Here at Whippet we love getting our teeth stuck into a great branding project. One of the first things we always do is delve into the history of the brand to see where it’s come from, where it first started out and what nuggets of gold we can uncover to inform the new proposition. The dream is to find a wealth of heritage or an amazing brand story that we can bring to life. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But the idea of heritage for brands is an interesting one. How important is it to customers? Do they know if the shop where they buy their bananas or brogues from started trading in the 1800s? Do they even care?
More and more brands are embracing the notion of heritage and the more successful ones make themselves as relevant today as they did when they first opened their doors. However, that doesn’t always mean the brands are necessarily old in years. Shinola, an American watchmaker is a great example of an artificial heritage brand. The name was bought from a vintage American shoe-polish company to give authenticity and a vintage feel. The brand was then tactically located in Detroit to play off the rich manufacturing history the area is known for. Clever, when the products were all to be made in Detroit by local workers and craftsmanship was key to the brand’s proposition. The outcome? A hugely successful, authentically American brand that most people would believe to be as rich in heritage as say, a brand like Jack Daniels.
On the other hand, you have brands with an authentically true heritage. Some of these brands leverage this to their advantage, so it becomes a key part part of their brand appeal. John Lewis is a good example of this. They take every opportunity to tell their story – consistently, over time, in every channel, resulting in a loyalty that gets passed down through generations. And when they turned 150 in 2014, they brought their rich history to life through a series of immersive experiences and pop-ups, making themselves relevant enough to engage a whole new generation of younger shoppers.
But other brands are failing to tap into their rich heritage… and appear to be suffering. Take House of Fraser. The third largest group of traditional department stores in the UK – and on the brink of launching a CVA – it was, like John Lewis, established as a draper’s shop in 1849. 1849! It has a heritage of almost 170 years behind it. But who knows? Its focus has been on creating a ‘house of brands’, rather than a ‘house with heritage’. Its ailing status can’t solely be attributed to this fact of course, but you can’t help wondering had it told its heritage tale more strongly throughout the years, hung its hat on its history, whether it would have secured a more loyal customer.
If done well, the outcome of a brand’s heritage is a sense of trust and assurance, a feeling for the customer of reliability, of quality, expertise and service. All things that any brand strives for. Sometimes, as Shinola shows, customers will buy into that heritage regardless of the brand’s actual birth date. And sometimes, it pays to be true. But one thing’s for sure, in a digital age where we’re all glued to our phones, the appeal of something real and tangible with a great story behind it is becoming even more huge.