What makes a resilient brand?

What makes a resilient brand?

Why do some brands stay the course, resistant to the challenges of a changing world, while others fall by the wayside?

Case studies of two well-known brands, Rolls-Royce and MySpace, reveal some crucial differences in how they build – or have failed to build – resilience in their branding. 

Rolls-Royce – hallmarks of a successful brand

What do you think of when you think of Rolls-Royce? Luxury car manufacturing? The powerful jet engines of military and civil aviation? In all likelihood, whatever product springs to mind, it’s the perceived quality of the product that marks the brand out from competitors. If you find out that Rolls-Royce also designs engines for luxury yachts, powers nuclear submarines, and builds rail locomotives, then you’re likely to associate these products with quality, too, such is the power of the brand.

Founded in 1904, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is now a separate company to Rolls-Royce Holdings, which makes the plane and yacht engines, yet it remains the epitome of brand longevity. Its history, however, is not without missteps. Those jet engines do fail from time to time; the company suffered financial collapse in 1971; and less than a year ago Rolls-Royce Holdings agreed to pay £671m to settle bribery and corruption allegations. Yet despite ownership changes and the occasional scandal, the brand remains a success story. The motor company sold 4,011 cars worldwide in 2016, reporting the second-best sales figures in its history. But it’s not just luxury that is acting as a brand veneer – there’s some serious marketing behind the resilience.

CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös has said the car company is “deeply committed to a long term, sustainable, successful growth strategy”. In practice – especially on the consumer side of Rolls-Royce’s operation – this combines innovation in product development, personalisation, and a drive to maintain brand relevance for the next generation of consumers.

The Rolls-Royce marque is actually owned by German manufacturer BMW, and yet Müller-Ötvös describes the brand as “British to the max”. He showed a commitment to that vision by investing hundreds of millions of pounds in a new factory at Goodwood in Sussex and employing around 1,500 staff in the UK. British heritage remains a vital part of the brand identity, whatever the corporate reality.

Heritage, however, doesn’t mean old-fashioned; the brand has worked to resonate with a youthful, global audience. A sign of its success in doing so is the Bloomberg analysis of song lyrics in the Billboard Hot 100 – between 2014 and 2017, Rolls-Royce was name-checked in more top songs than any other brand.

The brand has always been able to boast that its cars are hand-built, but this has also taken on a contemporary angle. In recent years, personalised models of the Ghost and Wraith models have helped the brand to find acclaim with celebrity customers, including Canadian rapper Drake, while a fleet of 30 Phantom-model cars were exclusively designed and handcrafted for The 13, a luxury hotel in Macau.

Personalised design is allied to continued innovations made at a specially built technology and logistics centre near the company’s Goodwood base. In 2018, the new Phantom car will be a high-tech update to a model first launched in 1925.

Continued quality of product and commitment to the original brand vision, allied with an understanding of contemporary audiences, are the hallmarks of Rolls-Royce’s resilient brand.

MySpace – the innovator that lost its agility

Given the dominance of Facebook as the pre-eminent social media channel of recent years, it’s easy to forget that MySpace was once the ‘channel-most-likely’. This was the music-centred network that helped to launch acts such as the Arctic Monkeys and Kate Nash to pop stardom in the UK. In 2006, it was also the most popular website in the US – bigger than Google and Yahoo Mail - but by the end of the noughties, its time was running out. What happened?

MySpace perhaps paid the price of being an innovator that stopped innovating just as the competition increased. Leaving aside early social networks such as Friends Reunited, MySpace allowed brands, including up-and-coming musicians, to look outwards – beyond their known connections, to build wider audiences. For a while it acted, in effect, as a lead generation tool.

Within a few years, however, early adopters complained that it was becoming brand-saturated. Ads for more well-known brands started to take up screen space, diminishing the sense that MySpace was a personalised place.

In stepped Facebook. In place of MySpace’s pseudonymous accounts came the transparency of own-name accounts, attached to a telephone number – radical, and disliked by some at the time, but a key step in building the concept of every social media user being their own personal brand.

Then, in 2005, MySpace was bought by News Corporation in a move that might have felt natural for the then world’s biggest social network. However, the supersized scale of the parent organisation is thought to have slowed the speed at which MySpace needed to react in a fast-developing digital world, and in the face of the new disruptors.

What happened next was a period of unfocused and lumpen expansion. The company opened regional offices around the world in an attempt to connect more closely with local audiences. The platform also chased consumers across verticals of celebrity, fashion, sport and literature – remember MySpace Books? – without becoming the primary destination for fans of any of them. Its early focus – music – was lost.

But perhaps what really precipitated MySpace’s much diminished stature was something else completely – the switch to mobile. In the nascent ‘always on’ world where social connections are active at all times, in all places, MySpace’s desktop-based design – and its log-in, explore and listen mentality – soon looked like a dinosaur. Natural evolution, perhaps, but one that could be a challenge for all brands if they’re not resilient enough to move with the times.

For marketers, there are clear lessons: don’t lose sight of what made your brand unique and successful in the first place; don’t over-diversify; don’t let business growth stop you from being agile; and, finally, watch out for the disrupters – and be resilient enough to adapt to the changing world.

Find out how brand culture is relevant for SMEs. 

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