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My take: How a brand stands the test of time

August 20/27, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 5

By Steven Feldman

In this day and age, it seems like everyone has a startup idea. In fact, according to Fast Company, “It’s estimated that more than 500,000 new businesses are started every month in the U.S. alone—that’s more than 11 million people starting something on the side or quitting their day jobs to launch the next high-growth startup like Facebook.”

But for every landscape-altering giant such as Facebook, Instagram or Uber, 92% of startups fail within three years. Put another way, the vast majority of companies lack what it takes to scale beyond half a decade, let alone build an enterprise that spans multiple generations. And that’s what makes the world’s oldest companies—some of which have been conducting business for nearly five centuries—so impressive.

The world’s oldest brands can teach us a great deal about forging a successful business; after all, they must have a good idea of dos and don’ts after existing for hundreds of years. By looking at brands such as Heinz, Budweiser, Sotheby’s, Levi’s, Coca-Cola, Barclay’s, Jim Beam, Moët and more, it’s possible to find the keys to their success, including having integrity, staying focused and working as a team.

So, what are some of the secrets that lead a brand to stand the test of time? Here are a few:

1. Reputation is everything. For over 480 years, Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest publishing house, has been known for publishing esteemed, scholarly works. None other than Henry VIII gave the press permission to print “all manner of books.”

2. Be the best. Coming from the oldest licensed distillery in the world, Bushmills has been winning critical acclaim and international awards since the 1889 Paris Expo.

3. Change with the times. Barclay’s has been brand of many firsts, including launching the first credit card in the U.K. and the world’s first cash machine.

4. Have traditional values and professionalism. Since its inception, Coutts has built an environment of learning and professional development, hoping to better not only itself, but also its employees individually.

5. Focus on quality. Twinnings’ quality is so high, Queen Victoria awarded it a Royal Warrant for its tea in 1837. The company even managed to withstand tea rationing during World War II.

6. Have a pioneering spirit. Moët & Chandon helped bring champagne into the mainstream limelight and make it the staple of celebrations it is today.

7. Don’t be afraid to expand. Sotheby’s, launched in 1744, is the first international auction house with salesrooms in London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong.

8. Have integrity. The Caswell-Massey brand has seen many well-respected buyers in the past 200 years, including presidents Washington, Eisenhower and JFK.

9. Stay focused. Jim Beam’s master distiller, Fred Noe, credits the company’s success to focusing on a goal.

10. Emphasize teamwork. Colgate believes in the power of a diverse workforce.

11. Create trust. Since its creation in 1812, Citibank has prided itself on earning the public’s trust and keeping their interests always top of mind.

12. Focus on the customer. AXA is dedicated to teaching its employees how to best serve their customers.

13. Be recognizable. Cadbury’s iconic purple wrapper and script typeface have been with the company since 1920 and 1921, respectively.

14. Become part of the community. Macy’s has secured its position as a vital member of the New York City community, sponsoring both the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Fourth of July fireworks.

15. Be available. Recognizing the desirability of its name, Hermes offers products at a range of lower prices making them attainable to a wider market.

16. Be unique. From its branding to its “secret” 23-flavor formula, Dr. Pepper is unlike any other soda on the market.