Remember the horse your brand rode in on

Ever wonder what happened to one of the strongest brands ever in the history of retail: Sears? Everyone in the marketing business probably has. After all, their tagline used to be: “Sears has everything.” And they practically did. Wrenches, lawn tractors, shoes, shirts, refrigerators, sewing machines, pre-fab DIY house kits – you name it. So, what happened?

Well, the world changed and in changing to meet the new world, perhaps Sears forgot who they were. Remember the Sears Catalog? More than 500 pages of everything you could ever want. With this comprehensive mail order delivery, Sears became one of the first, and certainly the best, at bringing the retail store directly to the customer, allowing people to order anything they desired from the comfort of their own home. It was disruptive and game changing. It was a differentiator. It was as intrinsic to the Sears brand as Mr. Roebuck himself. And it was without a doubt largely responsible for building the powerhouse that became the Sears retail empire.

Fast forward about 100 years later and an entirely new and equally disruptive way to bring the retail experience into the home – the Internet – came to be. Rather than embrace this new way to do the same old thing, it appears that Sears forgot what made them who they were and eliminated their catalog, stopped bringing their defining experience to the customer and instead, concentrated on upgrading their brick and mortar retail stores. It was a move equivalent to something like McDonald’s suddenly eliminating breakfast and lunch.
This in turn, opened the door to the 21st Century edition of Sears called Amazon – today’s most disruptive, game-changing and best way to bring the retail experience directly into to the customer’s home, car, workplace – wherever.

What if Sears had only remembered the very basics of its own brand and adapted first?

And what if newspapers were forward-thinking enough to do the same? Ah, newspapers, you remember those. Those sources of local, regional and world news that came into your home in paper form. Many of them are now gone, having forgotten that their brands were really nothing more than a source of the news and not a “newspaper.” The smart brands in the business recognized this early, and became a source of the news that delivered it to their customers’ doorsteps both electronically and in paper form – not just a newspaper online. In other words, they changed with the times but stayed true to what their brands were really about.

Now let’s take a quick look at a brand that’s done it right from the start – Dove. They’ve been around forever, too. And they are more relevant today than ever. All because they remembered who they are. The Dove brand has always been about making your skin feel better, more comfortable and more natural than other products. And while the world has changed, their audience too, the basics of their brand messaging hasn’t. It’s just been updated, now made relevant by helping both men and women feel more comfortable in their own skin while facing the pressures of modern life. Smart.

What are the lessons here? Take a look at your brand. Are you now chasing the hard-to-catch Millennial? Are you thinking about changing your brand to attract them? Don’t panic and don’t let your sense of urgency override your sense of history. Remember the basics and essence of your brand. Be who you are, who you’ve always been, not someone you’re not. And don’t try to make your brand cool – make it relevant and be authentic about it. After all, while the way your brand and brand message are being delivered may have changed, the essence of what made your brand successful in the first place is probably just the thing to keep it that way now.