A brand is a funny thing, isn’t it. A name, a feeling, a history (or some sort of story) attached to products of a certain type and a certain quality, sometimes varying wildly over time. We’ve lived with some cycling brands for a very long time, although few of them bear any great resemblance to the pasts that shaped them. I’m thinking of brands like Schwinn, Bianchi, and Raleigh.
There’s a cadre of heritage brands that came after, like Colnago, Pinarello, Campagnolo, etc. Then some middle aged brands, like Cannondale, Trek, Specialized, etc.. And then there’s what I’d call the new establishment, brands like Giro, Chrome, Rapha, and Canyon, established but certainly not yet historic.
To be clear, I picked companies at random, based roughly on age and brand awareness. There are plenty of examples in each category that I left out, and feel free to quibble with my characterizations.
A new brand has all sort of advantages. It’s not carrying any baggage, for one. The brand manager gets a blank slate, creates the thing whole cloth from nothing. Key words are emphasized, a defined look, the ability to attach to a current trend or plug into the zeitgeist of the moment, to reach a staggeringly large audience quickly and directly via social media. The disadvantage, of course, is that there are already of a bunch of brands crowding into whatever space the new brand is trying to occupy, all of them overlapping in a sloppy Venn diagram. Ideas are golden, but execution is what allows a brand to survive.
Over time, brands deteriorate. It is extremely rare for a brand to make all the right choices consistently AND have products that remain highly popular. In those instances, like with Schwinn for example, the brand is so successful over such a long period, that subsequently bad choices, as often transpire after an acquisition or a shift in manufacturing approach, do little to diminish people’s view of the brand. RKP readers know that Schwinn is no longer Schwinn, but the general public still has a positive association.
For the rest of the industry’s brand managers each season is an opportunity to take their company forward or back. That can mean introducing new, hopefully better (or at least not worse) products, or entering new market segments, or simply running a batch of really great ads (see aforementioned description of accessing trends/zeitgeist). Going backwards might mean a drop in quality born of cutting corners, lowering quality, rising prices, or being too closely associated with a trend that is no longer trending.
It’s hard work. And once a brand has been around for a bit, the work gets harder, something like turning a barge, where brand perception shifts only very slowly and is surpassingly difficult to turn around completely should you find you’re going the wrong way.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what brands resonate with you and why? Who is doing a good job? Who are you disappointed in? Do you trend toward older, established names? Or do you constantly seek new things?