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Brands are difficult to build, manage and protect. In recent years, many great British brands have pulled their shutters down or have been acquired by companies based overseas. Pringle of Scotland, the 200-year-old iconic fashion brand was bought by the Hong Kong-based Fang family. Mini Cooper, Jaguar Land Rover, Cadbury and many others have had similar fates.
Some British brands have, however, managed to make a comeback from dire straits.
One example is the fashion house Burberry. Failing to appeal to younger consumers and seen as an old, out-of-touch brand, Angela Ahrendts had her hands full when she took over as CEO in 2006, but she understood how to regain relevance and reflect current trends to meet today’s consumer aspirations. Her strategy was simple: return to the Burberry roots. That included putting the trench coat back on trend and reinventing its appeal.
There is much to be learnt from iconic British brands that have found a path to resurrection by drawing on their heritage and redefining their core values. And one company in particular has done something similar and put itself on a path to regaining global prominence: Triumph Motorcycles.
Established in the early 1900s, Triumph’s heyday was the 1950s and 1960s. Its iconic motorcycles such as the Bonneville were famously ridden by movie stars including James Dean, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen.
But by the 1960s, Triumph faced tough competition from foreign brands. When Japanese models from Yamaha and Kawasaki entered the UK market, it was slow to respond and soon lost its market share. By 1983, it had gone out of business twice, before being bought by its current owner, entrepreneur John Bloor.
The Bonneville motorcycle being built in 1975. PA/PA Archive/PA Images
Bloor turned the company around. He created what is now internally referred to as the “New Triumph” by recognising the need to create motorcycles that are technically superior and a brand that is deeply embedded in the company’s heritage and British roots. Today, its motorcycles are marketed in 55 countries; the company has attained record sales and significantly increased its market share.
Based on our research, we have identified three brand-led initiatives that helped reincarnate Triumph Motorcycles and contribute to its current success.
Ownership of a motorcycle is as much an emotional relationship as it is a functional experience.
Triumph had struggled to connect with consumers in the late 1970s and early 1980s and lost ground to its Japanese competitors, who offered sleeker designs and faster acceleration. To regain relevance in the market, Triumph had to reconnect by offering a strong brand identity that its new audience could relate to.
New Triumph logo. Triumph Connection
To do this, the team effectively mixed the old with the new. The British heritage of the brand was emphasised, supported by the design of a new visual brand identity with subtle reference to the British flag.
The classic 1950s motorcycles, including the Bonneville, were relaunched using modern technology and British engineering and design. The Bonneville Bobber was also clearly positioned to attract a new and younger demographic.
These models acted as reminders of a bygone era when life was less complicated, instilled with associations of freedom, individuality and pride. Triumph drove home its “new nostalgia” approach by strengthening its associations with famous icons such as James Dean, Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. This capitalised on a wider movement of consumers who embrace old favourites, vintage imagery and retro cool.