What it Takes to Impact a Heritage Brand. Hint: It’s No Easy Feat

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The AW360 team sat down with Jack Bedwani, CEO and Global Business Director of the projects*, the independent brand consultancy working with big names like Target as Influencer AOR, as well as Barneys and Coach, to dig into what it takes to help a heritage brand redefine themselves and break out from 21st-century noise.

Q: Briefly talk us through what it means to be a “heritage brand.” What are the hallmarks? Can you provide a few examples?

Heritage brands are generally a household name, having existed in the cultural conversation at some point because they captured the imagination or spirit of a scene, place or moment in time. They’re brands we know and love, but often they have lost their luster.

Q: What should marketers consider when beginning work with a heritage brand? Are there any inherent challenges, or opportunities to be had?

I think it’s important that marketers connect with what made the brand great in the first place. The challenge then becomes what that brand has to say in 2018. How does that brand show up or participate in the new cultural landscape where the customer attention span is a mile wide and an inch deep? To answer these questions, at the projects* we look at what’s happening in culture and what are the opportunities for the brands we work with to contribute to a specific cultural movement or conversation in a meaningful, informed way.

Q: Every successful brand must connect with consumers on a deep, consistent level, engaging with them in the ways and on the platforms they prefer. How has this primary goal changed in recent years where heritage brands are concerned?

I don’t think it’s changed per say it has just evolved. Heritage brands have an interesting opportunity in today’s cultural landscape because nostalgia has become such an interesting cultural currency. Often, heritage brands are able to evoke genuine interest by tapping nostalgia in clever ways. Champion and Fila are having a real moment in streetwear culture right now and it’s because they are tapping into 90s nostalgia at a time when reboots of Saved By the Bell and The Lion King are hitting our screens, and Troye Sivan and Charli XCX are putting out video clips that rif Titanic, Legally Blonde, TLC and almost every major movie and music from that time period. It’s no coincidence the 90s is super hot right now and brands that are reminiscent of that time have an opportunity to take back the conversation. Ultimately the goal should be how to capture the attention of younger more savvy audience segments and when you have their attention how are you going to participate in the cultural conversation?

Q: Heritage brands come—as their name indicates—with a long history. How can marketers balance that legacy to fit modern trends and consumer behavior?

That’s exactly the challenge we get really excited about! It’s all about finding those white space opportunities where a heritage brand’s values and those things that made them great, align with a current cultural context. Marketers really need to understand what makes the brand distinctive and find ways to show those unique selling points to new audiences in fresh ways. We work with Coach, which is an amazing American heritage brand and whose signature print has been around for over 40 years. To reinvent this classic iconography we tapped the current cultural context of new world spirituality and mindfulness. We did so because we know that younger audiences of today are disillusioned with the current political, corporate and religious landscapes, they are therefore looking for answers in alternative places. It felt like the perfect time for Coach to participate in the cultural conversation. Enter “Life Coach,” a six-day experiential activation which explored the themes of existence and spirituality through the Coach brand lens.

The broader idea is the access point that spikes an audience’s interest and gets them to pay attention. From there, it’s crucial that we keep their interest by providing an engaging experience or compelling storytelling that captures both their attention and their imagination. With Life Coach, we were able to do that through an immersive brand experience where nothing was for sale and no product was on display. Instead we collaborated with some of the most celebrated street artists and tarot card readers in the country. It was all about the customer experience and starting a conversation, which we intend to continue over the coming months and which consumers can continue on their own, as well.

Q: What sort of opportunities have been created for these legacy brands, related to emerging technology?

I think emerging tech has created a ‘“democratisation of attention” where everyone has a level playing ground and the best ideas and storytelling wins. I believe the path to true success in this market is about understanding your audiences and using technology to meet them where they are.  At the end of the day, the tech is only powerful if you have a good story to tell. Be it visually or written, digital or analog. If you have nothing to say you have no way to stand out. So, establishing real values and a clear point of view that is tied to the conservation of zeitgeist are the most important things. From there, use new tech to reach your audience in the ways they want to be reached.

Q: Consider what’s next for these legendary brands—what should they prioritize, and what fresh opportunities do you foresee?

Legendary brands are legendary because they have a great brand story–one that really resonated with an audience at some point. The first step is understanding why their brand story was so powerful then, and really getting clear on what made or makes them great. From there, it’s about overlaying that insight with what’s happening in the world of culture today. Finding those intersections enables you to creative ties to relevance today and start a conversation that’s worth having with customers and potential customers alike.

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