Back to the future: when brands use the past for future profits.

Consumers and brands…at a crossroad

When Lacoste presents the edging attached to its clothing as an allusion to its tennis heritage, or when Samsung claims to create an emotional connection with its consumers by emphasising on its heritage, these two brands rely on their past to add value to the present, namely their brand heritage. But what is it? Not that easy to distinguish between heritage, authenticity, nostalgia, or retro-marketing. And how do brands construct their heritage? For what use? Here are a few questions raised by Fabien Pecot and Virginie de Barnier in their recent paper published in Research and Applications in Marketing.

Brand Heritage…

Where does it come from?

Heritage, history or inheritance? The two authors first take a look back to Social and Human Sciences to trace the origins of “heritage” notion. From this, the authors draw two main traits that characterizes heritage: an identity-related representation of the past (which differentiates heritage from history), and a dynamic construction oriented towards the future (hence different from inheritance).

And in marketing terms?

When applied to branding, heritage is a source of equity. To understand the nature of this value, the authors question the elements of brand heritage, its construction process, and its effects.

Longevity and stability are the two dimensions of the concept. The brand’s longevity links the identity with the past (e.g. using the founding date “since…” in the logo) while the stability bridges the past, present and future, reflecting the timelessness of the brand (e.g. claiming a continuous know-how).

How to construct a heritage?

The authors identify three antecedents to brand heritage. The first is the brand’s inheritance among which managers select elements. The second is a set of borrowings to the collective past which managers integrate because they enhance the brand’s identity. The third relates to the elements influencing the construction process: brand strategy, attitude towards time, and the degree of internal acceptance of heritage.

And what of its effects?

Have you ever felt this bitter-sweet feeling caused by temporal or spatial distance? Consumers exposed to brand heritage could feel personal or vicarious nostalgia, but also form associations of authenticity.

However, the likeliness of these associations to occur depends on age, geographical origin, level of education, brand knowledge, and on their acceptance of the heritage’s legitimacy. For brands, the internal maintenance of the brand heritage requires managing rather than preventing change in the brand’s identity. From an external perspective, brand heritage can be used in a specific retro strategy, or in brand revival, or for a brand going back to the market (but not only).

Brand heritage: which contributions to the research in brand management?

And so what? The authors answer this question with a list of avenues for further research in brand management. They suggest two main directions: the brand construction and brand maintenance processes, as well as the role of the consumer in the value creation.

Brand construction and brand maintenance.

They suggest exciting avenues on the legitimacy of heritage (how different internal stakeholders contribute to the heritage construction? What is their legitimacy?), on its transmission (how it is transmitted? Which actors are involved in the transmission? Under which modalities?), but also forgetting (how to manage an embarrassing inheritance? How to forget a negative element from the past?)

They raise other relevant questions: to which extent the evolutions in our relations to time influence managers? Which impact on brand heritage has the different conceptions of time (e.g. West vs. Asia)? Finally, how to make the most of a brand’s heritage depending on the market it operates on (traditional vs. innovative)?

The role of consumers in the value creation.

Several interrogations relate to the measurement of brand heritage: how to measure its perception? What are the dimensions of the concept? And its effects? What value does it bring to the consumption process? How to avoid negative consequences?

Finally, what do consumers think? How do they accept or reject a brand’s heritage and construct an alternative heritage? What is the impact of consumers’ skepticism on brand heritage’s acceptance? Is there such thing as a continuum going from full acceptance to full rejection of brand heritage?

Ready to jump to your roots? 

Pecot F. et De Barnier V. (2017), Patrimoine de marque : le passé au service du management de la marque, Recherche et Applications en Marketing, First Published February 3, 2017

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