Heritage and Brand Identity

by | Sep 29, 2021 | Brand Experience, Customer Experience

With the braai fires dying down from Heritage Day here in South Africa, and with Heritage Month almost behind us, we at Interact RDT wanted to take a moment to talk about an element of corporate identity that doesn’t get enough attention: heritage branding.

What is Heritage Branding?

You may not have heard of heritage branding, but you have certainly seen it – and you might even use it in one form or another. For example, every aspect of a brand experience that leans on that brand’s history, or calls back to the long-distant year it was established, they are using a form of heritage branding.

Heritage branding is branding that utilises the brand’s history as a form of marketing and customer engagement. While it isn’t discussed as often as it should be, many brands employ it. And for good reason – a brand’s history can be a powerful component of its identity; one that encourages customer trust.

That might not sound helpful, unless you’ve got a brand that’s been around for a half-a-century or more. But the good news is that the brand equity that comes from heritage branding is not only for companies that’ve been around since the end of the dinosaurs.

Every brand has a story, and telling yours could be a core part of your corporate identity.

The Power of Storytelling as a Brand-building Tool

Telling and enjoying stories is very human. It’s how we share ideas, and it’s through stories that we often most strongly relate to each other.

And, at the heart of your brand – no matter how big or small, how corporate or casual – there is a human story. One of struggle and success. There were dreams, visions and missions that drove your brand from conception to the point its at today.

That is your brand’s heritage.

In a 2014 research paper on the topic of brand heritage the Journal of Product & Brand Management (in association with several schools of economics) stated:

“Coincident with its current attraction to marketers, heritage is acknowledged as a key organisational resource imparting long-lasting strategic value: companies are unique in terms of their heritage, and the heritage can provide the basis for superior performance. Unlocking the potential hidden value of a brand’s heritage may be one way of harnessing the past and the present in order to safeguard the future.”

In other words, your heritage is potentially a selling point.

While you might not be able to leverage 70 years in business toward building market trust, you can leverage the unique perspective and position granted by your brand’s heritage, tying it into your corporate identity, and using it to inform your product or service.

Brand Heritage and Top-of-mind Awareness

Consider Avon, a brand that truly embraces heritage marketing in all of its aspects. Not only is their 135-year history a core part of the brand’s identity, but so is their brand heritage of empowering women through flexible, accessible self-employment.

That heritage, and its centrality to their brand identity, is a part of why Avon saw a 114% rise in representative sign-ups and an accompanying doubling of online sales during the covid-19 pandemic. This, while many other companies have reported suffering through labour shortages as a result of the “Great Resignation.

Because of their brand heritage (and the specialisation it implies) and the fact that they have always so strongly embraced it, Avon occupies a niche that goes far beyond simply beauty products.

But embracing your brand heritage as a part of your corporate identity doesn’t require 135 years of history.

Including Brand Heritage in Your Corporate Identity

Maybe your brand doesn’t have 100 years in business under its belt. Maybe you’ve only got five or ten years. It doesn’t entirely matter. You still have a story to tell, and possibly a multi-year history of serving the same customers or community. All of that can be considered a part of your brand’s heritage, and can be drawn on to both inform its identity and engage with the market.

But there are a few fundamentals you should keep in mind when leveraging your brand’s heritage to communicate with or serve your market:

  1. Create a brand timeline:
    Keep a record of your brand’s history. Not only do you want the dates of important milestones, but you also want to know how your brand’s heritage ties into the shared history of events experienced by its community and customer base.
  2. Be authentic:
    Do not completely fabricate your brand history and heritage. Modern audiences crave authenticity, and they have the means to verify your story. Even if you worry that your brand’s story is not the most compelling, personalise it, don’t fictionalise it.
  3. Be people-focused:
    People care about people, and so you should always tell you brand story through the stories of the people who built it. That the brand was established is less important than the vision and the mission of the people who established it.
  4. Evoke nostalgia:
    Nostalgia is one of the most powerful human emotions, and one of the most interwoven with heritage marketing. If you can tie your brand to important positive events and memories in your customers’ lives (first car, first home, first love, etc) then those memories are sources of positive brand equity.
  5. Innovate:
    In the Avon example, Avon had to adapt to the influx of potential representatives as well as to the reality of the pandemic. In doing so, they added to and lived up to the promise of their heritage through new innovations. To truly embrace heritage marketing, your brand must live up to its heritage.

Contact Interact RDT for Branding and Market Expertise

A brand’s heritage is only one element of its overall identity, but its ability to impact both the customer and employee experience can be profound, if properly leveraged with appropriate expertise and supported by effective alignment of communications, branding and business objectives.

Contact Interact RDT today for comprehensive, full-spectrum and cross-platform brand strategies.


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