It’s time to preach evolution not revolution when it comes to brand

In the 2012 Interbrand survey of world’s most valuable brands three of the top 10 have been around for more than 100 years each; three for more than 70 years each; and technology rules the day for the remaining 45 years and under, with Apple, Microsoft, Google and Intel rounding out the list.

(As a note, I don’t totally subscribe to their methodology of valuation but the list is a useful illustration for my purpose today.)

Here’s the top 10 list (with founding year in brackets):

1. Coca-Cola (1889)
2. Apple (1976)
3. IBM (1911)
4. Google (1998)
5. Microsoft (1975)
6. GE (1892)
7. McDonald’s (1940)
8. Intel (1968)
9. Samsung (1938)
10. Toyota (1937)

When you’ve been around for that length of time you learn a thing or two about survival of the fittest. So why do so many companies today see the only way to practise brand is through revolution?

Over and over I hear the same story. In come the “brand revolutionary brigade”. Tear things down. “Re” everything. Rally the troops with a new battle cry. Rinse and repeat every 3-5 years.

In a recent example, QR National decided to embark on just the kind of “brand revolution” exercise I’m talking about – one that is sure to cost in the many millions to execute despite struggling to maintain positive financial position and embarking on thousands of layoffs. The sheer waste of resources in this and other endeavours boggle the mind.

It is interesting to note that very few of the top 10 have significantly changed their name or logo over the course of the company’s life.

For example, the logo of one of the oldest companies on the list, GE, has barely changed over the course of its 120 year history. Likewise Coca-Cola remains very much as it was in the early 1900s. IBM presents perhaps the best example of evolution with each logo incarnation maintaining the intent of the original Paul Rand, modern era version.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be found. The skin becomes less of an issue, is seen as current and stays competitive, when the what and how of the organisation – the products, services, policies and practices evolve to respond to the changing environment they are in.

And let’s face it. The majority of those in the “brand revolution” game only deal in skin deep. Rarely does it extend to the things that really build and impact a brand – the way things are done and the promises being kept. And that’s because you can’t revolutionise those things – change at that level takes time and commitment.

So for those of you about to step down this path, please stop. Take a step back. Think about where you have been and how you got to where you are today. Look beyond the skin at what the real issue might be… and choose evolution instead, because revolution of this kind is rarely a remedy for what ails your brand.

See you next week with the first in my monthly series of SME brands that I like.

Michel is an independent brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.