Ananya Pathak

Is heritage a synonym for baggage?

Three industry experts discuss if the aura of legacy still works, at a discussion held at afaqs!' Great Lifestyle Brands event.

Legacy has traditionally been a very powerful advantage for brands. Older brands have always tended to have something to say about their years of experience and existence. Visit any old restaurant or a tailor's shop and a sign will proudly state its year of inception – 'since 1910...'. A panel of three industry experts discussed if this aura of legacy still works for brands, at the Great Lifestyle Brands event organised by afaqs!

Moderated by co-founder and director, afaqs!, Sreekant Khandekar, the panel comprised Bani Saluja, vice president and head – marketing and travel and lifestyle services, American Express; Rohit Ohri, group chairman and chief executive officer, FCB India and Vikram Tanna, head of advertising sales and business head of regional cluster, South Asia, Discovery.

The panel.
The panel.

Kicking off the discussion, Khandekar quoted Nadia Chauhan, joint marketing director, Parle Agro, who in an interview with Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs!, had said, “We want to shed the baggage that comes with history.” Analysing the statement by the marketer, Khandekar threw an open ended question to the panelists – "Do you think legacy is less of an advantage than it used to be?"

Going first, Saluja mentioned that American Express is a 169 year old brand which has built on the same vision for years – to provide the world's best customer experience every single day. She said she believes that customer loyalty will never go out of fashion. “Even when we started, our principles were 'service', 'security' and 'trust'. Today, when we are a payments organisation, the principles remain the same. We have refreshed the brand, the product, the tools, but the legacy still holds true.”

Khandekar asked if the legacy was more impressive two decades ago than it is today. "Do people today care enough about how old a brand is, across categories?" he questioned.

Referring to the new age customers (millennials), Ohri said the interesting thing is that heritage still plays an important role. It is just the content and the relationship with heritage that has changed. “Heritage is no longer about the length of time. It is about the depth of experience, which stands for - authenticity, transparency, inclusiveness and connect.” He felt that it is how you tell the story of the heritage that really matters.

Tanna was of the opinion that legacy is the most powerful asset that a brand can ever own. “It is indeed something money can't buy. Even if you get the best start-up in the world, they can't build it for you” is how he put it. He said it is important to define how legacy is built. “You have to complete the legacy arc if you want to stay true and relevant to the current generations.” The arc, he says, comprises three things – authenticity, relevance and consistency.

Continuing his point, Ohri commented that brands live in a richer space in the minds of the consumers than that of marketers or brand owners. In the hurry to change some things about the brand, marketers often end up changing aspects that took decades to develop and are sacred for the brand, he added. “It is okay to change, but one should ask – do we need to change everything? That's the key question.”

He added, “We at FCB visualise the brand as a tree. When you look at it, you'll see the roots, the stem, the leaves and the trunk. It is important to realise where the roots of the brand are. The leaves change. We do want something to be constant - for instance, the values.”

Ohri opined that heritage means you stand for a value system. That value system can be expressed in newer ways to connect and be relevant to the newer generations.

Saluja added, "Especially if you are a brand with a lot of legacy, it is important how you communicate with the younger customers. If the younger ones see their parents or older ones in the house using the same brand, they are tempted to believe that it has got something for them too. And therefore, it is important that the brands preserve their values and stay relevant." She raised a question – "Is it that some categories are more likely to have legacy brands playing a bigger role than those for whom getting the newer kid on the block is more of an advantage?"

Tanna volunteered to answer this. He said technology is always going to disrupt legacy brands. He stated the example of Hublot – the luxury watch brand. The brand hasn't gone into the smartwatch category, given that it is holding on to its values. Although a little late, they went on to launch a smartphone watch in their range when they partnered with Fifa World Cup in 2018, where they were the official timekeepers. It was, on the brand's part, a move to stay relevant in today's times.

Stating another example, he mentioned Armani, which has roots in apparel, but is now moving into all kinds of product extensions, including cafes and restaurants.

Khandekar pointed out that with the popularity of digital platforms, people have started questioning old beliefs. The Internet has become the seller today – of both, products and information.

Saluja said she personally thinks that e-commerce has helped the established brands, mainly due to its convenience. “When one has to try a new brand, they might prefer face to face shopping. However, for a trusted brand, digital works just fine.”

In agreement, Ohri said that digital platforms have given access to many smaller brands. “Brands keep coming and going. The fact is that people gravitate towards bigger and established brands – the ones that have consistency.”

Citing the example of Amul's 'Butter Girl' campaign, he said no other brand has had better communication than Amul. The idea and execution of the campaign has been consistent. He said he believes that it is one of the most iconic campaigns in the Indian advertising history.

Tanna opined that while technology is disrupting the space, digital is a platform to build a better personality for the brand. "One can use digital to build more excitement and use it as a marketing tool. It will help you build more loyalty, reach and engagement. Digital has enhanced ways and means to bring consumers closer to the brand,” he concludes.

Before ending the session, Khandekar asked the panelists on their thoughts on the do's and don'ts for a brand with heritage and the categories where heritage accounts for more significantly.

Ohri said a brand with heritage mustn't use the concept of 'time'. He explained, “Saying I was born in 1801/ I am 100 years old/I have 100 million customers, has very little relevance or connection with the younger generation. Tell them your story in a way that they can relate to. Don't tell a boring story, engage your audience. That is what will make your brand interesting.”

In a sentence, Tanna summarised it thus, “Talk to the consumer's heart, not his mind.”

In conclusion, Saluja commented, “Ownership comes with relatability. A brand has to maintain relevance and connectivity with the new age consumer.”

Answering the second part of the question, Saluja said that in the payments (financial) business, legacy counts for more. "People rely on brands that have seen more financial cycles and have had a successful history.”

Speaking of luxury brands, Ohri said heritage is the armour for the segment. It is the armour that helps them fight the growing pace of change in the segment. “In the world of heritage, luxury is preserved.”

About the auto category, Tanna concluded that along with legacy, it is also the art of delivering the message of uniqueness and differentiation that matters.

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