customer service

Some brands believe in customer service as their lifeblood, some brands do it as an afterthought, some brands fail to acknowledge the importance of it and some brands meaningfully strive to attain excellence in it. Striving towards a high level of customer service requires resilience, and in today’s world a strong dose of it. Social media magnifies customer service errors, global public relations disasters can happen due to a single tweet or Facebook post, networks magnify and multiply the impact of a single customer service error, sizeable amount of backlash can happen from isolated incidents etc. This doesn’t mean that brands need to be on the back foot when it comes to customer service. Resilience is a trait that signifies progression and development, and not stubbornness and a path to irrelevance.

Any brand can adopt resilience as a virtue in its lifecycle. Before a brand becomes a 100 year old icon, it becomes a 1 year old upstart, a 5 year old trendsetter, a 10 year old category leader and a 20 year old category definer. Resilience is needed at each and every stage of the brand development lifecycle — it is required when a brand decides on its creative positioning, or when it expands distribution, or when it adopts a multichannel strategy or when it writes down and codifies it beliefs or when it decides how it wants to see itself in 10 years time.

Resilience sometimes starts with humility and the willingness to accept mistakes. In Mobile World Congress 2017, Samsung started its speech about its future with an honest acceptance of its faults and thanking investors, shareholders and customers for their continued support, which is a testament to the resilience of the Samsung brand.

After its official launch, the Galaxy S8 broke pre-order records, which indicated that consumers were willing to move forward from the Note 7 debacle. This is a sign of a resilient Samsung brand, when it comes to the world of smartphones.

Resilience is sometimes exemplified through silent endeavours, which do not catch the attention of the media and are never talked about. In the mad bad world of food, where new tastes and flavours take birth and die within a matter of months, a hot sauce brand called Sriracha has stood the test of time. Manufactured by a California based company called Huy Fong Foods, setup by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran 33 years ago, Sriracha has maintained its category defining status. The success of Sriracha brings out another dimension of resilience — creating a brand to fulfill a need that has everlasting value and ensuring that the brand continues to fulfill evolutions of the need.

In a 2009 article, The Guardian covered the fascinating story of the longest running print campaign in the world — an ad to generate enrolment for an English speaking and writing correspondence course run out of Bowden Hall College in Cheshire.

The success of lesser talked about brands like Sriracha and the Practical English Programme (the course advertised through the print campaign above) highlights the fact that resilient brands can be built by offering practical solutions to problems. These solutions in turn need to have everlasting value — for example Sriracha solves the need and longing to have hot sauce as a condiment (which is a global business) and Practical English Programme solves the need for better English speaking and writing (an indefectible need till the time the English language disappears). But it is important to keep in mind the fact that resilience demands functional solutions to be the best.

Building and raising up a resilience brand is akin to constantly practicing to master a new skill. The naysayers of this approach would say that it means doing the same thing over and over again, which makes your brand boring, uncool and irrelevant. Resilient brands treat such adjectives through a two-pronged strategy: Transforming the product and underlying benefits of the brand to make sense in a transforming world and ignoring the fads that drive the use of adjectives like “cool”, “happening” and “in vogue” in the marketing and branding world.

Is your brand resilient just because it has been around for 20 years? The surprising answer to that is no. Remaining a player in a category does not equate to resilience. Resilience is a forward moving and evolutionary ethos. Build steel into your brand as you grow it, but based on principles that you have the courage to hold on to.

by Sandeep Das on January 9, 2018

Strategy Consultant, Implementation Expert, Branding Enthusiast, Writer

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