How to reignite a heritage brand
In recent years there has been an increased emphasis on branding and yet, despite this, a savvy approach still eludes many companies. I’ve seen established brands worry about whether “heritage and tradition” translates into “old and stuffy”. There is constant pressure for heritage brands to remain true to their roots, while at the same time convincing contemporary culture of their relevance.
A striking example is Burberry, which was being dismissed by its core market and yet, at the same time, was embraced by so-called “hooligans”. In an attempt to entice new customers it lost sight of what it was known for: the signature trench that had made it famous.
In response Burberry required a complete rethink. It took resolve to ignore critics and embrace intelligent design, as the company doubled down on promoting its signature garment while also giving its classic look a contemporary twist. And it took a total understanding of the vision and an absolute belief from the whole company for it to work.
The result was a shift of perception in the market, where glamour and restraint leveraged the essence of the brand. It reinvented itself as a brand that is both timeless and of its time.
The big challenges for heritage brands are relevance and innovation. How do you innovate while retaining your tradition? It comes down to ensuring that the brand is clear about what it stands for and what its long-term objectives are. It takes confidence to withstand shifting trends while remaining true to your history.
The first pitfall when trying to reinvigorate a heritage brand is measuring oneself against others instead of being clear on your positioning and benchmarking that against your customers’ expectations. It is vital to deeply understand your customer – knowing the language and media they use, as well as the status and value with which you provide them. Heritage brands have an advantage over newer brands because they usually have a loyal, sometimes multigenerational customer base. This offers a continuous validation and a rich narrative that they can leverage. Finally, there is a temptation – and pressure – for heritage brands to pursue the style du jour, but this dismisses history for veneer.
A rebrand is driven by many things, including business strategy, product development and design, but it all comes down to positioning. Shallow or mixed messaging will damage a brand. No matter what, a cosmetic approach will likely have little impact. Branding needs to be holistic and genuine. It needs to deliver on its promise; it needs to respect history and embrace the future.
monocle comment: Many brands are keen to play up their heritage credentials – some before they’ve earned the right to. But successful branding isn’t about spin: it’s about clearly communicating what the company is about.
Written by Kevin Finn for Monocle Magazine, Issue 96, Volume 10, September 2016 Editor: Megan Gibson