The notion that we relate to brands as we do to people appears in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article about strategic branding and positioning. Mark Bonchek observes that each time consumers engage with a brand, they are asking the question, “So tell me about yourself.” For this reason, Bonchek points out that the most successful brands maintain a narrative that goes beyond This is what we do, to the more abstract but engaging This is who we are.
Take a step back for a moment. Picture yourself in the early 1800s. An era before ubiquitous national and transnational brands, where commerce is conducted on a local level. You frequent the same tailor because he treats you fairly. You buy your meat from the same butcher because it’s the freshest in town. You deposit your paycheck with the same bank because it proved to be reliable over generations. Companies had little need for flashy slogans and prominent billboards, let alone a concerted effort to manage and utilize heritage.
As companies began operating on an ever-larger scale, the need to engage national audiences brought to life a fledgling advertising industry. With no precedent, early advertisers relied upon their instincts to sell products and brands. They sought ways to transmit “local level” knowledge in a format that would engage consumers on a much broader scale.
Early national ad campaigns such as Ivory Soap’s “It Floats” in the 1880s proved immensely successful, but there remained a pioneering element of trial and error. By the turn of the 20th century, there was still no such thing as a full-time advertising copywriter. In fact, it is not untypical to discover that a copywriter for Hannah & Hogg Whiskey “got his pay mostly in sampling the whiskey.” Madison Avenue, Super Bowl ads and 10-figure advertising budgets were still far off.
Jump forward a century.
The emergence of a tangible heritage management industry in many ways mirrors that of the early advertising industry. Companies and their creative agencies began to see the strategic and long-term value in harnessing history as a way to bolster a brand. Intentionally or not, leading consumer brands embraced heritage management, without giving it a formal name.
Efforts to manage invaluable corporate archives have evolved from the days of simply depositing “cool stuff” in an out-of-the-way location, and while terms such as “chief heritage officer” and “heritage management department” still seem unfamiliar, heritage is fast becoming a critical component of brand management.
Ultimately, modern organizations recognize the inherent value in their brands, and a place on the Interbrand “100 Best Brands” list carries enormous cache. A strategic approach to heritage management and a well-managed consumer brand archive remain the most underutilized tools for achieving this. Let consumers know that you have always looked out for their best interests and delivered on your promises.