Business Strategy

How These Centuries Old Brands Updated Their Marketing to Not Just Survive, But Thrive

modern branding

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 30 percent of new businesses make it to 10 years or more. So what does it take for a brand to survive and thrive for 100 years or even more? Undoubtedly, these brands have faced all kinds of changes and challenges through the years, and have had to employ clever and resourceful marketing strategies to stay relevant. So how do these iconic brands stay successful?


Carhartt began in a small Detroit loft in 1889 and is now a leader in durable apparel and a multi-billion-dollar company. Carhartt VP of Marketing Janet Ries says the Carhartt marketing strategy is to always stay true to who they are. “We don’t chase trends,” she said. “While the landscape has changed, we have stayed really close to who we are and have tried to serve, protect, and tell the real stories about hard-working folks. We have no actors; we use real people to showcase the brand.”

That doesn’t mean they are antiquated in their methods. “It’s really important is to make sure you adapt to the digital landscape,” Reis says. “Digital allows us to get smarter with are target. Everything is connected now, so you can find out what is popular and what people are interested in seeing and hearing from us. We use different tactics to target people who are not aware of us versus people who know us already and really focus our efforts on certain consumer segments.”

Main Street America Insurance

Main Street America Insurance, established in 1923, writes more than $1.1 billion in annual premiums exclusively through independent insurance agents. Main Street America Insurance recently went through a brand refresh that included a new logo and name adjustment, but there was one thing that

didn’t change. “The critical component has always been a handshake and that was important for us to retain,” says Stephanie Pennington, Main Street America Insurance director of brand marketing and digital experience. “It graphically showcases our company as a partner and the trust and relationships we form with independent agents and their customers.”

Pennington says Main Street America Insurance has implemented agent satisfaction surveys, various councils and focus groups to get feedback on how to best market to, and serve, its customer base. “We really focus on that customer-centric model where we can show them what we are building and get real time feedback before we bring a new platform or quoting system to market and use their feedback inform how we should operate,” she says.

Aunt Jemima

In many ways, social norms and mores have shifted dramatically in the past 100, 50, or even 10 years. With those shifts, some brands are facing massively different landscapes now than they have in the past. For example, the Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix is currently undergoing an entire brand overhaul.

The brand originated in 1889, and was named after a song name from a minstrel show featuring performers wearing an apron and bandanna headband. In light of recent events and protests about racial inequality throughout the country, the brand has decided to remove the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging and completely change its name. According to the website: “…we acknowledge that our origins were based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to evolve our brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize that those changes are not enough.” Aunt Jemima, a subsidiary of The Quaker Oats Company, and a member of the PepsiCo family of brands, is soliciting feedback from consumers regarding the brand changes.

National Geographic

The National Geographic Society published its first magazine in 1888 and over the years, that yellow border became an unmistakable staple on coffee tables everywhere. But by the 1990s, readership modern marketingwas down markedly, and the organization had to figure out a way to save itself. Leadership and the marketing department went into overdrive and launched an effort to reinvent the National Geographic brand across all kinds of platforms. In 2018, then-Executive Vice President Jill Cress said, “Understanding that we aren’t going to necessarily engage a younger new audience coming to our traditional channels, we are creating content in platform-specific ways.”

From its origins as a glossy magazine, National Geographic has transformed into exciting, bingeable television and web programming, live events, educational materials, maps, podcasts, and targeted kids and family media. They have turned to the digital landscape, including social media, social networking and photo-sharing sites to deliver relevant content aimed at a younger audience, with 100 million followers on Instagram.

Moving forward means staying connected

The changes society has seen in the past 100 or so years have been dramatic, and businesses have to evolve and even transform in order to stay relevant. However, there is something to be said for remaining dedicated to your product despite changes. Successful centennial businesses have one thing in common: A customer focus. They look at what their target audience and typical consumer and not only anticipates their wants and needs, they deliver on them before they’ve turned elsewhere.

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About the Author

Jennifer L. Grybowski has been a journalist and writer for 20 years. She has written about business, government, politics, education, and culture. She holds a MFA from Southern New Hampshire University, and also writes fiction. Connect with her at