Sunday, April 26, 2009

Victims of Legacy

I was working in the internet space, e-recruitment, as Marketing Head for two years from 2000. Some of our clients required experienced Legacy System professionals. Legacy Systems as the name suggests are the older and extremely huge computer network systems used by large corporations (Government and Private). They were made in the early 90’s or 80’s or even earlier. I do not know whether they exist anymore.

The professionals and their resumes were difficult to come by as they were scattered round the world. When we contacted these professionals, some of them were reluctant to move out of their current position. In fact, they were trying hard to recalibrate their skills to fit into the world of newer and more agile computer systems. Legacy Systems, they felt, were the dinosaurs of the IT world and they wanted to move out of that world. I had created a folder filled with resumes of such professionals and called it ‘Victims of Legacy’. 

Strength, over a period of time, almost always becomes a weakness or even becomes irrelevant. This is the basis of ‘Victims of Legacy’. 

We know this to be true from lessons in history, politics, industry and life. And like in the above case, in careers too. Isn’t it also true of brands?

The single and most important legacy for a brand is the actual product (or service). If time and effort is not invested in the product (or service) in continuously reinventing it or bettering it, the legacy crumbles. In such a scenario, marketers take the short cut and repose unreasonable faith in ‘communication’ to keep the brand alive and successful. The extremely tenuous legacy is stretched. What they are indulging in the name of brand building is actually ‘brand puffery’ and as the great Ogilvy said “the consumer is not a moron”. This exercise in majority of the cases fails.

Why does this happen, time and again?

Marketers always point towards cult brands like Apple, Nike, and Harley as examples of brands sticking to their core or legacy and thereby succeeding. No doubt about that. But the fact remains that these brands constantly give the world excellent products that is clearly differentiated. This way they continuously bolster their legacy and continue to be relevant.

Most marketers, though, are in a state of denial as regards the true worth of their ‘cult brand’. They have a me-too product (or service) with very wishy-washy intentions. And in a lot of cases, they (or the company) might have allowed the strong legacy to be diluted over a period of time. This is truly a great tragedy and a lot of us in the business know that this is quite common.

The Agencies and Brand Gurus don’t make life any easier for these marketers. They lay it on thick when they make important strategy presentation by drawing examples from these cult brands. These presentations which are slick and filled with obtuse philosophy probably from the likes of Socrates to quotes from the latest screen Sex Goddess (The Sex Goddess might make more sense than the strategy presentation) All this sends the marketing team into raptures of ecstasy much like the Emperor in his new clothes. And in this delirious state the strategy which is nothing more than clever wordplay is signed and sealed.

The teams that actually have to make sense of it all like R&D, Sales or the Agency creative team, are left in a catatonic state after such meetings. All this is actually very hilarious.

Investing in the product or service and thereby building the legacy is the hard way but it surely pays. Companies that seem to be realising that the ‘hard way is the best way’ like Dell, Hyundai, Samsung and many more.

Closer home I love this wonderful company Total Environment which lives this belief earnestly with little or no preaching. They are truly world class and it is no wonder they command a premium even in a highly volatile real estate market.

I am also aware that in most cases, over 90% might not be a wrong guess, what I have suggested above might not be possible. For some reason or the other companies are unable to invest in their legacy and depend only on communication to ‘build brands’. If that is the case, they should stop taking themselves too seriously. Loosen up. Explore the unexpected and liberate the agency’s creative team from mindless strategic drivel.

Whatever be the case, don’t become a victim of legacy.

As for me, I am going to quickly put together a few slides on iPhone App Store for a presentation to a prospective client of mine :-)

Note: Agencies mentioned above refers to all kinds – Research, DM, PR, Advertising and so on.
(Image courtesy: gavface)


  1. good one sir. i've heard this theory from you before. basically you're saying even iconic brands need to reinvent constantly to survive. so true. look at a brand called madonna, shes constantly reinventing herself and appeals to a newer generation every so many years. joshi

  2. Thanks Josh for the input. Yes, Madonna is a very good example. Iconic brands are iconic because they constantly reinvent themselves at the most important offering, the product.

  3. nice, subbu, and josh is so right about madonna. so when brands fail to reinvent themselves and stagnate, why does advertising still portray them as not?

  4. Thanks Suzanna for the visit. You have asked a very good question for which I will attempt an answer here. We (Agencies and Marketers) prefer to take the easy way out. We do not want to risks as it will be a blot on our name. Sounds corny but that is the best I could come up with. Read Ad Contrarian whose links are available in my blog list. He is a Creative guy who makes eminent sense and I agree with him a lot of times.