- Experiential Marketing
How Heritage Brands Engage Modern Audiences
Heritage brands occupy a coveted spot in the marketplace. Characterized by distinct identities, unique histories, and values that have been passed down through decades, these brands often also enjoy a reputation for quality, consistency, and customer satisfaction. Many have remained relevant and profitable for generations, accumulating rich stories they can tell and retell to build connections with consumers. A heritage brand’s future, it would seem, should be assured — these brands are institutions, right?
Perhaps. But heritage brands can’t afford to rest on their history, and the most successful ones don’t. These venerable brands face myriad challenges, some of which are unique to their heritage status. They overcome them through thoughtful marketing that keeps the brand relevant and its image authentic.
Balancing Relevance and Authenticity
Consumers have more and more varied choices today than at any other moment in history, so possibly the greatest challenge for heritage brands is connecting with new generations of consumers, who of course have different tastes and preferences from past generations.
A brand’s heritage status can make it vulnerable to authenticity concerns newer brands don’t face. “Maintaining genuine craftsmanship, quality, and values becomes crucial to avoid appearing as a superficial imitation of a heritage brand,” says a business adviser.
Heritage brands must juggle this authenticity concern against the need to remain relevant. “Struggling to adapt to new technologies, changing consumer behaviors, or emerging trends can hinder a brand’s path towards becoming a heritage brand,” the adviser continues.
How do heritage brands engage modern audiences while remaining authentic and true to the brand’s values? Here are some approaches that have been wins for well-known brands.
One way for a heritage brand to bridge the generation gap is by offering immersive, firsthand experiences that let consumers of all ages feel connected to the brand’s past, present, and future.
While immersive experiences can happen online, via virtual tours and online workshops, the most effective experiences are both interactive and in person: pop-up shops, brand activations, and similar events.
Create events and activations that showcase the brand’s history, product quality and craftsmanship, as well as tell its unique story. Storytelling through immersive pop-ups and activations is a great way to communicate the brand’s rich history and traditions, while laying the groundwork for the emotional connection that translates into customer loyalty.
Two brands that have staged immersive experiences are Coca-Cola and Adidas. To promote both the brand and its latest seasonal flavor, Coca-Cola took over the United Airlines lounge at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to create a cozy, homelike room where travelers could sit and enjoy the brand’s Sprite Cranberry.
Adidas has made itself a leader among heritage brands in deploying immersive experiences for both its athletic shoes and nostalgic lifestyle-oriented designs. One example: For the relaunch of one of its classic 1980s basketball shoes, Adidas remodeled a vintage New York City bus to tour the city’s vintage clothing stores. NYC-based Gen Z influencers came along for the ride, sharing outfits that complemented the shoes.
Promoting a cause that aligns with your brand’s values can tell consumers that while you might be a heritage brand, your values are thoroughly modern. One example: The Economist’s activism around food waste.
The Economist wanted to attract a new generation of readers, so it worked with Promobile Marketing to create a fun, unexpected experience designed to change young consumers’ minds about the brand and increase subscriptions.
In partnership with several food brands, including fair-trade coffee brand Grounds for Change, Promobile Marketing deployed a food truck and hired a street team to target consumers in high-traffic locations with free food and education. The magazine’s efforts paid off: the magazine scored over 130,000 new subscribers in 14 countries and generated $1.7 million in revenue — a 171% ROI — while raising awareness about poverty, food waste, and related issues.
Because of its multimedia nature, social media is a great way to communicate a brand’s rich history, authentic identity, and vision for its future in text, photos, and video. The vast reach of social media creates the potential to engage with new audiences, too.
Smart brands understand how to leverage social media platforms to reach a broader audience and showcase the brand’s heritage in a way that fits their platforms’ strengths. A brand doesn’t need to be equally strong across multiple platforms; less can be more when the platform is a good fit for the brand.
Social media content around events and anniversaries communicate relevance and timeliness, giving audiences real-world happenings they can use to connect with your brand.
Cookware brand Le Creuset’s social media strategy “prioritizes quality over quantity,” says the brand’s social media manager. Le Creuset plans the bulk of its posts well in advance, allowing it to create high-quality, thoughtful content around events like holidays and new product launches while remaining agile enough to respond to memes, cultural “moments,” and trends.
Le Creuset also considered its strengths, marketing-wise, when choosing which platforms to focus on. “Our color assortment is a core part of our identity, so platforms that lean into visual content tend to be the best for us,” the brand’s social media manager explains. “Those priorities, combined with shifts in audience behavior, have led us to focus mainly on Instagram and TikTok rather than text-based social platforms.”
Other brands have invested in their TikTok presence by creating content for livestreams to educate consumers about their products. Cosmetics/skincare giant Estée Lauder uses its TikTok presence to offer education about products’ ingredients, technologies, and formulas for both its eponymous prestige brand Estée Lauder and The Ordinary, a beauty and skincare brand with a “rabid” Gen Z following.
Keeping up with trends is important for any brand. For a heritage brand, however, there’s a risk that by adapting to current fashion, the brand will alienate customers who prefer the brand’s products the way they’ve always been. To navigate this territory, heritage brands can use design elements that are familiar to consumers in their products and packaging. “This can include using traditional patterns, materials, or production techniques that are associated with the brand’s heritage,” notes a recent medium article. Doing so not only identifies the new product or design as belonging to the same tradition as the brand’s other products, it also reinforces the brand’s visual identity.
Levi’s is one heritage brand that’s done this successfully. The brand has leveraged its heritage by “incorporating vintage-inspired designs and materials into its products, appealing to consumers who appreciate the brand’s authenticity and timelessness,” the article explains.
Partnerships and collaborations with celebrities, artists, and influencers can give a heritage brand an instant image update. The idea that “if so-and-so likes this brand, it must be cool and current” has long been a marketing staple because it works. Bonus: The brand will also reach new audiences by appealing to the collaborator’s followers.
LeCreuset is one of many brands that have used influencers to spread their messaging to new audiences. “Influencers play a huge role for us,” the brand’s social media manager says. “We are very intentional about trying to have a mix of more foodie, culinary creators, as well as more fashion, lifestyle or home decor influencers.”
Choose influencers and partners carefully, experts advise. Make sure the influencers, celebrities, and partners your brand associates with align with the brand’s values and history. “Consumers can easily detect inauthentic partnerships, so it is important to ensure that the influencers and brand ambassadors genuinely connect with the brand’s history and values,” the Medium article notes. “This authenticity will resonate with consumers and help build trust in the brand.”
Promobile Marketing is a dynamic experiential marketing agency based in New York City. For over a decade, Promobile Marketing has collaborated with a range of brands—from budding startups to major CPG brands—on immersive marketing campaigns. Get in touch to discuss your next project.