Why do some brands persist while others perish?  Undoubtedly, there are myriad reasons but for the purpose of this post I am going to focus on one element: a brand’s ability to evolve. As society, pop culture, trends, and technology evolve a brand can easily become a memory from the past.  What makes a successful brand able to sustain growth over decades is their ability to stay relevant by active branding methods. Much like life, a brand will inevitably face adversity.  It will hit a rough patch that will test its mettle.  Some have the talent, hustle and foresight to overcome this constant state of adaptation, while others simply can’t keep up. Numerous brands have been able to navigate the rough waters successfully, namely historic brands like Nike or Coca Cola.  But, to truly appreciate a brands ability to maintain decades of success, I’ve turned my attention to a handful of hip-hop artists who in my opinion embody the very notion of “re-inventing yourself.”

By re-inventing yourself, I don’t mean grabbing on to the trend of the moment to try and capture some instant success.  I’m not talking about one-hit-wonders.  I’m talking about sustained growth and presence.  The artists I selected started out ‘controversially’ but have since evolved to achieve mainstream success.

I selected Snoop DoggDr. DreIce T and Ice Cube.  If you are not familiar with their work, here is a (very) brief synopsis:

  • Ice Cube went from spitting lyrics like “Do I look like a mutha f*ckin role model?” to doing mainstream movies like ‘Are We There Yet’ and Coors light commercials.
  • Dr. Dre might be best known in music circles for his solo debut album ‘The Chronic’ but now has marketing partnerships for his ‘Beats by Dre’ audio accessories with Chrysler and Dell Computers.
  • Snoop Dogg beat a murder charge and produced porn but has seamlessly transitioned to mainstream success, even doing a Chrysler commercial with Lee Iacocca.
  • Ice T was a target of the White House when he released his song ‘Cop Killer’ but has enjoyed success as an actor on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

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For me some take-aways from these examples are:On paper you might think these individuals would be forever typecast.  And twenty years ago, I doubt any executive would have had Ice T or Snoop Dogg on their short list of marketing partners.  Much to these artists credit, their first contribution was to nudge hip-hop into mainstream pop-culture and set the table for future artists.  They recognized that as individual brands they would have to diversify themselves to elevate an art form.  They walked the fine line between ‘selling out’ to gain wider acceptance while keeping the essence of their brand intact.  Had these handful of artists not had the foresight to evolve, they would have quickly become a joke from the past.

Maintain your brand essence.

  • It is completely logical to adapt and evolve but don’t lose the essence of what makes you or your product great.  People will see through it and you will lose credibility.  This is even more damaging today because of the way information spreads.  Peers influence purchasing decisions more so than traditional marketing channels.  If you stray too far from your core strength it will come back to bite you.  Snoop didn’t change the way he talked to mingle with Lee Iacocca.

Stay in front of trends.

  • Don’t get stuck in the moment – realize current success can’t go on forever.  Realize trends are going to change you want to stay out front of those trends.  It is human nature to stay in your comfort zone but nothing groundbreaking is going to come from maintaing your status quo.  As a music producer, Dr. Dre saw a nature progression to audio accessories as a vertical market.

Leverage creativity.

  • Leveraging creativity can make your brand relevant to untapped markets.  If you dig deep enough you can uncover how your product or service can be relevant to more people without diluting your core strengths.

Stay the course.

  • Any product, person or brand that has persisted overtime will encounter both success and failure.  Don’t use failure as the basis to completely change directions.  Use it as a teaching moment but stay the course.  Sure, ‘Anaconda’ might not have been a box office hit but it helped Ice Cube display his ability as an actor.

However far removed you believe this comparison to be, you cannot deny that these artists have been successful for decades- much to their own creative ability to adapt and evolve.  I can’t factually state how some of their crossover success came to be.  And there are countless paths to success.  In my opinion, the ability to evolve is the critical centerpiece.  If your philosophy incorporates this you will have the foresight to counter adversity and eventually prosper.  Once you’ve hit that wall, it’s too late to shift. Had Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ice T or Dr. Dre not evolved from the ‘gansta rapper’ label we would not be talking about them today in the context of Fortune 500 companies.

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