Commentary

Heritage - Advantage Or Disadvantage?

It appears that we are living in a world where heritage that once took a century to earn now takes significantly less time to achieve. I love the energy with which the likes of PayPal, Amazon and Google have attained what might be described as “contemporary heritage” but I wonder whether this takes away the true value of genuine heritage?

It seems that revisiting a company’s origins is still a popular way of re-establishing brand authenticity. Not everyone, however, is successfully plundering their heritage. Those looking to their past for their future communications have to negotiate a few hurdles in the process. I don’t believe re-kindling an old logo or ad campaign is always going to translate into a resounding success. 

On the one hand, we have contemporary brands that are bright, reliable, desirable and have a sense of heritage hewn from rapid and consistent growth. Then we have those brands that have been attempting to look contemporary and keep up with the changing times to the point that they have started looking generic and almost disappear within a brand category. And, finally, we have those brands that successfully focus on making their heritage count for today's new consumers. 

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I guess the key is to know which category your brand falls into. There will always be things that new brands bring to the table that established businesses will naturally be inspired by but it’s important not to loose sight of yourself in the process!

Uncovering original brand cues can help a business re-establish themselves by re-igniting compelling emotional engagement, re-asserting trust, re-building credibility and offering a new, clearer direction, both internally and externally. 

Coca-Cola was arguably one of the first to see what was staring them in the face all along. Their successful de-evolution in 2007 saw them strip their packaging and communications of all the drop shadows, rendered bubbles and wavy lines that they had acquired over time, leaving behind the simple iconic Coca-Cola wordmark and instantly recognizable color scheme. 

I would call that a successful heritage story.

Others have not been so nimble nor visionary. Some will find that in recalling the good times they may have already lost that audience familiar with the brand, and those famous good times will mean little to the new target audience. 

This throws up the question of how old a brand has to be to claim meaningful heritage. Twenty years old may be borderline, as there’s a risk that going back to a fairly recent past could just make a brand look like an early-aughts brand that needs to be brought up to date! 

However, there are exceptions to the 20-year rule when considering heritage beyond simply marketing, something product designers have caught on to. Just look at the relaunch of the Nokia 3310; the accelerated speed of evolution within the mobile sector has meant the 17-year-old design now looks positively antique compared to today’s smartphones. 

Heritage is a tricky one to harness. Certainly it is not about slapping a cool logo on a product based on trends and tastes; it’s about establishing who the brand really is, what it’s about and what’s right for its line of business. These are probably the key elements that go on to create long-lasting brands. 

As it turns out, the perfect response to the creative  challenges a brand faces today might have been sitting in their archives for the last 30 years.

1 comment about "Heritage - Advantage Or Disadvantage?".
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  1. Bob Batchelor from Cultural Historian and Writer, March 20, 2017 at 11:02 a.m.

    A company’s heritage is really about storytelling, not “plundering” the past. All organizations using heritage as a communications channel should look for the hero/heroic in its past, which can be 200 years ago or 20 years ago. The hero can be the rise of a brand, a great leader, or innovation, among others.

    You’re exactly right about “brand cues.” Uncovering these points and showing how current value systems connect to the past are a great way to demonstrate value.


     


    My clients in heritage/historical management often want to show how their current successes are the result of a commitment to evolution over time. Consumers connect with this kind of message, and certainly internal campaigns are fueled by these notions and get employees fired up about their work. Also, I might suggest a new book by Bruce Weindruch, the dean of heritage management in the business world: Start With the Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto (http://amzn.to/2mI42wo)

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