Heritage brands—the ones whose origins date to a previous generation, yet attempt to harness their most enduring qualities to remain relevant—were once protected by a structure that rewarded scale, consistency and category inertia.
But in the past decade, those barriers to entry have virtually disappeared, enabling the emergence of a new set of fresh, agile, and often digital-first brands. Meanwhile, the tumult of 2020 has challenged all brands to be more mindful of their role in both reflecting and shaping the greater culture.
Now is a moment that challenges even the most savvy and skilled of business leaders.
Below, nine of LPK’s seasoned brand-builders share their advice on how heritage brands can evolve, flex, and thrive going forward.
VP, STRATEGY & HEAD OF INSIGHTS
“Often, heritage brands are seen as having a lot of baggage. I like to think of them as having a backstory. Brands exist in a timeless and timely construct. In order to continue to remain relevant to a new generation of consumers, it is incumbent upon heritage brands to activate their enduring (timeless) human truth in ways that give them new meaning and expression in emerging (timely) sociocultural contexts.”
“For brands to survive for the long haul, they need to evolve to keep up with—and even lead—emergent culture. Heritage brands do this surprisingly well. It seems a bit of an oxymoron: an old brand that’s relevant today. But heritage brands teach us that any brand can express modernity if guided by the light of their timeless truth.”
The way forward: if your heritage brand has endured this long, it was built on an unshakable human truth. Identify and focus on that insight, then use it to inspire new creative strategies that will resonate with consumers in emergent culture.
VP, CREATIVE EXCELLENCE
“Too often, brands over-estimate what is memorable or different about their visual identity. For consumers, a lot of it is wallpaper. Heritage brands with the foresight to put time and effort into understanding what is truly ownable gives them an unfair edge. Rather than over-investing in new assets, the smart ones double down on fewer, more meaningful identifiers they already own and focus on elevating those to be iconic.”
SR. CREATIVE DIRECTOR
“Heritage brands are often full of assets accumulated over generations. More rules. More defined boundaries. Restrictions that create friction and can inhibit progress. Perhaps even some dead weight you must keep around for reasons no one today can even explain.
For a young designer, this can feel like handcuffs. But in fact, it’s an immense privilege to design for these brands. We are often designing with hundreds of years of legacy on our shoulders. It’s a hell of a responsibility placed in our hands. So, we operate as historians and designers. We counsel brands to evolve their aesthetic thoughtfully, incrementally, and with only the very essence of the brand at the center to guide the work.”
“When a client suggests their heritage brand is too precious to touch, I often recommend a reality check via research. A little data can go a long way in understanding what about a brand is actually valuable … and what can confidently be left behind. In a year when the whole world hasn’t been sure how to take a next step, these brands don’t have to delicately vie for attention. People experience a distinctive asset in action and inherently know what the brand stands for, allowing these brands instead to use the attention they earn to deliver something more meaningful to consumers.”
The way forward: commit to regular health checks on the equity and expression of your heritage brand. Consider an assessment of your core assets to gauge how distinctive they really are in market, then edit and modernize accordingly.
SR. CREATIVE DIRECTOR
“Recently on a podcast, a comedian said a certain A-list celebrity was actually really boring because there was no surprise in him. Heritage brands can often be a bit precious and protective of their stature, holding back the possibilities to surprise and be real. A way to evolve their voices is to ditch that generic, friendly brand character for one with a pulse. To show up a little imperfect. To speak with some heart. If heritage brands have all this life experience, there’s no excuse to not be incredibly interesting.”
The way forward: draw on your rich history to progress your voice and messaging for the times. Develop a strategy that reflects the authenticity and candor people expect in this day and age—without seeming like you’re assuming a brand-new persona.
“In the cultural push for authenticity in every facet and form, how do the heritage brands built on ties to another era show up credibly in today’s digital world? It requires a laser focus on the channels that will enhance the story being told. As the digital landscape evolves, trying to do everything on every channel will inevitably stretch a brand’s promise and spread it thin at the edges. Instead, brands should commit to a clear and concise narrative that can be executed cohesively and, most importantly, reach relevant audiences. If you were looking for some relief from the pressure to do it all, this is it.”
The way forward: double-down on your promise and deliver it consistently across the (largely digital) channels that matter most to your growth consumers.
“The heritage brands that innovate and grow are the ones that lean into the tension between past and future. These brands intentionally build a balanced team consisting of individuals who understand and honor the past with others oriented to challenge established norms and write a new future. The resulting push and pull creates good friction and reliably produces the right kind of ideas.”
CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER
“The greatest threat for heritage brands is not competition, but inertia. Healthy brands are like rubber bands, in that they have an elasticity that allows them to remain interesting (and even surprising) without entirely losing their shape. So my advice to heritage brands? Stretch, reach, and be a rubber band.”