Norton roar back through brand rejuvenation

Norton motorcycles is an extreme example of brand rejuvenation, with owner Stuart Garner actually bringing the brand back from the dead, as covered in The Times here (subscription needed). The company made its first motorbike in 1902. But when he bought the brand in 2008 that's all he bought: no factory, no orders, no employees. He started production again in 2010, and turnover has reached £6million, 80% of it from exports. Demand is so strong that Norton is struggling to keep up with demand, with waiting lists of up to two years.

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Here are a few highlights from the Norton story.

1. Rejuvenation from the roots up

Back when Stuart bought the business in 2008 it had no factory, but it had a lot of heritage. And it is these  roots that are the basis for the rejuvenation of the brand. Norton won the first ever "TT" race, a mythical and highly dangerous race on the roads of the Isle of Man. More victories and speed records followed. The brand is also quintessentially British, with a rugged and tough image, something that has strong appeal to overseas customers. As Stuart says in the article, “It’s such a revered British brand that as soon as the trade heard we were back, we had inquiries from all over the world.”

2. Refreshing brand properties

It is fascinating to look back at the brand archives and to see how Norton has refreshed some of the brand's distinctive properties with more than 50 years of consistency behind them. It is these properties that can help create memory structure to get the brand recalled when people are making decisions about what motorcycle to buy. You can see below that the same logo is being used today. In addition, the distinctive shape of the petrol tank and seat has been retained. This is even more powerful than the logo, as it makes the product itself stand out from the crowd. 

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3. Baking Britishness into the brand

Many brands play on British roots to create appeal but often rely on emotional sizzle and imagery alone, with the product being made abroad. Norton's “made in Britain” credentials are more authentic. 83% of the bikes' components are already made in Britain, but Stuart wants to go even further so that every part comes from domestic suppliers. The challenge is that the decline of the once strong British bike-making industry. “Our mantra is British-made, which is what the global customer wants — quality and craftsmanship,” he says in the article. “But we haven’t got a supply industry, so I can’t make a wheel and I can’t make an exhaust without having huge problems, because we lost the industry to the Japanese in the 1960s.”

Stuart is pro-actively trying to solve this problem, leading an initiative to create a British motorcycling manufacturing academy to train young apprentices. He’s set aside 10,000 sq ft of space for the project and is now campaigning to raise the £5 million needed for equipment and training.

In conclusion, the Norton story is an inspiring example of how to remember and refresh what made you famous. This could bring back to life not only the Norton business but potentially a whole industry.