Heritage brands have an almost indefinable magic that is hard to emulate and virtually impossible to copy. They have the ability to prosper and grow in a competitive market place; they cross from one generation to another and build strength and presence, while lesser brands fall victim to changing consumer trends and tastes.
Seldom has the heritage brand phenomenon been more notable than in the results of Sunday Times Top Brands 2012 survey.
Koo, one of South Africa’s most enduring brand icons, eclipsed the granddaddy of all heritage brands, Coca Cola, to take the laurels in the survey. The fact that this was the second time in two years that Koo took the Grand Prix as overall consumer favourite brand pointed not only to the magic of Koo, but also to the ability of local brands in the Tiger Brands stable to remain trusted, generating-hopping icons.
In assessing the Koo victory and other time-defying heritage brands in the same stable, Brenda Koornneef, business executive: group marketing and corporate strategy, stresses that it is Tiger’s consistent objective to always own the number one or two leading brand in every sector in which the company participates. With over 40 brands in the market, and about 20 of them regarded as core to this strategic marketing philosophy, it is the iconic heritage brands that lead the marketing charge.
“Although the Koo win is an amazing story, Tiger Brands also had 11 other brands which won Top 10 Awards within their categories,” she says.
“Confirmation of this strength comes from the fact that only a couple of weeks before the Top Brands awards, our heritage brands showed up strongly in an entirely different survey. In the Brand Icons survey run by Media 24, Tiger Brands had eight brands in the top 29 with All Gold was placed second.”
Koornneef says both surveys show clearly that local brands perform amazingly against all-comers and have taken their place in the hearts of local buyers.
The fact remains that Koo, which was launched in the 1940s, is still a market leader and enjoys heritage status alongside Tiger Brands “oldies” such as Tastic Rice (introduced in the 1950s), Jungle Oats (120 years old), Fattis and Monis (over 100 years old), All Gold, Purity, Oros, Ingrams, Doom and Enterprise (95 years old).
But it doesn’t necessarily follow, says Koornneef, that it is plain sailing for marketers to maintain these dominant positions.
“Heritage brands with decades of history behind them live and exist within the hearts and minds of consumers. We therefore don’t have the luxury of using a blank sheet of paper when it comes to marketing these products.
“To maintain their status we have to understand what these heritage brands mean to consumers, how they fit into their lives, what they want and expect out of them, and ultimately what their relationship with these brands means. We therefore cannot take the liberty of deciding that Koo, or any Tiger Brands heritage brand for that matter, needs to change. We need to carefully guide and renew these brands based on our consumer understanding.”
“Unlike multinational names that are bound to strategies devised internationally, we are bound to our local consumers. Whenever we want to refresh a brand, critically important to maintaining its position over time is that we first have to gauge where the brand is in the minds of consumers.”
It is only when a product assessment reveals that the relevance of a brand with present-day users is beginning to slip, typically revealed by them associating the brand with a previous generation of users, that carefully considered marketing refreshment action can be taken, says Koornneef.
“This consumer insight signals the starting point to a process that requires identifying the essence of the brand and updating it without compromising the elements that made it a heritage brand in the first place. We conduct continual research and consider a heritage brand relaunch every five years at a minimum.
“In the interim, between these relaunches, we keep on renovating and innovating. Variants of the product may be changed, new communications campaigns may be launched, and growth into new market segments explored.
“All these actions make the brand feel that it is not yesteryear’s brand, but a brand that is today’s and tomorrow’s brand of choice. The secret, however, is staying true to what the brand is. If the essential character of the brand stays intact, it will retain its status with someone who may have bought it for many years, while still attracting new buyers,” says Koornneef.
What is remarkable about the heritage brands in the Tiger Brands stable is how they can travel into completely new markets. It is a particular brand’s entrenched consumer credibility and its intrinsic strength that enables a transition to take place, says Koornneef, pointing to the venerable Jungle Oats as an example.
“Jungle Oats has mother brand status as a breakfast cereal. This made it relatively simple to enter other breakfast segments and introduce new products carrying the Jungle Oats name. It was important that while undertaking this that we stayed true to the values of healthiness, wholesomeness and energy associated with the product.
“It is these base values, and particularly the brand proposition of “energy” that moved Jungle Oats further into the breakfast segment and on into confectionery count lines. The result was on-the-go energy bars. It is now the number four count line in South Africa.
“We have now achieved these transitions and growth with several of our heritage brands. We have taken Energade into the confectionery market with energy jubes and jellies. Koo moved into the chakalaka market, where it now has more than 80% share.
“It is wonderful what has been achieved by taking the strengths of these heritage brands into new segments. What has remained unchanged is what the brands mean to consumers.”
“Exciting too is the fact that our core brands are performing well in new markets in the rest of Africa too – as Tiger Brands expands its footprint and core brands across the continent.”
What has made the Sunday Times and Media 24 wins more meaningful for Tiger, says Koornneef, is that recognition was accorded Tiger’s products in a tough consumer market, where buyers are examining all product offerings carefully before making purchasing decisions.
“Our research has showed that people are looking for special offers, but their aspirations are staying with the heritage brands. It is our responsibility to make sure that we deliver on the product performance and quality they expect and that their association with our brands continues,” says Koornneef.