Brands that have been around for a long time (and many that want us to think they have) have long recognised the value of the heritage story in customer engagement. The Hovis “Bike Ride” ad of 1973, directed by Ridley Scott, is a classic lesson in how well this works: dripping in nostalgia, it tells a story of Hovis as a wholesome, honest food that has been part of your home for as long as you can remember. “As good for you today as it’s always been”, as the tagline went. The story has been replicated countless times in advertising by Fairy, Colgate and others, as well as by luxury brands such as Chanel, which uses its heritage codes to convey prestige and quality.
This has proved so successful, in fact, that most brands now have a “heritage story”. Every company that is more than 10 years old has a heritage section on its website. Sometimes the heritage story isn’t even real: Baileys “Original Irish Cream” was dreamed up (complete with fictional founder R.A. Bailey) in 1983 overlooking the Bailey’s Hotel in London. Other companies, such as the Cambridge Satchel Company (est. 2008) and American behemoth Anthropologie (1993), evoke heritage and nostalgia through their names, products and marketing. It’s not hard to see why: it’s a valuable way of creating an emotional connection, of establishing trust and reputation for your business. But what happens when everyone is doing the same thing?
Heritage brands are finding nostalgia marketing less successful these days. It’s not simply because it is being over-used. There has always been a tension between the backward-looking approach of heritage and the need to innovate and change to remain exciting.
In a recent interview in Marketing Week, Sally Abbott, global marketing director at Weetabix, said: “We could look backwards and celebrate the fact we’ve been around for so long, but that would soon become tiresome for the consumer… We’re very lucky to have that heritage and I feel the weight of responsibility that’s been passed on to me from my predecessors, but our role is to keep the brand relevant for consumers today.”
It brings us to a problem at the heart of heritage branding: there are only so many times you can capture people’s attention by reminding them how long they’ve known you. After a while, you stop looking timeless and start looking old. So what should heritage brands do if they want to continue to engage their audience – how do you solve the Hovis problem?
Last week, I attended a conference on retail history, held at the Centre for the History of Retail and Distribution in Wolverhampton, which was packed with new insights about retail and marketing in Britain. A paper on Heal’s, the furniture company, particularly caught my interest. We learned how, at the turn of the 20th century, Heal’s transformed itself from a relatively humble furniture retailer into a market-leading design brand.
Founded in 1810, by the 1890s Heal’s already had a considerable history under its belt when designer Ambrose Heal joined the company in 1893. He merged its retail and production expertise with the aesthetics of the burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement, led by such figures as William Morris and John Ruskin, that took inspiration from the simple, artisan craftwork of Britain’s pre-industrial past.
With this new aesthetic in its furniture design, Heal’s created a logo and aesthetic identity to match: a perfect marriage of innovative creation built on heritage values. Heal’s didn’t stop there: at the top of its shop on Tottenham Court Road, it established the Mansard Gallery, displaying the most exciting artists of the day – Pablo Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani – alongside Heal’s modern furniture designs. The gallery established the company as an authoritative, exciting brand for consumers.
Bacardi (est. 1862) offers an up-to-date example of heritage brand creativity that engages customers. Last week, it unveiled a graphic novella in partnership with prominent artists Warren Ellis and Michael Allred. It’s a memorable experience for their audience, telling the story of Emilio Bacardi and the turmoil of Cuban independence at the end of the 19th century, and is well worth a read as a piece of graphic art. What’s most interesting is that it isn’t a story about how Bacardi has been around for a long time, but about why it holds certain values, and what those values might really mean. It’s called “The Spirit of Bacardi”.
A creative approach to heritage doesn’t have to mean engaging with the latest developments in art and digital design (although this is clearly a valuable approach). In its simplest form, it means brands thinking seriously about where they came from and working out how human stories from the past connect to human stories today. The French brand Maille is set to do exactly this in its new Autumn campaign. It has drawn inspiration from royal banquets, and Maille’s long connection with the French court to create new flavours and a richer sense of luxury for its audience. Again, the focus is on the new, exciting creation that Maille is able to offer – precisely because of its centuries of experience of beautiful food.
Focusing on sheer longevity, and relying on a nostalgic emotional connection, is no longer enough to stand out in a market full of Hovis stories. A good story doesn’t just say what happened, it brings out new ideas and new meaning for its audience. The best use of heritage is what it can tell you, and your customers, about why your company has worked for so long: what are the characteristics that have made it special, and using that to create something new and exciting. In other words, heritage and creative innovation, done well, can mean the same thing.
In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of the “digital nomad”, leading an independent lifestyle that combines a career with the freedom to travel and work anywhere in the world. Yet in opening up the world to us, the internet has also been seen as fostering a lack of social cohesion with us interacting remotely in our own digital bubbles.
