Revitalizing a Fading Iconic Brand

CEO, Business & Brand Strategist

Building brands that can resonate with customers is a very tricky, strategically challenging exercise, and it is only a very small handful of brand that emerges as iconic brands on the global brandscape. These iconic brands tend to successfully create a cult following among their customer base by weaving powerful mythical brand stories into the daily fibre of their customers’ lives. But what happens when an iconic brand starts fading with the passage of time?
Consider one of the most iconic of all brands, Harley-Davidson. The all American motorbike brand personified the individualistic spirit of risk taking and adventure while transferring its riders to a limitless world. However, off late Harley has been in trouble. Its core customer base is shrinking. The demographics of the market are changing rapidly. And a combination of tough economic conditions, changing tastes of customers and the increasing number of options have ensured that Harley has a challenging time replenishing its core customer base.
How can companies balance the dual challenge of protecting the heritage and historical glory of the iconic brand while simultaneously making the brand relevant to its current customer base?
Protect the historic brand legacy:
One of the most distinguishing features of an iconic brand from other brands is its integration into the popular culture of its times and into the daily fabric of its customers’ lives. And most iconic brands achieve such a feat by generously borrowing from its history and the legacy of past triumphs. In the case of Harley-Davidson, such legacy was built on the notion of American pride and Harley’s “victory” over Japanese bikes.
Introduce branding innovations:
The challenge for iconic brands then would be to balance the significance of such historic legacies with identities and value propositions that are relevant to its current customer base. Harley successfully and rather very cleverly initiated the concept of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). Through HOG, Harley offered its customers a ritualistic experience of sharing their brand journey and to create a sense of loyalty toward the brand.
Expand beyond the core:
However, instead of expanding its customer base of middle aged male bikers to include young riders and female customers, Harley decided to stay consistent with its original brand charter and not expand beyond its core. Despite a growing female biking segment, only 11% of Harley buyers are women. In order to protect the iconic status of the brand, these iconic brands should penetrate newer customer segments while at the same time staying true to the core brand values.
Maintain the brand aura:
Probably the most important factor in protecting the iconic status while being relevant is to fiercely and fearlessly maintain the aura of the brand. Harley resisted increasing its production to meet the increasing demand for a long time for this exact reason. However, in a sharply shrinking market, Harley built 303,000 bikes in 2008, which took away the perceived scarcity of the brand in the market. And with it went away the aura of the brand.
Iconic brands become iconic because of their impressive staying power in the minds of their customers. As such, they are generally more pervasive than ordinary brands. However, when they are not protected and managed proactively, even iconic brands face the threat of fading away. By following the four step guidelines offered above, iconic brands can very effectively manage their elite status.
Kuwait Riders, photo taken at the Marina Crescent in Salmiya Kuwait.

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Louai Alasfahani

ANUBIS was a very old god of the ancient Egyptians, universally worshipped throughout the land and became considered the gatekeeper and ruler of the underworld; the “Guardian of the veil“ he was “Lord of the Cleansing Room” and the opener of the roads of the North. “He observed the weighing of the deceased’s heart against the feather of Maat [Truth] and reported his findings to the jury of the gods.



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