Legacy Brands Weigh in on Marketing Disruption at CES 2017

For legacy brands, change can be a good - or potentially disastrous. That distinction, often quite independent of the critical reviews of a new product or service itself, depends on the effective articulation of rollout messaging in the context of overall brand value. Connecting disruptive product introductions with brand identity - the "whys" - often matters as much as the "hows" of the product's value proposition to the waiting public. Frequently, the successful launch of new initiatives hinges on the marketing team's ability to bring existing marketing strategy in line with a critical messaging shift.

And what better place to talk disruption than at this year's Consumer Electronics Conference (CES) event in Las Vegas?

While business leaders, marketers and top executives from global brands came together to premiere new products, unveil campaigns, and discuss the future of their respective industries, CEOs from legacy brands shared their own insights on what effective and lasting marketing disruption does (and doesn't) look like.

Disruption Doesn't Demolish

Marketing innovation at a high level doesn't mean driving your pre-existing strategy off the cliff. A small makeover - not a landmine - is more than enough. Firstly, a history of quality and long-established, hard-earned consumer trust must be at the core of any legacy brand's industry influence.

While giving a keynote address at CES, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, highlighted that innovation should be presented as an extension, rather than a reset, of company heritage. Consumers - especially when viewing a new product launched into a relatively nascent industry (such as virtual reality, for example) - will ask themselves, "Is this really going to take off, is it really going anywhere?" Consumers won't plunge headlong into a financial (and emotional) investment in a new product if they aren't convinced that it will continue be relevant for years to come.

That means showing potential buyers a new line isn't just the new trend. A new product line - like Intel's Project Alloy, a virtual reality multiplayer headset - should be shown as a way a legacy brand is "thinking about the future of (this) kind of technology, a way of extending (offerings) beyond classic consumer electronics," said Krzanich.

It’s possible for any company to adopt a disruptive innovation strategy and “to not only reach new consumers but also possibly shake up their own industry," said Lee Hsieh, Partner and Director of Digital Strategy and Content for Midas Exchange in a recent CMO research report on this same topic. Inspiring industry-wide change as a lead marketer means underscoring your company's innovation leadership in its sector while permitting its influence to grow organically. That means communicating that your company's best asset is not only what it has done, but how it will handle a challenging, unknowable future.

Disruption Isn't Denial

Creating demand for a new product doesn't mean trying to pull consumers away from existing, well-loved items (which may represent an earlier version of that very product). In fact, the old version may very well satiate their current needs. But again, it's about what the future holds, and how these updated products will lead the charge. According to Motley Fool analyst David Kretzman, the most successful brands present a new line as part of the history of the company bringing "products to consumers that consumers didn't even know that they wanted."

"Getting them to let go of an outdated version of your offering requires a soft-touch in brand messaging - they'll have to do it on their own, taking their time to say goodbye to the old. The goal is, that once consumers are using these [new version] products, they'll wonder how they ever could go back to life without them," said Kretzman.

Disruption Delivers Value

At the end of every campaign, irrespective of its creative brilliance and level of audience reach, is the question: "Why do I need this?"

Consumers follow legacy brands because they're trusted. That reputation is invaluable and (usually) can't be restored once it is significantly tarnished. So, emphasizing quality should never play second fiddle to your promotion of innovative ideas.

 "We must still deliver on (a) classic expectation," said Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn while delivering his keynote at CES. "But now we are also competing to introduce new breakthrough technologies."

That means showing - not telling - the consumer that the value of your new product is more than its high standards and modern effects. It must reflect the company ethos in putting quality and consumer needs above all else. Build marketing strategy around demonstrative value rather than exclusively on traditional brand messaging.

This requires a heightened emphasis on messaging simplicity in campaign development, rather than falling into an endless war to outpace competitors in eye-catching, creative campaigns. Don't lose sight of the brand elements that have won over your customer's hearts in the past (regardless of how "uncool" it may be, this is still one area where legacy brands have a leg up).

One underlying theme from each of these business leaders during CES 2017 to was to remember that your company has survived all these years not just on wit and charming new campaigns, but on its quality and value, too.