Weaving Your Heritage into Your Branding Communications

The birth of every company is memorable in some way. How it began. Why it got started. What dream the originators wanted to chase. What problem prompted its’ beginnings. What group of customers the founders wanted to attend to.

Yes, every brand has a legacy of its own. Do you know yours? Perhaps there is an untapped richness that is waiting to be leveraged and layered throughout your brand experience.

Ralph Lauren. Cole Haan. Pendleton. Carthartt. L.L.Bean. Woolrich. When you hear any one of those brand names you cannot help but think about old world things like heritage and legacy and tradition. Yet each one of those brands is actively involved in today’s multichannel marketplace and provides relevant product offerings to their various “tribes.”

No doubt, you can recall iconic products for each of these companies without seeing their bricks or clicks or printed catalog pages. You may have some of these items in your closet right now.

Just how do they combine this past/present approach? Here’s a look at how these “legacy pros” weave their heritage both overtly and covertly into their brand communications:

Not afraid to tell you how old they are and where they call headquarters sweet headquarters
In one of the first lines under the “Experience Carthartt” tab on its website, this brand boldly states: “For 120 years, Carhartt has manufactured premium workwear known for its exceptional durability, comfort, quality of construction, and fit that you can feel in the fabrics and see in the performance.”

L.L. Bean Signature touts both its age and its place of origin quite succintly: Made in Maine since 1912. Pendleton brags about being 102 years old and its Portland, Oregon home base.

Woolrich’s legacy began in 1830 in Pennsylvania and it reminds customers in its tagline that it is indeed, The Original Outdoor Clothing Company.

What’s in your product attic?
Another way to reinforce your brand authenticity is to mine your product closet for past bestsellers and repurpose them in some way to fit today’s customer. Pendleton’s done this artfully right on the back cover of their Fall book.

Here’s how they describe their Vintage Fit Tuckeroo Jacket alongside a past illustration: “This Tuckeroo wowed them in 1958 and inspired us this year. Check out the slimmer, shorter modern lines. Great design, informed by our heritage and infused with newness…”

L.L.Bean Signature invites customers to explore their “Archives” and then showcases products that have been refreshed. Their Sportsmen’s Dress Belt, for example, is sold with this copy: “ ‘Suitable for casual wear as well as for heavy woods pants,’ declared the 1971 catalog in which this belt first appeared. We have remained true to the spirit of the original, updating it with subtle contrast stitching and a plaque buckle engraved with the Signature logo.”

Naming nuances and creative headlines
Another way to convey brand heritage is to evoke tradition with powerful word choices. Both L.L.Bean and Woolrich craft their product names with legacy in mind. Bean’s 1933 Chamois Cloth Shirt or its Heritage Nubuck Tote) or Woolrich’s Heirloom Vest are a few examples. Woolrich carries this philosophy forth in their headlines as well. Here are just two examples: “A Rich History Embraced… a style refined” and “A Story to Tell…a deep heritage of treasured wool icons.”

Picture it!
Of course, enduring brands marry strong heritage vocabulary with equally impressive visual identity elements. From logos to labels to photography, these legacy pros appeal to all of their customers’ senses. With both Leon Leonwood’s actual signature and Pendleton’s iconic blue wool label, these companies capture their customers’ imaginations in ways that stick.

Always let the customers speak…
Genuinely delighting customers keeps brands in business for decades. Smart brands rely on their customers to help them tell their story. Passionate customers are happy to oblige. Woolrich’s iconic Original Buffalo Check Shirt has been in their line for over 100 years. A customer in Minneapolis says it best and simply: “I have been wearing these for over 40 years…”

In a recent Harvard Business Review interview, Disney CEO Robert Iger reminded companies that “you can’t allow tradition to get in the way of innovation.” Companies like the ones we’ve just explored creatively leverage their tradition to build brand equity, erect competitive barriers and most important, deliver a rewarding experience that keeps their tribes loyal year after year.

What is tucked inside your brand armoire? How relevant is your brand heritage? Are there aspects worth sharing with your customers in ways that build your brand credibility? What’s stopping you?

Andrea Syverson is president of branding and merchandizing consultancy IER Partners.