The 5 Goals of Epic Brands

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On a long enough timeline, an extraordinary communications plan will reveal itself in the form of a brand that has risen above its competitors to take over the marketplace. Another year is about to be written into the history books and it’s time to think about what your brand’s legacy has been if you haven’t done so already. History has shown us many examples of how stellar corporate identities have been built, and when you think about the biggest brands in the world it’s fun to think about the lessons that can be derived from examining their stories. These companies have many desirable things in common that industry leaders can learn from. Profitability, yes, but they’re also epic in the sense of having a storied and remarkable impact on their respective industries.

Financial news blog 24/7 Wall Street wrote an interesting retrospective of the world’s oldest logos still in use, which is a great resource for observing interesting examples and drawing conclusions about what some of the best brands of all time have going for them in the public relations department. Here are 5 common strengths that appear often in their stories:

1) Earn recognition

Recognition is often a benefit bestowed on the first. Just ask Ferdinand Magellan, Neil Armstrong and the Wright brothers. One great historical example is Bass Ale, which was the very first registered trademark ever issued by the British government. The brewery has stood the test of time, earning the sort of recognition that comes with longevity: it has been fought over by Napoleon, featured by the painter Edouard Manet and again by James Joyce in his novel Ulysses, and noted in reports of the Titanic, which was carrying 12,000 bottles of Bass in its hold when it sank.

Great branding is also often a big part of what merits recognition that stand the test of time, as in the case of another European brewery, Stella Artois. Borrowing from the Latin for “star”, Stella began with a Christmas Star brew that launched what has become the best-selling Belgian beer in the world. The famous horn that tops their red and gold logo, which was originally designed in 1366, is the instrument historically used to call road-weary travelers inside at dinner time. Their calling card for enjoying a cold one still works, as their parent company is worth over $40B these days. Both of these examples draw on popularity and a history of quality service to the marketplace.

2) Establish leadership

At a time when global food culture has produced literally hundreds of varieties of tomato sauce, the ubiquitous tomato condiment is nearly singular in Heinz ketchup which maintains leading market share in more than 50 countries worldwide. All of this dominance from a young Henry Heinz who used vegetables from his mother’s garden to bottle horseradish for sale. It took him ten years in business before he introduced his version of ketchup to the American consumer. They now supply more than 5,700 products worldwide and were recently purchased by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $28 billion. The original logo remains unchanged.

The recognizable stamp of a logo is quite often the meaningful commitment to quality from a company’s founders that differentiate it from others on the shelf.  Johnson & Johnson, founded in 1886, was the first company in the U.S. to mass-produce sterile bandages. At a time when a great bandage was the difference between risking infection and healing safely, the cursive signature of the founder was his promise of safety that led them to become leaders in their respective product category and extend to the many more goods they offer today’s consumers.

3) Maximize audience exposure

Shell Oil is a global powerhouse by any standard, but their lesser known roots are a fantastic example of maximizing efficiency. Founded in 1833, Marcus Samuel and Company began shipping kerosene to India and picking up seashells on the return trip for sale in London. It’s hard to believe by today’s commodity values, but at the time the sale of shells was actually the more profitable half of the trip. In 1907, Shell merged with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, retaining the logo that tells the story of their coastal profit source. Perhaps because they were the kind of company that took the opportunity to expand their potential, they remain one of the world’s largest energy companies with a market value of nearly $260 billion.

Facing the expiration of its exclusive patent in 1886, Levi Strauss & Co. first established its logo as a way to retain its market share for denim jeans. The logo became so widespread that early customers would often ask for pants with the “two horses” and they actually used the name “The Two Horse Brand’ until 1928, when Levi Strauss officially trademarked the Levi’s name. If they hadn’t taken the steps towards a more recognizable image, they would have likely missed out on the last century among the leaders of the clothing industry.

4) Build credibility

On top of a company’s exposure to a reliable client base, projecting a credible reputation is integral. Financial company Prudential, founded in 1875 as the Prudential Friendly Society, realized that they needed to project a stronger message to the American public for that very reason. They created a new image showcasing the rock of Gibraltar, which must have done the trick considering their revenue of $41.5 billion at the end of last year.

Building upon expertise and reputation is the growth strategy of many companies including Peugeot. They capitalized on their credibility in the steel commodities to transition into a bicycle manufacturer, and then automobiles when they became popular at the turn of the century. They’re still evolving, celebrating their 125th anniversary this year with a social media contest, which is more than you might expect from any other steel company.

As Gizmodo pointed out in a recent branding article, unique marks used by merchants for quality tracking were a kind of precursor to the modern logo put in place to associate credibility with a specific symbol.

5) Promote expertise

Sherwin-Williams knew more about paint than most people would ever want to know, which almost makes their audacious “cover the world” motto seem appropriate. They parlayed their expertise in manufacturing quality paint to engineering and patenting new can styles, creating a distribution model and setting up thousands of retail locations. They’re a great example of how audacity pays off if you know enough about what you’re selling.

Another fine example is the story of Thomas Twining, who knew tea and focused his company on the drink at a time when coffee, gin and beer were all more popular breakfast drinks in England. Twinings Tea has benefited from his investment and longevity as a leading tea brand, which remains family-owned after 10 generations. Their expertise has extended to manufacturing for new lifestyles and brewing formats as well. According to recent reports, their customers drink 7 billion cups a year including an evolving line of K-cups.

A big part of setting a communications plan for any company is realizing that the brand’s long term value is not in its day to day service but in its reputation and visibility. That is often where the competition is bested and the clients are won. In 2015, ensure that your corporate communication is focused on these top five goals: earning recognition, establishing leadership, maximizing audience exposure, building credibility and promoting your subject matter expertise. Putting the tactics in place to help you achieve those objectives will guarantee you and your team a happy new year.

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Eric Lachs is the Director of Client Relations at Marketing Matters (www.marketingmatters.net), a communications and design firm specializing in technology, consumer and custom electronics, audio-video and related industries.