For many CEOs, the past is a powerful tool in public relations, marketing, and branding, where heritage resources become points of leverage over the competition. Historical materials are the building blocks; especially valuable are historical photographs, slogans, and logos. These reinforce messages about the company’s longevity, stability, integrity, and tradition, all of which are especially important in difficult financial times.
Historical information assets directly enhance and protect the company’s brand identity, and they support re-branding initiatives by highlighting historic themes in advertising, e.g., catalogs, brochures, web posts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They also document the nature and evolution of a company’s community relations.
During the last dozen years, branding has appeared everywhere, so we tend to think of it as “modern.” Not so. Brands have been with us since our earliest civilizations as a means of identifying ownership. In the late 19th century, many consumer product companies like Procter & Gamble made concerted efforts to establish recognizable brands. Today, we view branding as a facet of marketing, roughly equivalent to a name, slogan, logo, or design associated with an organization and/or product.
It is worth a moment to distinguish between "heritage branding" and "brand legacy." While "brand legacy" describes a status for a company or organization, "heritage branding" is an action we can take with that legacy, either using it to underscore the firm's heritage image, or to re-invent and transform the brand.
Heritage branding is a potent way to create that crucial emotional bond between company and customer. The basic ingredients of identity and ownership conveyed in a brand are dramatically enhanced to include attractive and desirable things like quality, integrity, honesty, and dependability. People prefer products from a company that has a well-defined image, a clear history and mission—a company that offers a message that they can relate to, value, and cherish. Historical materials are uniquely qualified to deliver those attributes to branding and re-branding.
In recent years, there have been some notable revivals of legacy brands using heritage branding to support the reintroduction of products to the marketplace. Coca-Cola brought back Fresca after a four-decade absence. Other examples include Hyatt House, Ovaltine, the TV show “Hawaii Five-0,” the Volkswagen Beetle, and Jeep’s Wagoneer, to name a few.
The fashion industry has produced some striking examples of heritage branding. In the Pacific Northwest, Pendleton Woolen Mills, the Portland, Oregon-based wool company brand associated with the Beach Boys’ plaid shirts, Native American blankets, and outdoor wear, is energetically mining its company archives for new designs that are riding high on the current wave of heritage chic and avant-garde clothing. In 2011, Pendleton introduced The Portland Collection and in the Fall of 2013 launched its Thomas Kay Collection.
“Heritage with contemporary attitude,” is how we phrase it, says Kathy Monaghan, Branding Marketing Manager for Pendleton. “We’re using iconic textiles to stay current with a bold design statement.” In the process, Pendleton is attracting a new and younger generation of customers and beginning to transform the traditional image of its iconic American brand.
The power of branding when combined with history is compelling, according to Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale University. As humans and consumers, notes Bloom, “we are obsessed with origin and history … things get value because of their history.” In today’s marketplace where “brand over brain” dynamics rule, heritage branding remains one of the most potent tools available to corporate executives.
For multi-generational family owned businesses, the past represents something beyond marketing opportunities. Pendleton’s President, C. M. (Mort) Bishop III, emphasizes, “Our heritage is a lot more than a simple matter of using historical materials in marketing and branding for the sake of profit. It’s our DNA. It’s who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Our history, heritage, and authenticity are continually evolving in contemporary ways as we reach out to customers around the country and around the world.”