In our consumer culture of shiny-new-object syndrome, it is increasingly unlikely that a brand will survive—much less thrive—for more than a few seasons. But for 162 years, Levi Strauss & Co. has done just that. The staying power of the Levi’s brand stands out boldly in this era of pop-up stores, Snapchat-style startups and fleeting loyalty.
For perspective, consider that when Levi Strauss emigrated in 1853 from Buttenheim, Bavaria, to the U.S. and founded his company, there were only 31 American states. Another 32 years would pass before the automobile was developed. Among iconic U.S. brands, only Anheuser-Busch (founded in 1852) has been around longer than Levi’s. (Coca-Cola came about in 1892; Ford in 1903.)
And yet Levi’s remains a formidable brand today. Fiscal 2014 revenue increased 2 percent over the previous year to $4.68 billion, and the company commands the highest share of the global jeans market. Retailers credit Levi’s for having unique brand assets they can’t get from other lines. As Gary Oneil, former creative director for J.C. Penney, explains, “Levi’s has become a brand titan that scales across lifestyle, gender … this allows retailers to cast a broad net that captures a diverse customer base.”
Moreover, Levi’s continues to be considered hip. Complex, a website devoted to twentysomething males, listed Levi’s among its “15 Brands Hipsters Love,” alongside Band of Outsiders and other indie designers. Sightings of Levi’s-clad celebrities fill the pages of style and pop-culture media.
Shawn Parr, head of San Diego-based brand and innovation consultancy Bulldog Drummond, whose clients include adidas, American Eagle Outfitters and Nike, observes, “Levi’s is like the Rolling Stones or Johnny Cash. They’re one of the all-time greats who defy and define the category, and without them, the genre wouldn’t be the same.”
The secret to the longevity of Levi’s actually isn’t a secret at all. The company uses classic brand-building principles to maintain and grow its brand equity. These are fundamental ideals that remain the keys to building a brand with staying power.
Commit and stay committed.
Above all else, Levi’s is authentic—and fiercely committed to maintaining and reinforcing that authenticity.
The company got its start by selling built-to-last pants to miners during the California gold rush. Demand spread across the nation, and as pioneering gave way to manufacturing in the economic landscape of the early 1900s, Levi’s became the clothing of choice for the working class.
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