“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” ~ Charles Darwin
Thirty years ago there were companies all over the country that specialized in something called “typesetting.” For younger readers and those with fuzzy memories, typesetting companies were a linchpin of the advertising industry. An art director would mark up a copy draft with notes about font style, point size, weight, kerning and line spacing. A messenger from the “type house,” as they were often called, would pick up the copy at the end of the day. Back at the office, a typesetter would work into the night and would create the type exactly as ordered on a Photostat sheet that would be delivered back to the agency the next morning. There, a mechanical artist would physically mount the type on a board for review and approval. Found a typo? That meant another day, or rush charges to make a fix. Change a line of copy? Another day and more billable hours.
Now all that work is done in ten minutes by one person—often the art director, who used to have to wait days for his or her creations to materialize.
And the companies that provided that type either evolved or died. Many made a transition into digital graphics or Web development, which required new technology, new personnel and new skills. Their one holdover was often the intangible asset of being a service-based brand. Typesetting required a lot of hustle and good customer relations. Transitioning it to another business was a challenge of course, but also an advantage.
A stellar example of brand evolution on a global scale is IBM. Since their exit from the personal computer business, which they sold to Lenovo in 2005, they have been less visible to consumers, but are doing quite well. They had almost $100 billion in revenue in 2013. They are the second largest U.S. company, as measured by employees, with more than 400,000. And Interbrand ranks them as the fourth most valuable brand in the world.
IBM has consistently adapted their brand to the technology of the day, starting way back in 1911, the year they were founded, and often leading the way with the industry’s best business machines—whether it was the early days of electronic processing, state-of-the art typewriters and copiers, or various stages of computer technology from early mainframes to today’s sophisticated network systems. Tom Watson, Sr. is credited with building a culture of innovation that drove IBM forward through the decades. His mantra was simply “Think,” and the company and the brand have consistently been leading thinkers in business technology while dozens of competitors have come and gone.
The IBM brand succeeds at adapting because it transcends the actual products and services it provides. Keypunch computing and electric typewriters are things of the past, but the IBM brand perseveres as the strategic compass of the corporation. Imagine the discipline it took to exit the personal computer business, despite having a huge brand advantage at the time. But their leadership saw that personal computers were becoming more and more of a low-margin business and made the difficult decision that helped secure the next generation of the brand.
This is why companies with mission statements that sound something like “To be the leading provider of high-quality widgets…” struggle to adapt over time. They see themselves as manufacturers of a product, instead of marketers of a brand concept where the products can come and go. Interbrand’s number one brand in the world, Apple, is a great example. Apple is about the idea of personal discovery, not slick hardware. They own very little manufacturing capacity. They make their money through the innovation of new products, often in new categories. They let their suppliers worry about how to squeeze out efficiencies on the assembly line. Like IBM, Apple’s brand is built for the long haul because it can adapt to a changing products and services mix as the demands of the marketplace change.
So whether you think that change is good, change is bad or a mixture of both, one thing is for sure, change is inevitable. A great brand strategy can do more than adapt to survive; it can actually help guide the way, as well.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.