The Test of Time

I met a friend for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory the other day. She was a little late so I had a chance to read the menu. (You know me…always working.)

Usually captivated by the variety of food, I had never noticed The Cheesecake Factory history on the first page before. I loved the chance to read it because I have been a fan for a long, long time–since 1984, to be exact, when I was visiting friends in Beverly Hills.

That first location was a funky little place, half the size that it is now. But my most vivid memory is the massive bakery case and the wonderful array of cheesecakes. Having eaten there again a couple of years ago with the same friend, the core of what I remembered was the same–the food, the quality and the service.

That first location has grown into the space next door and the interior elements in the additional space mirror the décor elements of more recent locations around the country, but the core remains the same.

In a world where thousands of restaurants fail each year, what allows a brand to withstand the test of time?

I was reminded of a television commercial I saw last week for another brand that has withstood the test of time: Wendy’s. The commercial was for Wendy’s 40th anniversary. It seems impossible.

I remember their first location too. I had a summer job in the building next to that first Wendy’s location in downtown Columbus. We knew it was special even then. Yes, we actually did think it was “way better than fast food.” Wendy’s stood out from the competition then by offering big square burgers.

No offense to the small square burgers, now ubiquitous, that Columbus’ White Castle has made legendary. With over 80 years in business, White Castle is yet another brand that has withstood the test of time.

What made these brands survive the test of time? What, if anything, do these brands have in common?

I think the secret lies in something that Phil Romano shared with Max & Erma’s executive team when I invited him in to talk to us about branding years ago. He pointed out that we needed to identify what was “core” to the concept and make sure that we maintained that strong core. Innovation should happen around the edges. It made sense to me then. It makes sense to me now.

Cheesecake Factory’s addition of small plates and luncheon specials, Wendy’s new Boneless Buffalo Wings, and White Castle’s addition of BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders all reflect that “innovation around the edges” that keeps a brand fresh while protecting the core. The customer owns the brand. Protecting the core allows great brands to keep their promise and keep it fresh.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.