All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy How our favorite ‘90s brands made modern comebacks

How our favorite ‘90s brands made modern comebacks

Vokal CEO Reid Lappin looks at how two 1990s brands have made a comeback and what you can learn from them to revive your business.

5 min read

Marketing Strategy

How our favorite ‘90s brands made modern comebacks

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

Gamestop. AMC. Nokia. Blackberry. These brands have all been in the press lately. But it’s the Birkenstocks, Oakleys and Champions of the world who deserve more attention.


It’s these 1990s brands that have made meaningful progress — not just sensational press — and are solidly back in the black.

Are you trying to get there, too?

There are still plenty of ‘90s brands that haven’t made big, splashy comebacks. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re responsible for the success of one of them. You’ve probably done many of the right things to help your legacy brand evolve, including heavy investments in digital platforms that focus on data, marketing and product innovation. Maybe you’re all-in with Microsoft.

But it’s not working and you don’t know why.

Let’s take a page or two from the playbooks these comeback brands are likely using.

How did these brands make their comebacks?

As far as consumers can tell, these brands are back because they have great products — and they can appeal to the nostalgia of 1980s kids that now have more buying power.

Fashion from the ‘90s is definitely making a comeback, and these brands do have good products. Sometimes, they’ve also gotten some help from celeb fashion designers (like Birkenstock with British designer Phoebe Philo).

But beneath the surface, there’s likely much more at play internally that has allowed these companies — and many others like them — to capture new market share.

The not-so-secret to success today is that every brand needs to be a digital growth company.

Birkenstock, for example, heavily invested in creating a more omnichannel approach, establishing Birkenstock Digital in 2016. This dedicated organization now oversees all the digital business of the brand, including more than 20 websites and e-shops localized for different countries, as well as a variety of carefully managed social accounts.

David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas, explains: “We’re a true digital-led business. … Our brand fans expect us to engage with them directly.”

Oakley has taken the approach of integrating digital right into its products. The brand’s Radar Pace product was the first pair of smart glasses, developed in 2006 in collaboration with Intel (even Google glasses didn’t show up until 2013).

Now, Oakley’s IoT-enabled specs provide “real-time voice activated coaching system that creates a unique training program, tracks your performance and coaches you in the moment.”

Competition is changing, start up threats are real, buyer behavior has completely transformed, and incumbent brands like those we love from the 90s need to evolve.

The digital playbook

Getting there can feel daunting — with all the options, where do you even start? The answer is to break “digital transformation” down into bite-sized chunks. Any brand can make a pivot in small, incremental phases. Here’s how.

Step 1: Centralize your data

In the digital era, everything has to start with a complete understanding of what’s happening in every corner of the consumer side of your business.

Which products are and aren’t selling.

Marketing channels best suited to reach each audience.

How individual customers are engaging with your brand over time.

Data is flowing in from all around your business. Many brands are implementing customer data platforms (CDPs) to collect and analyze this information. Odds are, you already have a technology that could serve this purpose for you — but the real challenge comes in knowing how to interpret the information and putting it to use in the right ways to generate growth.

Step 2: Develop a strategy (and team) that works across silos and stakeholders

Legacy brands often still operate in silos, and there’s a lot of talk these days about breaking silos down.

But that could mean an extensive restructuring that takes time you probably don’t have. And you don’t necessarily need to totally bust those silos anyway. Rather than blow it up, build a growth team that can operate with and across leaders in product, marketing and operations.

Step 3: Think about shipping experiments versus features

You probably remember a time when brands would blow-up their existing app, site, ecommerce, etc., to make way for the next great solution. Those days are gone and for good reason. Instead, you can make continuous forward progress with a step-by-step approach. Focus on improving a specific digital initiative or experience, and use real-time data to point you in the right direction as you evolve.

Start by building a better shopping cart. And go from there.

Digital talent required

Any incumbent brand can follow a new, digital playbook — but you need the right talent to do it. All of these ‘90s comeback brands have it.

At the end of the day, you’re not just competing against your traditional competitors with similar products. You’re also competing against all the digitally-savvy startups that create the best customer experiences. They’re training consumers to have certain expectations whenever they shop online.

Getting access to the people who make excellent digital products can be the vital difference between another ROI-negative digital project — and unlocking growth through digital.


Reid Lappin is founder and CEO of Vokal, a leading growth consultancy that helps mid-market brands at any stage of the digital product lifecycle.