A Toast to Brand Strength

In case you missed the ads or didn’t get the chance to swing by its historic St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin this year, Guinness celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. While such an incredible milestone is most worthy of celebration (250 years!), what is particularly remarkable from a branding perspective is that its stewards have remained steadfast to the storied stout’s ingredients, kept its brand image equally pure and never turned their back on its rich Irish heritage. To put it bluntly, Guinness has never “put a lime” in its beer.

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In case you missed the ads or didn’t get the chance to swing by its historic St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin this year, Guinness celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. While such an incredible milestone is most worthy of celebration (250 years!), what is particularly remarkable from a branding perspective is that its stewards have remained steadfast to the storied stout’s ingredients, kept its brand image equally pure and never turned their back on its rich Irish heritage. To put it bluntly, Guinness has never “put a lime” in its beer.

Nor has it resorted to other watered-down versions like Guinness “Lite,” “Dry” or “Ice.” Hell, it took the company well over two centuries just to distribute its beverage in bottles and cans, but even in doing so it never backed off from its original position: Guinness is savored best in a pint poured fresh from a tap. And that’s not because it tastes different (blind taste tests have proven repeatedly there is no discernable difference); rather, it’s the undetectable ingredient when citizens of the world commune over a pint of Guinness in pubs, snugs, bars and watering holes around the globe.

Along these lines, Guinness recently released a “pub finder” app compatible with iPhone—just another effort to keeping its good buzz going. Whether you like dark beer or not, if you earn a living in a brand-building field, then you surely must raise a glass to Guinness’ extraordinary positioning. More importantly, Guinness’ key branding tenets can go down just as smooth with regard to footwear. For starters, a consistent image is key. A pint glass filled with dark brown stout topped by a foamy head requires no other brand identification; it is synonymous with Guinness. And while the fashion industry is all about change, having one iconic style or logo can anchor a brand’s image in consumers’ minds—a task that becomes increasingly difficult in a marketing overloaded society. But aside from Timberland’s wheat boot, Ugg Australia’s classic sheepskin boot and Converse’s All-Star sneaker, few brands have such universal product-to-brand associations. Of course, Nike’s swoosh and, perhaps, its Air Jordan “Jumpman” logo need no further explanation. But after that, the shoe business gets pretty muddy, image wise. We’ve even done it ourselves, having grouped the business into generic “brown shoe” and “white athletic” categories.

Here’s another noteworthy Guinness brand tenet: Stick with what brought you to the dance. Rather than go the way of many packaged good companies that dilute their original brand offering with similar spinoffs, Guinness has stuck to stout—period. Of course, when Guinness is selling more than 10 million glasses every single day worldwide, there’s little need to chase a slice of lime-flavored market share. The same effective “go with what you know best” strategy could be said of Macy’s “My Macy’s” program, which tailors merchandise on a by-store basis.

The 100-year-old retailer built its reputation as a curator of taste, and the decision to go back to its roots and let buyers on a regional basis determine the wants and needs of their unique customers seems smart. Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has reported positive results thus far. Seven of Macy’s top 10 districts (in terms of third quarter same-store sales) were original My Macy’s pilot districts, and the chain is now rolling out localization efforts nationwide. In addition, Macy’s has recently introduced exclusive collections by Tommy Hilfiger and Martha Stewart, thus joining the ranks of JC Penney and Kohl’s, which are each trying to differentiate their merchandise from the competition. I’ll drink to that.

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