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How Heritage Brands Can Make Their Future As Powerful As Their Past

by The Dieline on 11/28/2022 | 4 Minute Read

By: Carsten Glock

In the land of brands, there are many sleeping giants—heritage brands that have been around the block a few times but are now asleep to the fact that the next wave of consumers is perhaps not as interested in them anymore. 

Naturally, some brands lose their way. Often what made them darlings in the first place gets diluted—whether through market forces, change of management, technological innovation, or just human nature. 

The question is what brands do about it. Do they carry on by relying on their past credentials, under the false notion that if it isn’t truly broken, there’s no need to fix it? Do they opt for a re-skin, a fresh logo, and an identity to garner attention? Or is there another way to treat the genuine cause of weakening relevancy? 

Tackling a gradual decline is formidable. Many brands fear upsetting existing customers. Others have stakeholders involved with lots of different philosophies—convincing all of them that change is needed will always remain a challenge. But even for those who recognize the need for change, there are some critical dos and don’ts for designers. 

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Heritage Isn't About History

Too many heritage brands believe their history or founder's story is what drives relevance today. 

They couldn’t be more wrong. From our experience, consumer research repeatedly shows that founders’ stories don't resonate. New brands often rely on their founders to embody their purpose, but where heritage brands are concerned, consumers don’t really care about people who are long gone. 

What works is taking that person's essence and what they stood for and relating it to the DNA of a brand and the modern world. Yes, heritage brands should look inwards and discover those golden nuggets, but they must translate them and apply an outside perspective of a target consumer. It’s about finding the right balance between the two. 

For example, in its recent rebrand, the Swiss chocolate brand Toblerone drew on its founder Theodor Tobler’s habit of breaking the mold. But his story was made relevant for the consumer they were aiming to reach beyond its heartland of global travel retail. The rebrand extrapolated a new tagline—"be more triangle"—that informs the whole brand world alongside a vibrant modern execution. 

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What Made You Great in the First Place

While a brand’s character is often rooted in the founder, it is also closely linked to its product’s unique qualities. A brand’s longevity can be down to the benefits it provides. For many heritage brands, therefore, it’s worth rediscovering what made them desirable from day one and bringing this to the forefront in a straightforward way. 

That approach drove Rimowa’s transformation from a dusty heritage brand of well-made luggage to a luxury brand of choice with a fantastic product at its heart.

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When Dewar’s Scotch whisky distillery asked us to help make the brand more relevant for a new consumer cycle, we decided to go for a wholesale reset, focusing on what was good about the brand and what made it unique. Its double aging process for extra smoothness—a process that has been around for more than 150 years—coupled with its personality was really what made it relevant for consumers today. We helped identify this essence at the heart of the brand, playing it out in disruptive experientials and other communications, ultimately helping them become one of the world’s largest whiskies again.

Belgian beer Cristal, meanwhile, could have shouted about the fact that it was one of the country’s first beers in its recent reset. But instead, its new identity conveys its low-key personality as a genuine beer for the people, amplifying the humble attitude the brand always stood for.

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Don't Be Everything To Everyone

Another trap many heritage brands fall into is diluting their offer—trying to be everything to everyone. They should all look to Audi for inspiration. The car manufacturer recently announced that it would stop producing its small cars to focus on the more premium end of its business in larger cars and electrification. It realized what made it a great luxury brand and doubled down on it. 

Wouldn’t it be great to see some of the world’s most recognizable brands in FMCG, confectionary, and drink do the same? The likes of Lindt, Twinings, and Kellogg’s could all take a page out of the car giant’s book and refocus on the areas they can truly own.

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That brings me to a final note of caution. Many of these brands have undergone a refresh or launched new packaging over the past year, but they have clearly missed a trick. If a brand loses its way, it can always kick-start its engine with a new visual identity or on-pack design. But unless it's rooted in that inward look and identifies the golden nuggets that make it outwardly meaningful to today’s consumers, it won’t awaken its true potential.

Carsten is the founder and chief creative officer of interdisciplinary creative agency GLOCK. Since starting the agency in 2006, Carsten has worked with some of the world’s leading brands, including Bombay Sapphire, Revlon and Burt's Bees.

Starting his career in his native Germany, Carsten has worked in a range of disciplines, from animation to photography, and positioning to pack, and quickly realised the value of being surrounded by a team of experts and specialists.

This became the catalyst for creating GLOCK, an agency of curious and conceptual strategic thinkers communicating through design.

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