June 12, 2020|
8 min read
Built to Last: Forming the Foundations of a Timeless Brand
Many of us are brand evangelists, in a way. Once we’re “hooked,” it can be difficult to get us to change our ways. Maybe we buy a brand because our parents bought it. Maybe it’s just always seemed like a smart investment or we had good experiences with the brand. We might even think some brands are “status symbols.”
It’s easy to think these brands had to evolve into these positions, that we consider them timeless or classic because they’ve been around for so long. There’s this feeling that the brand is trustworthy because it’s been around, because our parents trusted it too.
And when we think like this, we might think no brand is “built to last.” It just sort of happens, through trust and evolution and consumer loyalty.
It’s kind of a nice thought to think that brands aren’t built, they’re born—that their founders sort of stumbled their way to success. If we dig a little deeper, though, we’ll see that’s not true. Almost every brand you think of as being “timeless” or “classic” is working from a solid foundation.
What are those pieces that make these brands keep on ticking? I have used one of my favorite brands Levi Strauss to apply four principles in how this brand has remained relevant over time. There are many other examples but call it my roots or perhaps how I identify with this brand….it seemed like a good one to apply the learning.
1. You’re Not Here to Make Money
First things first! A successful brand has to look beyond pure “business purpose.” It’s easy for us to say the reason any business exists is to make money. After all, if you’re not making money, you might not be in business long!
So, what’s the purpose of any brand then? So many of us think the answer is “to make money,” but that attitude is actually going to hurt in the long-term. And today, customers can see through marketing that is not authentic.
Any good brand has a sense of purpose beyond the financial objective. Why are you here? Why this brand, why this company and product?
What benefit do you provide and how are you delivering it differently? That’s the purpose, the reason for doing what you do!
Let’s take: Levi Strauss & Co. The company was originally founded in the 1850s as a dry goods store catering to those in the American west. By the 1870s, the company was making denim overalls for cowboys, railroad workers, and lumberjacks.
The denim Levi Strauss & Co. built a rock solid foundation of trust through a product that was durable, which was why it was a favorite of those who had rough-and-tumble jobs. Jeans became more popular in the early 20th century, associated with the “dude ranch” craze of the 1930s and with blue-collar workers in factories. During World War II, jeans were declared “essential” and sold to those working in defense. So, we can see jeans took on a “persona”: hardworking, long-lasting, and ready to serve salt-of-the-Earth Americans.
After the war, jeans became more fashionable, especially into the 1960s. Over time, they were associated with youth subcultures like greasers, rockers, and hippies.
However, Levi’s maintained it’s popularity and continued to deliver its niche position through being the brand for no-nonsense, tough, and hard-working people. This brand did not stray from its commitment to quality. Levi’s fit in all the right places. The “original” design exists, “made” for you and me!
2. Staying True to Values
We can see Levi’s enduring success as happy coincidence—without the building of the railroad, without the “dude ranch” craze of the 1930s, would Levi’s have ever been in a position to become such a staple of the fashion world?
Quite probably—the company is also well-known for speaking out on progressive issues like gun violence and LGBTQ+ rights. It also manufactured many of its products right at home in the USA, opening a factory in San Francisco the same year as the devastating 1906 earthquake and keeping it open for the next 100 years. Even now, some of its higher-end apparel is still manufactured in the US.
We can see Levi Strauss & Co.’s values shining through here. The company stands by that salt-of-the-Earth kind of mentality, championing the underdogs, those doing tough and demanding jobs. It keeps jobs in the US, while offering up a product that’s withstood the test of time. Supporting counterculture and “progressive” stances might seem to be at odds with support for “the average Joe,” but it’s not—many of these people are also often considered “underdogs” in society!
What started as a long-lasting clothing item for blue-collar workers evolved to become a staple of the American wardrobe, a way for youth to push back against the authority of their parents, and something that’s accessible to everyone and anyone. Wearing jeans, in some ways, puts us all on the same footing—symbolically, at least. Rich or poor, man or woman—whatever else you happen to be, jeans are for you.
3. A Foundation to Build on, a Vision for Future Leaders
Levi Strauss didn’t necessarily set out to build a denim empire that would last more than a century and a half. He did lay down an excellent foundation that allowed him to build and grow his company. And it’s that kind of foundation that provides a vision for the company and future leaders.
When you know your values, it’s a lot easier to see where you need to go—and how to steer toward that goal. If you’re focused on making money or just coming up with the next great product, it can be harder to see where you’re actually headed.
Values create a brand ideology, which can be read and adopted by anyone. It’s those values that give us a sense of purpose when we go to work. Whether we’re designing a new product or delivering great customer service, it’s the company’s values that tell us how to do these things. And even as our brand evolves, changes, staying true to those values means we’re never losing sight of what really matters.
It’s our values—our purpose—that makes a difference to our customers. There are other brands of jeans out there, but Levi’s are synonymous with “jeans”—and with quality product and a commitment to the people who wear their jeans. That’s what sets them apart from Gap jeans or high-end designer jeans. Those brands have their own purposes, their own values, their own promises to their customers.
4. Speaking to Human Truth
If we really want to boil down the Levi’s brand, though, we can see the company is speaking to a human truth: individuality. We all need something that fits us, that fits our lifestyle. Jeans are, in some ways, the perfect emblem of that.
Think about it. Cowboys, railroad workers, and lumberjacks all needed durable clothing that fit their rough-and-tumble lifestyle. They needed clothes that kept up with them—and denim became a symbol for them. It became a symbol of workers and then defense efforts. And then it was adopted by all kinds of subcultures, representing individual identity.
The jeans “fit,” allowing each group, each person to wear something that reflected their lifestyle, their personality. Each group wore jeans a little differently—rips and rivets for punks, bell-bottoms for hippies, acid washes for the grunge scene in the 1990s.
This is the real purpose of any brand—seeing, recognizing a human need, and speaking to that. Working to address it. In the food industry, there’s a basic human need for food—but food addresses so much more than that, for so many of us. It’s comfort, it’s nutrition for body and soul. It lets us express ourselves, our identities. It brings us together as families and communities.
Music is similar. Art, TV shows, books, fashion—even the houses we buy, the software solutions we use speak to some human need. It’s not always individual expression, but sometimes one software solution speaks to us because it’s laid out in a way that helps us organize our thoughts or moves us through a task in a way that allows more creativity and freedom!
A brand that will stand the test of time speaks to some human truth, some innate need in us. It may not be a conscious need, but something that, deep down, we all crave. Thinking about what your brand offers—beyond a name, beyond a product—can help you discover why people turn to you, and why they’ll keep turning to you for years to come.
Once again, we can see that it all goes back to knowing that true purpose. And with that in mind, we should always aim to start with the why!
Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing
Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.
Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.
And it all starts with why!
Connect With Us
We work with companies around the world. Our offices are located in Caledon, Ontario, Canada, minutes from Pearson International Airport.
We post articles, white papers, and videos through social media a few times a week. We aim to inspire. Please follow us at: