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Evolving a Heritage Brand


  • What is Brand Heritage?
  • What is a Heritage Brand, vs a Brand with Heritage?
  • Evolving a Heritage Brand: Honing Old Into New
  • The Brand Evolution Process
  • Strategy: Embrace Authenticity
  • Insight: Understand Your Audience
  • Clarity: Define Your Brand Essence
  • Evolution: Refresh Your Message & Visual Identity
  • Communication: Share Your Evolution
  • Brand Evolution Large and Small
  • Wrap Up: Embracing Change

What is Brand Heritage?

Brand heritage is the accumulation of provenance, values, philosophy, reputation, products and services, and more built over a company’s lifetime. The heritage established along that journey can be a significant advantage because it provides trust and an emotional connection that cannot be easily manufactured. For that reason, many heritage brands possess higher-than-average levels of brand equity. Contemporary companies with significant heritage include Filson, Ford, and Coca-Cola. Each boasts a rich tradition and history passed along generations, shaping what the brand represents in people’s minds.

What is a Heritage Brand, vs a Brand with Heritage?

Heritage brands harness the power of tradition and long business history, leveraging them as a vital aspect of their message, look, and marketing strategy. Embracing and celebrating longstanding heritage spanning several decades, these companies capitalize on legacy to engender a feeling of authenticity and a sense of trust and craftsmanship. Heritage brands often embody a timeless commitment to quality that consumers associate with value, dependability, and excellence. Examples include Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Rolls-Royce, Cadbury, and Levi’s.

Building a heritage brand is not just about looking back, however—it’s about creating a story that connects the past, present, and future. The brand’s narrative should inspire consumers and provide a foundation for the company’s growth and continued evolution. Heritage can evoke powerful feelings of trust and nostalgia that can drive purchase decisions. For example, Gucci—a brand once seen as quite traditional—revitalized its brand with keen attention to detail by meshing modern fashion trends with its classic Italian heritage.

In contrast, there are groups with long-established histories that do not emphasize heritage in their branding and marketing. Though they have deep roots, for various reasons, these companies don’t position that aspect of the company as a centerpiece of their strategy. Volkswagon is a prime example of a business that eschews history in favor of evolving its brand to stay relevant in a competitive market.

Evolving a Heritage Brand: Honing Old Into New

Today, brand equity is created and destroyed faster than has ever been possible. Digital marketing and social media have spurred a rapid acceleration in companies’ ability to reach consumers. As culture becomes more familiar with and averse to pop-ups, ads, and influencers, certain evergreen truths about how people interact with brands emerge. One of those maxims is that trust is far more potent than impressions or clicks.

Brand success boils down to three core components: compelling, effective storytelling; authentic human connection; and trust. By telling their story effectively and engaging customers in a genuine, human way, brands can build the trust critical for developing and growing brand equity. In this exercise, Heritage Brands hold an unfair advantage. Heritage is extremely valuable because it represents an irreplaceable edge that competitors cannot match.

The Brand Evolution Process

While the brand evolution process is often tailored based on the nature of the client’s business, market, geography, and audience, the flow of evolving the brand follows a path of certain key milestones.

Strategy: Embrace Authenticity

Conduct a thorough audit of your company heritage, identifying key equity that resonates with consumers and differentiates your brand in the marketplace. Understand what aspects of your heritage are most cherished today and leverage them as pillars for your brand refresh. Dig deep to mine your uniquely ownable assets—and avoid mimicry or fabrication.

Insight: Understand Your Audience

Invest in market research to gain insights into your target audience’s preferences, aspirations, and values. Understand their perceptions of your brand and identify areas where it can better align with their needs and desires.

A brand refresh provides an opportunity to realign your business with the evolving expectations of your audience. By understanding your audience’s preferences and aspirations, you can make informed decisions about the direction of your brand refresh, ensuring that it resonates with your tribe.

Clarity: Define Your Brand Essence

At the heart of every successful brand refresh is a clear understanding of your brand’s essence: the core values, personality, and purpose that define it. Take the time to define your brand essence, distilling it into succinct statements that capture its soul. Nailing this services not only your brand tomorrow, but also your company culture today.

Your brand essence should be timeless yet adaptable, allowing your brand to evolve while remaining true to its heritage. Let this serve as a guiding light throughout the brand refresh process, ensuring consistency and coherence across all consumer touchpoints.

Evolution: Refresh Your Message & Visual Identity

Your message and identity should represent a concise distillation and spirited amplification of your brand essence. Evaluate visual elements throughout your brand’s history with a keen eye for components that hold significant brand equity. Identify opportunities to modernize these elements while preserving key visual cues that tie to aspects of heritage that resonate with your audience. 

Avoid succumbing to the stickiness of momentary trends, focusing on building a look that is ownable and fresh, but timeless. A great brand agency can guide you through a process to ensure a refreshed visual identity that resonates with both your brand’s heritage and its future aspirations.

Communication: Share Your Evolution

A successful brand evolution is not only about updating visual elements but also about communicating the evolution of your brand to the world. Transparency and authenticity are paramount in this process—consumers value honesty and consistency from the brands they engage.

Develop a comprehensive communication strategy to articulate the rationale behind your brand refresh and the benefits it brings to consumers. Leverage multiple channels to reach your audience and engage them in your brand’s evolution, and invite feedback to start a conversation with your tribe. This exercise should be considered as an ongoing part of brand management.

Brand Evolution Large and Small

The key to effectively evolving a heritage brand is making the values and craftsmanship of yesterday relevant today. The best brand agencies are remarkably adept at not just finding the threads that tie moments in history to contemporary culture but also crafting the message in a manner that captures the hearts and minds of consumers. The best brands know that creative excellence is the foundation for marketing success.

Several years ago, we won the opportunity to evolve Southern Comfort, a global brand with nearly a century and a half of heritage and equity. After years of campaigns and packaging built around industry trends, the brand had lost focus, and drinkers were no longer connected to its offering or narrative.

In building the next era of Southern Comfort, we challenged the brand team to consider the entirety of the brand’s history and visual equity rather than simply focusing on refining the previous packaging. We also engaged consumers in a dialogue about perceived quality and craftsmanship, personality, and values, gaining insight into incorporating those aspects of the brand into a fresh identity.

A unique blend of fruit, spices, and whiskey, the original Southern Comfort recipe was first mixed by a New Orleans bartender in the late 1800s. In a sea of similar products, it is a distinctively singular spirit—no other liquor is similar to it by design. 

The desire to be seen as unique, special, and individual is a universal aspiration shared by people across the globe. We aligned Southern Comfort with that shared emotion, championing the brand as “A Category of One.” 

Surveying generations of equity, we reignited and refined elements from the past that embody Southern Comfort’s singular nature. At the same time, we created new language and iconography that speaks directly to contemporary drinkers. The combination of heritage assets and sharp messaging clearly communicates the brand’s enduring legacy and connects consumers today with a fresh, confident brand personality.

Wrap Up: Embracing Change

Evolving a heritage brand with a brand refresh requires a delicate balance of preserving tradition and embracing innovation. Top-performing brands stay ahead of the curve, taking the approach that a refresh is not a one-time event but rather an ongoing process of evolution to adapt to changing markets. Orchestrating a renaissance for your brand can be challenging, but companies with an eye on longevity learn that embracing change is an opportunity for growth and innovation. With careful planning and strategic execution, a brand refresh can breathe fresh life into a heritage brand, securing its place in the hearts and minds of consumers for years to come.

We hope this high-level overview adds perspective on evolving a heritage brand. Still have questions? Give us a shout, and let us guide you to find the best fit for your goals. Each week, we donate a free hour of consultation to aspiring brand-builders, so sign up using our contact form!

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