According to a survey conducted last year by Churchill home insurance, a third of us cannot recognise our next-door neighbours with 36 per cent of residents unable to pick their immediate neighbours out in a line-up or if they met them in the street. Moreover, 51 per cent of people cannot recall the first name of their neighbour and seven in 10 are unaware of their full names. Perhaps because of this, digital media is now being used to forge a new sense of community in a variety of ways.
Websites such as Streetlife have been creating “Social Local Networks”, raising local issues and connecting nearby residents, groups, organisations and businesses, in the belief that better connected neighbours build stronger communities. Organisations such as the Media Trust are supporting initiatives to help communities utilise digital media.
Some communities have even created their own local currencies. Bristol’s Pound is a local currency scheme that has been running since 2012, building on such pioneers as Totnes (2007) and Brixton (2009). For the creators of the Brixton Pound: “A local currency reinforces shopping at independent businesses, which are more likely to source local supplies, use nearby services, and employ local people. It’s money that sticks to Brixton, and makes it a better place to live and shop.”
Success in Brixton has encouraged other cities across Europe and the United States to adopt local currencies. Since July 2014, hundreds of businesses in Brixton have become part of the first real-world network for mobile payments and a pay-by-text service. Success in Brixton has encouraged other cities across Europe and the US to adopt local currencies.
And when brands are thinking about the global market, they too are thinking at a more local level, adapting their products and services to the culture in which they are sold and reaching a specific audience through digital media. “Think global, act local” has become the mantra for companies with global aspirations.
So where once digital media was seen as isolating ourselves, it’s now providing a real opportunity to foster a sense of belonging where we live, and experience again the joys of thinking glocal!
With the growth of E-commerce in recent years, impulsive shopping on the high street is slowly becoming a thing of the past; today’s consumer is seen as the “well-informed shopper”, one who typically spends around 10 hours researching online and visiting two to three websites before buying from a website. And these informed shoppers don’t stop once the purchase has been made. They continue to monitor the product they have just bought to ensure they got the best deal.
Today’s consumers have the tools – literally at their fingertips – to immerse themselves in a retailer’s brand and also to express their feelings on blogs or social media if the product is broken, the online shopping experience disappoints, or a purchase costs more than if it had bought from another website. According to PwC’s latest Global Total Retail Survey of online shoppers, 55% provided positive or negative comments about their experiences with a product or brand on social media.
With the rise of the informed shopper, having an integrated, multi-channel, total retail marketing strategy is essential to boost engagement and ultimately improve the bottom line. A brand can’t survive in today’s online world simply with a website as a digital presence.
Today’s consumers now expect a multichannel shopping experience. Physical stores, a website capable of handling purchases, a mobile site or app and a presence on social channels such as Facebook, twitter, YouTube and google+ are viewed as essentials to maintain a healthy relationship with a consumer.
Zero moment of truth
A brand’s first encounter with a potential buyer starts with the “Zero moment of Truth” when the prospect (or shopper) has first heard about the brand and knows nothing about it. The shopper starts by searching the brand on Google and will continue to research while switching between different channels to immerse in the brand. To get an overview, an informed shopper will start with a brand’s own claims to know what the brand has promised to deliver, then check on social channels to find out how the brand is actually delivering, what efforts are being made to keep the customer happy, what latest technologies have been adopted by the brand and, finally, if all goes well, making a purchase. This is Phase 1 of the Customer Life Cycle.
Phase 2 determines the customers’ life-time value, which depends upon their experience with the brand. If they are happy with their first purchase, they are likely to follow the brand, engage with it via social channels and provide productive comments about their experience, which will not only help their friends, but also the brand.
This doesn’t end here. Most important is to maintain this relationship with the customer. It is so easy to distract your customer in today’s online world, where your competitors are trying their best to steal your customer away by offering them low prices, free vouchers, free shipping, easy payment options, personalised emails and many other inducements.
Building trust with the customer
Phase 3 involves building trust. A 2013 survey by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten revealed that trust is key to competing beyond price online. The survey found that while consumers love nothing better than a bargain (61%), almost half of global shoppers (49%) surveyed consider the reliability of the retailer to be paramount when making purchase decisions online.
Retailer trust was most valued in the East, where countries such as Indonesia (69%) and Thailand (65%) ranked reliability as the number one feature when shopping online. In the US, reliability came second only to price, with 75% of Americans citing price as an essential purchase driver.
Contrary to the popular belief that shipping and payment options are of high importance to consumers, research also revealed that less than a third (29%) of shoppers surveyed globally saw shipping options as a key factor in their purchase decision. This average falls to around a quarter (26%) in Europe and 33% in the US. Meanwhile, payment options were even less significant, accounting for just 20% of responses globally. Notably, this fell to just 6% for British shoppers and 9% for Americans.
So for a brand to succeed in this new market of informed shoppers and pro-active competitors, the key is a multi-channel consumer-focused approach.
A few months ago, I was hired by Illustrated London News Ltd as a Historical Researcher. As a recent history graduate I was thrilled to be employed in a role that could utilise my historical knowledge to exploit the company’s vast archive, which holds the entire collections of The Illustrated London News and the other illustrated magazines known as the “Great Eight” publications.
