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Unlocking the Marketing Value of History

March 22, 2018 • Paul Woolf

More brands than ever are beginning to realize the marketing value of history, but how they monetize their history varies. Some capitalize on their history by creating brand museums and factory tours that highlight their craftsmanship and origins. For others, the marketing value of history is through merchandise—iconic T-shirts, metal advertising signs, or mugs that use old slogans or brand images. These items are a source of ongoing revenue from loyal followers of the brands, or those seeking retro-cool. However, finding interesting museum pieces and selling reproducible memorabilia are not the most powerful means for unlocking the marketing value of a brand’s history.

The most powerful means is using a brand’s history as a source of authentic content. Authentic content stands apart from most content produced by brands because of its utility. It can drive the positioning of the brand, create engaging storylines in communications and even help improve product innovation. It’s a lot more than a slogan on a hat.

History informs positioning, which drives brand value

Many brands are older than the customers they serve—brands like Coca Cola, Jack Daniels, BMW and IBM. These companies are consistently successful, and yet they date back to when our grandparents or our grandparents’ grandparents were active consumers of their products and services. Despite what you may have read, so it is with millennials, defined recently by the Pew Research Center as those born between 1981 and 1996. Of the top 10 favored brands cited by millennials, only two—Amazon, founded in 1994, and Google, founded in 1998—were born during millennials’ lifetime. The rest—Apple, Nike, Samsung, Target, Sony, Walmart, Microsoft and Coke—predate millennials, in some cases by over 100 years. Age of brand is somewhat irrelevant if the brand knows how to pivot and appeal to each new generation.

One common attribute among these brands is that their history and origins inform their brand position and help them course-correct when that positioning strays. Effective positioning, a basic Marketing 101 for every brand, is in turn applied through communications to appeal to the current generation of prospective customers. So while Coke may create advertisements today that are markedly different to those in which it tried to teach the world to sing in 1971, its brand positioning—refreshment and living on the Coke side of life—remains consistent. In this sense, the very essence of what makes a brand valuable—its strategic positioning in the market and how it brings that positioning to life—relies on an intimate knowledge of the brand’s origins, its historical milestones, the founder’s beliefs, and/or certain historical universal truths about the brand. Brands that forget their history and its lessons do so at their peril.

History informs communications, which drives brand value

Countless examples illustrate how brands have leveraged their history in communications to change perceptions and ultimately have an impact on behavior. Last month, we wrote about how two financial services brands—Lloyd’s in the UK, and Citi in the United States—used a timeline approach for advertisements that demonstrated their brand saliency over the past 100-plus years.

Another interesting example is Heineken. As part of the program announcing its Formula One sponsorship, Heineken took the unusual step of combining a sponsorship with the industry standard “don’t drink and drive” message. To help make this connection, Heineken signed up Sir Jackie Stewart, a familiar face in the United States and Britain for his racing prowess in the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s in Formula One. Stewart is also an outspoken advocate of improving driver safety. The TV spot takes a speedy trip down memory lane, showing Stewart in his younger days declining a Heineken after various races before presenting him today at a swank party, where he also declines a Heineken because he’s “still driving” before rocketing off in a Jaguar F-TYPE. The spot’s seamless connection of Stewart’s past to his present is a novel way of driving home a brand message for Heineken, enhancing both its image and, in all likelihood, its sales.

History informs product innovation, which drives brand value

The marketing value of history also lies in throwback packaging or product formulations that can take a few different forms. Sometimes, it is done as a temporary special—the eponymous “celebration edition.” Other times, it is put into the market as a permanent change, particularly in packaged goods. As we wrote a little while ago, brands like Miller Lite, Carlsberg, Keds, and Ford have all dug into their brand history to reacquaint today’s consumers with their past via product and packaging changes.

What is particularly intriguing about these brands is the way in which their history drove the product innovation. One common application is to lift a design from the past and add a modern spin. It’s a relatively easy win, hearkening to “the good old days” with a retro design special. We’ve also seen how some of our clients leverage their archives in product innovation and packaging design more for inspiration than direct copying.

Innovators who visit our secure facility in Chantilly, Virginia, are often looking for nuances or thought processes, ways that previous generations of product designers and creatives tackled specific challenges. Sometimes they find inspiration in blueprints or in the diaries and notes of a long-gone lab technician. Sometimes it’s through examining the physical product, looking at the shape or the materials to inspire the next-generation product. It’s an amazing, unpredictable process that nevertheless relies on having an orderly, well-documented archive.

History pays

It’s becoming more obvious to brand owners that leveraging the past can drive revenues today. Some brands opt for overt monetization of their heritage through museums, merchandise or limited-edition throwback products. Those who gain the most marketing value from their history are those who strategically use authentic content to help fuel everything from brand positioning to go-to-market messaging to product innovation. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. A brand’s history can support corporate legal departments, aid in training and motivating employees, and achieve many more objectives. The question is, are you doing all you can to leverage this often hidden or overlooked asset? Have you found your authentic content and used it effectively? If you’d like to learn more about how we’ve helped other brands unlock their value, simply click here.


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