I admit I love talking about Uber, AirBnB, Alibaba, FlipBoard, Tesla, Buzzcar, Bitcoin, Trunk Club, Warby Parker, Lyst and the rest of the up-and-comers as much as the next guy. These new brands are handily stealing headlines and mindshare from traditional—and often old— disintermediated business models. They have been able to create a powerful vision and purpose, exploit relevant societal and consumer trends and deliver on-brand experiences. This is due in large part to the fact that they are starting from scratch and inventing on the fly with relevant product, service and experience offerings.
However, something else has snatched my attention recently. In the past few weeks, several more established players stepped up to reclaim the spotlight. I’m talking about Southwest Airlines, Apple, Starbucks and Target—brands that were category-disrupting upstarts themselves before evolving into brand “stalwarts.”
Let’s take a look at what brands can learn from their recent moves.
First, never lose sight of the five key tenets to building strong brands:
- Know and live your purpose
- Become (and remain) famous for something
- Arm your ambassadors and communities to do the hard work for you
- Create remarkable experiences
- Consistently drive relevance for your brand and your category
Second, never stop evolving. The environment in which brands operate today is complex and rapidly changing, and brands at every stage in their lifecycle must evolve to stay relevant. According to a recent study, 70% of consumers admit they wouldn’t notice most brands disappearing overnight. Brands must adapt, or die.
Last week Southwest unveiled a splashy new livery, visual identity and brand experience including a vibrant color scheme and a distinctive heart symbol to adorn the belly of its planes. Hearing CEO Gary Kelly in the news again felt invigorating and on-brand: “Our collective heartbeat is stronger and healthier than ever, and that’s because of the warmth, the compassion and the smiles of our people. The heart emblazoned on our aircraft and within our new look, symbolizes our commitment that we’ll remain true to our core values as we set our sights on the future.” Yes, Southwest has to deal with on-time issues, the increased pressure from organized labor and the challenges of adding international service through the integration of AirTran. However, because of its great legacy, most are betting on Southwest to win again.
Apple sold a whopping 10 million iPhones this weekend, breaking records and putting Apple squarely in the epicenter of brand news. Yet not too long ago, a Reuters poll found that 16 percent of Americans think Apple has become less cool over the past two years, nearly a two percent increase over last year. Apple has been attacked from every competitive angle imaginable and security issues stole the headlines a little too often. But it sounds like the bravado is back: As Tim Cook remarked regarding innovation skepticism last week in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “if there were any doubts, I think that they should be put to bed.” Look for innovations like the iPhone 6, Apple Watch and the Apple Pay service to help Apple regain some lost relevance.
Starbucks joined the brand blitz earlier this month with its announcement of three new coffee store formats. By December, we can expect the Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle to increase the availability of its higher-priced, small-lot Reserve® coffees. The company plans to expand its lucrative and fast-growing Reserve® coffee line to 1,500 locations globally, and to open at least 100 stores offering these pricier coffees. “Everything we have created and learned about coffee has led us to this moment,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a statement. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery, Schultz said, “will transform the future of coffee.” Starbucks has made sure that “the third refuge” has been expanded the ways in which consumers want to engage with the brand (read: not the physical store anymore). That is relevance.
Target is back. The narrative is back, the swagger is back and the designers are coming back. I love the quote by CEO Brian Cornell, “Expect More and Pay Less. Our brand promise is one thought – we have to deliver on both sides in everything we do.” Target has recommitted to return to the narrower range of categories where the chain originally made its reputation as “Tarjay,” and will open more small Target stores in urban city centers for quicker, convenient shopping trips. Cornell also announced a partnership with TOMS Shoes for an exclusive holiday collection and a collaboration with the 2014 CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year, Joseph Altuzarra. This is an in-process story but hearing about the future—and not data breaches—is a welcome breath of fresh air for the brand and its fans.
Sure, Alibaba’s IPO price went up another $3 since you started reading this article, and couch-surfing is pushing AirBnB to rethink its “beds for rent” strategy. But hopefully these new brands recognize they can still learn a thing or two from these “stalwarts” as they muscle their way back into the relevance dialogue.