The Test Of TIme – Lessons We Can Learn From Old School Brands

Across the globe, around 137,000 startups are launched every single day by enterprising folk. Unfortunately, figures show that 90% of these new ventures fail – usually within 12 months. There are many reasons that fledgling businesses fail – from lack of funding to insufficient marketing and, sometimes, just plain incompetence.  Having to admit failure with a new business can be demoralizing for the individuals involved and, can potentially harm their finances and credit ratings.  In direct contrast, there are quite a few brands that are still going strong after 100 years or more, having weathered recessions, changing tastes and, the digital age.

It can sometimes be hard to put your finger on just what it is that makes a brand stand the test of time, although there are a few standout reasons:

Exclusivity – This happens when a brand invents – and then patents – a product; meaning that it has little or no competition.  An example of this is the Tetra Pak which may not be used without permission.

Quality – Some brands succeed in establishing themselves as a company, which consistently delivers high quality products.  An example of this is Marks & Spencer who is still known throughout Britain as the go-to for quality clothing (most of us have parents or grandparents who will only ever buy clothing from M&S).

Government Contracts – If a brand manages to successfully secure a contract with national government – and keeps it, there’s a good chance that the brand will stand the test of time.  Examples of this include BAE and 3M.

Evolution – Brands who constantly evolve in order to keep up with the times have a great chance of survival.  Some examples of these brands are Levis, Selfridges and PG Tips.

Let’s take a look at some of the brands still going strong after 100 years or more and, what we can learn from them.

Fortnum & Mason

Established in 1706, this iconic store has been thriving for a whopping 313 years and is the go-to store in London for those who like the finer things in life.

What’s the motto?  Although ‘Fortnums’ has used a few slogans over the years, the enduring one is, ‘Proud to be the Queen’s grocer.’

What’s its secret?

Whilst other brands shout about saving their customers money, Fortnum & Mason has always been unashamed – to the point of boasting – when it comes to its high prices.  By adding inflated price tags as standard, the brand sends the message that its products are of superior quality.  Not only does this give the impression of luxury and desirability but, the motto suggests that those who shop at the store are of a superior class by virtue of its royal connection.


Thought of by many as the original tech company, IBM was founded in 1911 and, throughout the early 1900s, was primarily known for manufacturing employee time clocks and retail weighing scales.  Now worth a cool $121.25 billion, the company produces computer hardware, software and hosting in 2019.

What’s the motto?  ‘Think’.  From 1914, IBM has used the slogan ‘Think’ which was created by Thomas J. Watson who explained that it stood for ‘Take everything into consideration.’

What’s its secret?  The slogan ‘Think’ is a great example of content marketing – about a century ahead of time.  The simple, one-word slogan captured attention – and imaginations, leading customers to want to find out more.  In addition, IBM has not just kept up with the times but has actively led them – constantly looking ahead to figure out the kind of technology that people want – before they know that they want it.

JP Morgan Chase

Founded in 1795, this banking giant now has 254,983 employees working from its New York base and around the world.  A stalwart of American life, the company deals in international investment banking and financial services.

What’s the motto?  ‘The right relationship is everything.’  Since 2002, JP Morgan Chase has been using this motto across all of its branding and marketing materials.

What’s its secret?

As the motto suggests, JP Morgan Chase has chosen to build its branding around the customer.  The word ‘relationship’ automatically suggests a partnership that transcends a boiler-plate business agreement.  In addition, the company has always championed its employees and supported advancement for ethnic minorities and women in the industry – CEO, Jamie Dimon sums this up with, ‘“People are our most important asset.’   In an industry that can often be thought of as ruthless and cold, JP Morgan Chase has successfully grown in profits whilst presenting a human face to the world.  JP Morgan is a great example of a business that was using social listening long before such a term had even been invented – by actively listening to its customers and reacting accordingly, the bank has been able to shape and grow its brand over the years.


The popular chocolate maker began in 1824 selling tea, coffee and drinking chocolate in Birmingham UK, eventually moving to a factory in Bridge Street.  Due to the high cost of production, the products were almost exclusively bought by the wealthy.  These days, Cadburys chocolate is available in every store and supermarket and, around 350 million bars are sold every day.

What’s the motto?  ‘Tastes how this feels’. Throughout the 20th Century, Cadbury was known for its motto ‘A glass and a half in every bar’, alluding to the milk content of its chocolate.   As advertising rules became stricter, the wording on the wrappers was changed to ‘The equivalent of 426ml of fresh liquid milk in every 227g of milk chocolate’ – which didn’t quite have the same ring to it as a slogan.  After a brief period using the motto ‘Free the joy’, Cadbury has now settled on ‘Tastes how this feels’ which is used in adverts featuring a bear blissfully scratching its back on a tree.

What’s its secret?

Cadbury made itself a household name by suggesting that the milk content of its chocolate not only made it tastier but more wholesome too.  Very much targeted towards parents, Cadbury becomes the trusted and favored chocolate brand for families.  In modern times, Cadbury uses the word ‘feel’ in its marketing – a word, which encapsulates both the pain point and the resolution for consumers.


It may surprise you to learn that fashion house, Burberry, was founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, a designer and entrepreneur.  Known for its distinctive styles, Burberry is still going strong today with 475 stores in 50 countries.

What’s the motto?  Burberry’s traditional motto is ‘Prorsum’, meaning ‘Forward’ – which represents its forward-thinking attitude.  The company also has a logo featuring a knight which was trademarked in 1909.

What’s its secret?

Burberry has managed to deliver fresh and original clothing to the world, all whilst maintaining its trademark checked design.  The company was founded on style and quality and, its distinctive clothing is still seen all over the world – including items worn by high profile celebrities.


British shoe store, Clarks, was founded in 1825 in Somerset, England.  Launched by James Clark, the first-ever pair of shoes was made from offcuts from his brother’s tannery.

What’s the motto?  Clarks has used a number of slogans over the years including ‘Step in the right direction’ and ‘Shoes you can really live in.’

What’s it’s secret?

Almost from the start, Clarks became the first word in quality footwear in the UK.  Despite being more expensive than other brands, even the poorest families chose Clarks for their children’s shoes on the basis that they would last longer and be better for children’s growing feet.    Now with 450 stores around the world, Clarks still specializes in children’s shoes and offers free fitting and photography to parents buying their child’s first pair.


One of the UK’s most popular estate agent chains, Winkworth was established in 1835 by Henry Winkworth – whose family ran the business exclusively until the early 1960s.

What’s its motto?  Winkworth’s most famous slogan is ‘Find your happy’, which refers to customers finding their ideal home.

What’s its secret?

As the first franchised estate agent in the UK, Winkworth has moved with the times and now has a solid digital presence as well as over 91 franchised offices within Europe.  The company’s reputation has been based on honesty, transparency and great customer service almost from its inception.

In the digital age, it’s tempting for businesses to dismiss anything which isn’t modern or high tech – which means that they may be missing out.  There are some incredibly important lessons to be learned from these iconic companies who have stood the test of time through war, recession, and political uncertainty.

In conclusion

While it is vital that we take advantage of the latest technology for our marketing campaigns, there are lessons to be learned from those brands who have succeeded for decades without it.

Rather than letting technology dictate to us, we should be looking for a strong message which resonates – and then using the tech to reinforce it.  By mixing the old with the new, hopefully, we’ll see some of today’s brands thriving in 2119

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