Legacy Brands: How You Can Stay Relevant and Respected in the Age of Disruption

Legacy Brands: How You Can Stay Relevant and Respected in the Age of Disruption

Throughout my career as a branding and design consultant, starting with my first job in college at The Gap, through a long stint with Williams Sonoma, and then moving on to The Body Shop, I have had the opportunity to work for heritage or legacy brands.
This has continued since launching Metalmark Partners Branding & Design Company, with clients such as Gump’s San Francisco and Kevyn Aucoin Beauty.

Both when working directly for these legacy brands or as an outside partner, the focus of my time has always been to maintain the integrity and rich history of these brands while helping them to stay relevant and attract new generations of customers. All the while competing with young, disruptive, upstarts looking to take them out.
Working for these legacy brands has been both extremely rewarding and equally challenging as I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to honor their heritage but also make them relevant and appealing to both existing and new customers.

Don’t get me wrong, there is something very exciting about being a part of a disruptive, young, innovative brand that wants to make their mark by doing something that hasn’t been done before.
-These brands are often started by people who believe they have a brand idea, product or service that they are passionate about.
-They will be disruptive to the existing norms and brands.

In today’s digital and social media frenzied world, a very small brand can make a huge impact and quickly garner attention and awareness that, in the not so distant past would have taken years for a brand to achieve.” -Richard Degnan

But here’s the interesting thing, as I think about legacy brands and walked through a Louis Vuitton exhibit, what is clear is that they too started out as disruptive, innovative, game-changing businesses that in many ways paved the way for these new disruptive brands.

Without these legacy brands paving the way, these disruptive “new” brands would not exist.
Louis Vuitton
The Gap
Williams Sonoma
The Body Shop
Kevyn Aucoin Beauty

All of these legacy brands and many more like them have some things in common.

Started by Founders Who Saw an Opportunity to Disrupt
They were started by founders who were entrepreneurs and innovators that saw an opportunity to disrupt an existing industry.

-People like Chuck Williams (Williams Sonoma) and Anita Roddick (The Body Shop) and Kevyn Aucoin, were able to take something they were passionate about grow it into a brand and business.
-Chuck’s vision of selling high end cookware, table top and food in a beautiful environment that inspired people to cook was revolutionary.
-Without Williams Sonoma there would be no Sur La Table, Food52, or Eataly.
-Anita Roddick and The Body Shop made socially conscious businesses and using a business to bring about change and awareness on social issues a relevant business model. Without her brands like Toms Shoes would not exist.

These legacy brands paved the way and while that is commendable, it does not ensure future success or an appeal to today’s customers.

In order for these legacy brands to continue to thrive and grow, they must do what their original founders did and be disruptive.

These brands must establish what their core tenants are and how to keep true to that while being relevant in today’s market.

As we have worked with some of these brands we often find that the people who are working to try and “protect” the brand and its legacy do more harm by holding onto practices and ideals that prevent them from moving forward.

“Staying relevant means understanding who your customer is and how they are living their lives and how you fit in.” -Richard Degnan

It’s maintaining that same innovative spirit that founded the brand and constantly challenging not only the norms of the existing business but also the industry in general.

Staying relevant means using all the data and insights on their customers that these brands have in a way that help them better adapt to their future needs.

It is looking for every opportunity to use new tools to reach the next generation of customers and tell your story in a way that makes it resonate with them.

Tell Your Story
In many cases it also means changing and innovating your business, product or service. If you think about how people cooked and entertained in the late 1950’s vs. today, it is clear why Williams Sonoma and for that matter Gump’s has had to change and evolve their assortment and selling proposition.

As I walked through the Louis Vuitton exhibit you can see how they evolved their offering over the years to keep up with the way their customer lives and travels.

This doesn’t mean walking away from their core values but instead offering ideas and products that are relevant today in their customers lives.

Being a legacy brand gives you credibility, customer insights and solid base of knowledge about your industry. What it doesn’t get you is relevance and future success.

For that, legacy brands needs to challenge themselves on a regular basis, be fearless and relentless in their analysis of the business and not be tied to the past.

They must constantly show and demonstrate how they fit into their customers lives.

The interesting thing for these “new” legacy brands is that they soon will be faced with the same challenge. New and disruptive only last so long.

Those new brands that can stay relevant and evolve will ultimately be the ones that will withstand the test of time.

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