Trends Come and Go, But Legacy Lasts

By David Matathia

Kate Bush is in the top 10. Baggy jeans are all the rage. And there's a new series launching on Netflix about Blockbuster (dance on the grave much?). It goes without saying, what's old is new again.

Feelings of nostalgia are often the response of people who feel as if things are spiraling, and long for the comfort in the "good old days." While some brands have every right to tap into nostalgia, pitfalls await brands that treat it like a shortcut to success. So, before you go dusting off your Trapper Keeper, it's critical to be clear on how and why you're going to tap your legacy.

There is no shortage of brands that seemingly once faded into the background only to find themselves back in the cultural zeitgeist: Old Spice, Birkenstock, Converse Chuck Taylors, Pabst Blue Ribbon. These brands had a place in people's hearts, and with savvy cultural navigating and some marketing support, they've all captured a place in their wallets, too.

These brands have at least one characteristic in common: They possess a beautiful simplicity they don't hide from but embrace and celebrate. They own a niche purpose and aesthetic that makes them hard to copy or to reimagine. In short, they don't go chasing fads.

Pabst, still a blue-collar brand, is embraced because it's specifically un-mainstream. I'm regularly offered a Pabst in barber shops, just one subculture the brand has infiltrated and attached itself to. The brand owns specific places and spaces where it complements the broader culture. It's not surprising to find the brand all over towns and bars that share its
anti-cool cool values.

What these legacy brands do well is they stay true to who they are and innovate almost within a box. They never try to become something that they're not. They're very confident in their origin story and why they exist. They're unapologetically who they are and don't try to be everything to everybody.

Across categories and verticals, tastes change, and new competition emerges to chip away and steal share. Unfortunately, brands sometimes start to chase an idea of being new and shiny losing sight of who they are and what they mean to consumers. The end of a sales quarter comes, and boom, results are wobbly.

Legacy brands have the advantage of taking us back to a place from our personal past. A lot of these brands are tied to things that are relevant from our younger days, even sometimes our childhood. Typically, with sales declining, marketers panic, react, and change too quickly to ride a passing fad. But rather than play someone else's game, go win your own:

  • Marry your values to culture. Although trends in culture can help revitalize struggling brands, the way back to cultural relevance is to deconstruct what made the brand successful in the first place. Legacy brands have history and heritage on their side to take advantage of.
  • Reassess your audience. As a brand matures, it often forgets the consumers that helped it grow in the first place. People, yes real people, loved your brand for a reason. Rather than think of them as a demo, see them as humans and understand their preferences and attachments that make you relevant to them today, regardless of their age.
  • Enhance the trust factor. As the economy and tastes change and consumer attitudes shift, brands that endure hold an implicit trust factor in consumers' minds. Trustworthiness can go far and can help you again hopefully jump over some of the upstart competition.
  • Build from your strengths and make them noisy and sticky. Amplify your equities and strengths (we call them your stored energy) versus starting with obstacles. It will keep you focused on you and what makes you unique.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

David Matathia is head of strategy at Fitzco.