I admit I was initially unsure how this would ultimately benefit a marketing and publishing company with a specialty in luxury premium brands. However, I soon learnt the value that the archive holds with modern-day companies, particularly high-ends brands and retailers. Indeed, a brand with an archive has significant advantages over its competitors.
One of the most important rewards a company can expect from effectively managing its archive is through increasing brand knowledge and awareness. This year, Godiva commissioned Illustrated London News Ltd to create a book that captures the luxury chocolatier’s rich history and tells the story of its development as a company over the past 88 years. This has involved historians uncovering fascinating material in its archive that best conveys Godiva’s heritage to its customers and the public
Archives also have direct commercial value as a source of product innovation. Ideas that have been lost and forgotten can be re-discovered and re-packaged for today’s market. This is particularly valuable for the fashion industry with decades-old styles constantly coming back into fashion. The Savile Row tailor Gieves and Hawkes hired archivists to help dig up old designs to be used in their “capsule collection”. Archival material helped with campaigns based around its long-standing reputation as a royal tailor as well as pieces written about its history as a designer for the Royal Navy going as far back as the Napoleonic wars.
Differentiation, closely linked with brand knowledge, is also an important incentive for luxury brands to manage their archives. Every company has a unique story to tell, one that incorporates its achievements, company culture, product, people and reputation. Telling your story can create the kind of loyalty that gives a brand a real competitive advantage in particularly tough markets.
A striking example of storytelling in the world of luxury brands is Valentino Garavani’s online 3D museum. Using images and information from over 5,000 documents, the Italian fashion house has pieced together an interactive history of Valentino’s work that shows the impact he and his brand have had on the world.
An archive also acts as the memory of the business. It can be used as evidence against trademark infringement or an assault on reputation. It can also be employed to strengthen the standing of a company amongst its employees and in the business community at large. An archive can also show how a brand has adapted amid economic uncertainties and technological change and continues to evolve.
For a company, an archive is the most fantastic resource. Those with a long history can utilise their historical material for today. For newer brands, adopt an efficient archiving process now so you can reap the benefits in the future.
“You just have to live and life will give you pictures,” declared the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. And nowadays we have such a variety of ways to capture an image, from lomography (the retro form of analogue photography) to smart phones that means every moment can be captured.
After two previous attempts, I finally managed to make it to the Pompidou Centre in Paris with my wife and daughter for a restrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work. We had limited time because our ferry in Calais was set to depart in four-and-a-half hours. We rushed towards the gallery entrance hall only to find a queue of fellow travellers slowly snaking its way to the door. After 20 minutes, we were finally in. On the white painted walls hung small black-and-white photographs surrounded by crowds of people.
These were photographs in the analogue sense. Distilled from light and chemicals, they took on a life of their own. Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was an artist who captured the “decisive moment” instinctively. He was greatly influenced by the surrealist movement in the 1920s and 1930s and you can see this in the way he composed his photographs, as if hunting prey, waiting or moving around his subjects until that fleeting composition presented itself. Using a manual Leica with no light meter, his experience would enable him to set the correct shutter and aperture to capture that moment.
These days photography has become commonplace, technology having placed a camera in everyone’s hands in the form of a smart phone. You no longer have to be an enthusiast to sport a digital single lens reflex camera because the price on previously expensive technology has made this equipment very affordable. These cameras are all digital and images are captured in a totally different way. Previously, film was expensive so every shot counted. Now hundreds of shots can be taken with no cost apart from the initial outlay for a memory card that can be repeatedly reused.
When film was the medium to capture images, more time was taken to compose the scene and make sure all the settings – aperture, shutter speed, exposure and focus – were correctly set. With some experience, particular effects could be applied by changing one or more of these settings. The depth-of-field could be changed by adjusting the aperture, allowing different parts of the scene to be in or out of focus. Fast-moving subjects could be frozen or blurred by adjusting the shutter speed.
Nowadays, most scenes are captured using automatic settings. Although it makes photography much easier and more dynamic, there is a loss of skill. Also in the past, film was chemically processed, giving high resolution results. I have spent many an hour in the darkroom coaxing images from exposed photographic paper soaked in developer chemicals. Digital images are rarely printed and are mostly shared to appear on social media networks.
Photography helped accelerate the exponential rise of social media (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr). The immediacy of social media networks has made digital photography fantastically popular. Mobile phone cameras are also used as an aide-memoire (car park spaces, a dissembled electric car window, motorbike clutch, electronic circuits and recipes to name a few things I’ve photographed), to share moments almost instantly and globally. The selfie (self-portrait) has entered the vernacular.
Photography has made an amazing journey in the past century and digital reigns supreme, even though Lomo photography has made analogue hip again. There has been a rise in popularity of obsolete formats such as vinyl and audio cassette and there is a place for them all.