Circa now: Keeping heritage brands relevant

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This week, Dan Vasconcelos, associate creative director EMEA,  presented at Dubai Lynx 2016, the Middle East-centric division of Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. As a creative in the world of branding, Dan’s remarks focused on how to refresh and reinvigorate heritage brands, using story, experience and simplicity as the levers to reimagine what brands of old can be for the customers of now.

You may not have noticed but you’re probably reading this piece surrounded by octogenarians.

Octogenarian brands that is.

Whilst some still ride the wave of their heyday, others sit back and display the tell-tale patina of time. Heritage brands are everywhere and come in all ages, shapes and sizes. But what they have in common is a strong sense of familiarity in the markets where they operate. And familiarity—one step up from brand awareness—is gold dust in crowded marketplaces. After all, you are more likely to trust someone whose story you know than a complete stranger.

photography, Kristina Nabieva

(Courtesy of Dubai Lynx/Kristina Nabieva)

So no wonder that many brands are keen to portray that they’ve been on the road for a while – even if they haven’t.

You might have heard of a company called Shinola. It designs, produces and sells $500 timepieces, $2,000 bicycles and luxury leather goods hailing all the way from Detroit, the cradle of US manufacturing.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Shinola has been around for decades given its mid-century product design cues and post-industrial flagship stores. But in reality it’s only been trading since 2011, when it acquired the rights to the name of a defunct shoeshine brand from the 1900’s. In fact Shinola is not even from Detroit nor does it produce all of its wares in the Motor City. It’s set up by a New York based private equity firm and managed by a multi-national team.

There’s no question that it’s doing well but, as reported by the New York Times, Detroit residents took issue with the hijacking of their city for marketing purposes. Which takes me to the point about authenticity.

You can’t buy heritage. But if you have it, make the most of it. And that includes not resting on your laurels – the likes of Kodak are there to remind us of what happens to brands that don’t stay relevant. So how do you modernise without alienating your core audience? How do you connect with new markets and new customers whilst remaining true to who you are?

  1. Tell a story. But be true to your history.

Authenticity is the anchor that ensures heritage brands can evolve without losing sight of what they stand for. When 160-year-old Hunter extended its appeal beyond rubber boots into fashion apparel, they did so with style and integrity. Their new product line still celebrates wet weather whilst rejuvenating the brand and taking it to new markets.

  1. Think beyond the logo. Modernize the brand experience.

Logo-centric marketers in regions such as the Middle East are often tempted to embark on reinvention exercises that end up throwing visual equity away. Take the long raging “Soda Wars” for instance; Coca-Cola has refined its century-old logo a few times but never beyond recognition. Coke remains relevant through constantly reviewing its packaging, communications and sponsorships. Pepsi on the other hand has gone through at least 10 logos since 1898.

  1. Keep it simple.

Chances are that if a brand is single minded, consistent and manages to remain relevant, it will eventually become iconic. At Siegel+Gale, we help companies large and small harmonize their past with their present in order to secure their footing in the future—realized by the power of simplicity. For Faberge we crafted a positioning informed by the brand’s illustrious history—traditional yet thoroughly modern. For Saudi conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel, we harnessed the pioneering values which have guided the brand since its beginning to enable the business to elevate and extend its offerings beyond the automotive sector, in which it has thrived for more than 60 years. Reinterpreting heritage is also a big part of what we do for American Express – evolving visual assets that convey different aspects of their story consistently around the world.

Even if your brand is far from being an octogenarian, don’t underestimate the value of familiarity. Whether your brand’s heritage spans five or fifteen decades, use it as a platform for storytelling so that when market imperatives call for evolution, you never lose sight of who you are.

Dan Vasconcelos is an associate creative director at Siegel+Gale.

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