Brand Legacy: How to Honor the Past in the Present

Brand Strategy
Should you shed your past or cling to it? It's an age-old dilemma for "storied brands", and we have answers.
By 
Gregory Carden II
March 4, 2024
Box of vintage, black and white photographs
Brand Strategy
Should you shed your past or cling to it? It's an age-old dilemma for "storied brands", and we have answers.
By 
Gregory Carden II
March 4, 2024

If you’re in charge of a brand with a legacy, you have our admiration—and a bit of our sympathy, especially if you’re tasked with figuring out what to do with that legacy amid change.

Maybe you have a new CMO with fresh ideas. Maybe you’ve just undergone a big merger or acquisition. Maybe it’s just time for a rebrand. Whatever the forcing function is, suddenly everyone has opinions on what elements of the legacy are nonnegotiable and what elements can be left to history.

But, rising above the noise, what should brands do with their legacy? Should you lean into it as the proof point of your brand’s impact and value? Or should you downplay it to demonstrate your agility and relevance?

The key to success with a storied brand is finding balance. So, if you find yourself stuck between warring parties, here’s what to consider so that you can find the best path forward.  

Why Brand Legacy Matters

The fear of appearing out-of-touch, and the allure of starting fresh, can tempt executives to ignore or discard their brand's heritage. But throwing it out wholesale can have major drawbacks.

Choosing not to stand on your foundation can leave a brand in a state of constant reinvention and lacking the footing it has spent years earning. By failing to translate it for the modern age, you’ll be resetting the brand whenever you make a pivot—and with every reset, you’ll need to invest in more education to convince your audiences of who you are and why they should care. That’s a lot of time and budget, especially if you already have some degree of recognition or equity in your existing brand.

It's important to remember that a great legacy can be a brand's greatest asset. It provides innate validation for any claims of future goals. It is the ‘proof of concept’, and often what your customers know you for best. You invested in this legacy, so build on it—don't erase it.

Why Brand Legacy Can Hold You Back

On the flip side, fear of change can prevent brand leaders from venturing too far afield, for fear of tarnishing a long-standing reputation, which slowly seals it to a fate of irrelevance.  

In some instances, that fear can be one of perception: we think that our customers will not accept change from us because our reputation is so steeped in doing one thing (or set of things) well.  

There are also times where we can become so entrenched internally that we have a hard time letting go of the relics that originally motivated and inspired our work. We can no longer see the forest for the trees.  

Whatever the roadblock, the result can be a brand that gathers dust. One that sits on the sidelines as customers find more adaptive partners or products; as employees search for opportunities with companies they perceive as more innovative; and as investors lose confidence in your ability to grow into the next century (despite all your successes in the last one!).

And if that all sounds like a big bummer, stick with us—because there is a way to get legacy right.

Threading the Brand Legacy Needle

The key to success with legacy is finding balance. You don’t want to hold on too tight, but you also don’t want to leave it behind.  

Leveraging your brand’s legacy as a reason to believe in your future success will help you when it’s time to present new ideas. It makes you credible and shows that you aren’t just saying what you can do, but also that you have a reputation for getting things done. Having that balance will keep you fresh and flexible for change, but also grounded and realistic about what it takes to get there.

Give Joe a Shout

How are you using your legacy today? Is it holding you back or pushing you forward? Is it a launching pad for your future, or a shackle to your past?  

If you find it challenging to give your legacy its proper place in your current brand strategy, know that you're not alone. This is a frequent brand-builder's dilemma, and one we've guided clients through before.  

So, if you want help threading the needle, ensuring stakeholders view your past successes as a reason to believe in your next chapter, just give us a shout.  

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