Redesigning a legend
Andy Lipscombe, director of brand strategy at FreshBritain, discusses the benefits of brands understanding the difference between history and heritage, and why brands which leverage the latter can come to be loved.
We’ve all seen historical brands with the potential to remain relevant, but which instead get consigned to dusty corners in fading department stores and just about manage to cling on. There’s no obvious reason why they couldn’t have leveraged their rich past to survive and thrive and find new audiences, but they don’t do it, or not well enough.
Why do some enduring brands stay so effortlessly relevant, while others become a parody of themselves, rooted in a past that no longer matters? Yardley and Penhaligon’s arguably come from a similar historical starting point (1770 and 1870 respectively) but only the latter has reinvented itself to become a global success story.
History vs heritage
For me this is because brands don't always understand the difference between history and heritage. All brands have a history, starting from the very first moment that they stood for something, and became an emotional vehicle for a product.
But only some have built a heritage. Heritage is when a brand leverages its history to make connections and evoke emotions, earning consumer trust and belief by association with tradition. Defined by an original and pioneering act, they use symbolism and rituals born of nostalgia to foster a deeper emotional connection with their community. This is why brands with history might be respected, but brands with heritage are loved.
Why it’s personal
Heritage is a topic that’s close to my heart. In a previous life as marketing director at Ben Sherman, I found myself working through this very issue. Brands with a rich history and sub-cultural relevance come with all sorts of potential pitfalls. On the one hand there’s lots to work with, but the wrong strategic decisions can easily send them back in time or in a worse-case scenario, to the museum. Too much focus on that past and they end up becoming a cliche of everything they’ve ever done.
Old mod, new mod
This was what had happened to Ben Sherman. In a constant seasonal re-cycling of ‘mod’ culture the brand’s proud history had become trivialised, not celebrated. But for the original mods of 1963, who were the first devotees of the brand and made it famous, the idea of becoming a museum piece would have been abhorrent.
They wore the brand to set themselves apart from their forefathers, and to project a bold and stylish new future. It was a brand that enabled the working classes to carry themselves with confidence and assert their relevance and authority. I continue to believe that this sub-cultural significance was priceless, and that it didn't stop in 1963. As a heritage brand, Ben Sherman needed to understand that today’s youth have similar anxieties and needs; the same need for a uniform to give them confidence and self-belief in the here and now.
So, by exploring the needs and values of today’s modernists, the brand was re-born. A ‘Heritage of Modernism’ was a highly successful new brand positioning, and the ‘Button-Up’ campaign restored the brand’s credibility with a new audience, while also being respectful of its past.
The rules of heritage
Through my experience at Ben Sherman, I’ve learnt that the principal rule of heritage is to understand what made your brand great in the past; what made it connect with innovation and emotion when it was established, and then understand how to make this relevant for today.
This can be distilled into a series of easy-to-follow rules for brands who are at the start of their journey to become much loved heritage brands. Burberry and Belstaff are two prime examples of great British brands who have successfully made this transition.
- Connect the best of the past with the best of the future, with contemporary design updates to classic products. This means being immune to short term irrelevant trends and evolving and defining iconic products.
- Partner with contemporary ambassadors that are relevant to a modern audience but uphold the values your brand has been built on. This means your brand and products can transcend the age of the consumer.
- Use your unique heritage as the foundation for your product range architecture projects. This reinforces original brand meaning in every future product expression, and means products become archetypal.
- Ensure product design is driven by tradition, authenticity and detail. Products should evolve through small and subtle changes, so products of today remain recognisable to our ancestors.
- Understand that value of your brand’s historical positive impact, and build on your heritage of doing the right thing. This creates a deeper emotional connection based on cultural importance.
- Always celebrate provenance and the unique meaning of your place of origin in the eyes of the world. This helps embed your brand in the national psyche as a pioneer and an original that matters.
Follow these ‘rules of heritage’, and I believe this will unlock for your consumer an expression of their most authentic self. And in my experience, this is fundamental for earning brand preference and ongoing loyalty.
Emotional connection is the constant
Time inexorably moves on and while so much changes, so much also stays the same. And perhaps the most important constant for brands is the need to define a meaningful emotional connection with consumers. This means understanding the true emotional value of brands in the lives of their consumers.
For heritage brands, this needs to be understood, and then re-imagined and contemporised for every new generation.