In an Era of Cashing Out, Resilient Companies Can Still Cash In for the Long Haul

Great brands can live forever. We’ve been saying that for years. With all of the attention on startup companies, the desire to scale quickly, and the surprising number of brands on various lists that didn’t even exist 15 years ago, it’s probably easy to dismiss. After all, forever is a mighty long time. It’s so abstract that it’s difficult to comprehend. And can a brand really keep growing forever?

Emphatically, yes, they can. And in fact, they have to grow and change in order to stay relevant. That doesn’t mean abandoning their core or their position. It does mean staying in tune with their audience.

Does Age Matter?

In a time where we’re not surprised and half expect to shelve products and services a year after they are purchased, the notion of a fifty-year-old company seems almost quaint. But what about a company that is 100 years old? Better still, what about 100+ year-old companies that are not only growing, but scaling? It’s all not only possible, it’s happening right now. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and host of the Masters of Scale podcast, calls these types of companies “Phoenixes” because they have inevitably risen and fallen numerous times to reach this age. In the podcast episode, How to Build a Company that Lasts, he honors 10 companies that have hit the 100+ year mark, including Fiat, IBM, and Radio Flyer.

This requires a completely different skill set than a founder-led company, as many of the Silicon Valley wunderkinds are discovering. What got you to the top won’t keep you there. If your goal is to stay at the top and last as a company, here are some common themes of those that have done it taken from the podcast and our experience.

Truth Tellers

One thing all of these companies had in common, especially when times were darkest, were leaders willing to speak the truth to those immediately around them. The truth inevitably comes out. If you’re building for the long haul, you need to know what works and what doesn’t, and sooner rather than a festered situation later. And you need the gumption to root out the source of the problem, tackle it, and make it right.

Essential Elements vs. Unnecessary Traditions

With longevity comes history, no doubt. But not all of that history and tradition translates into relevant points for the organization’s brand. “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not the path to success. Instead, successful businesses look at their relationship with the consumer and where they can deliver the most value.

Defined Mission vs. Expandable Vision

Goals are important. The familiar mission statement that often gets put forth by a founder or executive team and imprinted on every new hire works great for the initial run-up. But what happens when there needs to be a rebirth? At that point, organizations need to draw on the multiple strengths from across the enterprise to see beyond the original mission to what’s next.

Audience Rediscovery

Like the one-hit wonders of the pop music world will tell you, staying connected and relevant to an audience doesn’t happen by accident. It can be challenging to follow up that first hit. But when you look at the organizations that have been successful in retaining audiences across decades and recruiting new ones to the fold, it’s always through a dedication to their essential core.

Deliver the Experience

It’s easy to see how much experiences have changed, especially recently. While it’s true that rarely does a medium go away completely (welcome back vinyl LPs!) it is true that audiences have different wants and desires. The fact that you can send a live video stream from anywhere with a device carried in your pocket is amazing. Amazing doesn’t mean it’s right for your brand and audience in every instance, or maybe ever.

What’s Possible?

The oldest business still in operation, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel in Japan has done so for more than 1,300 years. Before it was acquired by another company, the Japanese construction company Kongō Gumi lasted more than 1,400 years. Let that thought absorb for a second, then realize how long your brand can last is up to you and the paths and decisions you take.

If you aren’t a regular listener already, we encourage everyone to check out the Masters of Scale podcast. And of course, download our eBook, The Five Gates of Branding – Discovering Paths to Renewed Growth.

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