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Brand Legacy

Brand Archaeology: The Power In Your Past

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Brand Strategy Brand Legacy

Whenever I flick through my old vacation pictures, I tend to recall past holidays as being much better than they sometimes were. The break I had in Bermuda that was packed with disasters; or the holiday in Cebu where nothing seemed to go right…I remember them all as being perfectly pleasant. It’s amazing how ten years or so can affect your perceptions.

Our memories can recall branding in the same positive light.

Recollections of the past become impressions of happy times, and advertising forms part of the panoply of experience. Jingles, advertising images, television commercials feature in our associative memory as effectively as remembered aromas. So evocative are these memories that you shouldn’t discard your brand’s past when building its future, offline or online.

Burberry’s comeback almost a decade ago didn’t happen by chance. It was the result of a well-calculated review of the brand’s, and its customers’, pasts. Burberry’s identity once rested on its signature red, camel, black and white ‘Burberry Check’, which the company introduced in the 1920s and registered as a trademark. By now, Burberry has been around for over 150 years and the accumulated effect of product consistency has established, in the consumer’s mind, a collection of ‘links’ or, what I refer to as ‘smashable’ brand components: brand signals which, just like the original Coca-Cola bottle, are synonymous with a brand. If one of those distinctive Coca-Cola were smashed into thousands of pieces, the brand would still be revealed in just one shard of glass.

Burberry built its new branding on a century-and-a-half of ‘smashable’ devices.  Long-recognized styling, consistent materials (Did you know that Thomas Burberry invented gabardine?), even the Royal Warrants that denote Burberry as ‘weatherproofers’ ‘by appointment’ to Her Majesty the Queen, all contribute to the our perception of the brand and the brand’s total image. The brand has plugged into its heritage and built on this brand equity, and in doing so has enhanced its authenticity in the consumer’s mind. I call this strategy ‘brand archaeology’.

Every brand that has been around for a decade or so has the potential to excavate its past. I reviewed some amazing TV commercials for one of the world’s largest insurance companies which wanted to build its brand authenticity and strengthen consumer trust. I recommended that the company re-run those commercials. They were more than 30 years old and when focus groups watched them, they caused many interviewees to cry with happiness. The ads’ soundtracks and images recalled positive childhood associations and evoked trust-packed emotions from the past.

You can find ‘smashable’ components everywhere, not only in your brand’s past television advertising, but in its product design, packaging, slogans and color combinations. I’m sure if Heinz dispensed with its classic glass bottle the company would save a ton of money. But by throwing that away, the brand would lose much of its equity and heritage. I’m sure you have jingles, tunes, pictures or catchphrases that served your brand well in the past. Examine your brand’s past, analyse its components, and reuse them to reveal the brand in a new and elegant way.

‘Brand archaeology’ is all about not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Identify good stuff from the past, and avoid rebuilding parts that are still there, hidden under dust. As consumers, we’re all increasingly busy and decreasingly trusting of on- and offline media. Brand signals need to penetrate our perceptions if they are to receive our attention. By stimulating the memory, brands can communicate powerfully to audiences.

Branding is all about building trust, which hopefully leads to loyalty and purchases. Trust is generated over time, often over years. For brands with an online presence this can be a major dilemma. Leverage your brand’s past to build consumer trust. Engage your customers’ emotions by communicating the heritage of your brand and tapping into their memories.

So, excavate your brand’s past and recover its most significant signals. If you have an old brand slogan, use it on your site. That old tune you remember from your own childhood? Background your site with it or distribute it as a ring tone. Reuse your brand’s graphics, maybe in a relevantly modern way, but don’t assume newness is always the best option. Dig deep: use your brand’s heritage to gain competitive advantage in a market where brands seem to be forgetting that branding is about emotions.

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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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1 Comment

Nicola on October 27th, 2008 said

I totally agree with your comment on authenticity which is why the Burberry brand has suffered, rather than prospered, in recent years. Burberry has a British history yes and traded on this very well until they moved manufacture from the UK to China. Consumers do want authenticity, brand heritage is important but its difficult to buy into and pay top dollar for a British brand when its made in China.

Steiff the German teddy bear manufacturer moved their production to China then back again for reason’s of manufacture quality. That may be so but this is the company who invented the teddy bear and that’s the reason why they can charge upwards of £300 for one bear. I doubt people were willing to fork out that much for one made in China.

Its nothing to do with the fact that the bag or the bear is made in China, its the fact that the brands trade on British or German craftsmanship and they can’t be authentic when the products are being made elswhere.

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The Power Of Nostalgia In Advertising

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The Past Can Power Online Brands

Brand Archaeology: The Power In Your Past