News & Views

Opinion / Heritage Brands for Digital Natives

by Contagious Contributor

Kristen Nozell, strategist at Red Peak Branding and Red Peak Youth, argues that brands with an interesting story and a multisensory product can stand out by avoiding the digital crowd



Millennials, the first generation to grow up with Internet access, are known for their embrace of technology and social media, but this status does not provide immunity to the so-called ‘digital fatigue’ that plagues the rest of the plugged-in population. In fact, Millennials are possibly even more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by the unrelenting pace of today’s digital landscape; results from Cornerstone OnDemand’s State of Workplace Productivity Report show that 38% of Millennials claim to experience ‘Tech Overload’ compared to 25% of all respondents.



As the virality of Gary Turk’s recent YouTube hit Look Up (above) suggests, we are experiencing a pervasive, collective weariness of today’s always-on society and a consequent longing for authentic, in-the-moment, off-screen experiences that can hold our attention. Digital content is ephemeral; a tweet can be lost through the feed in the blink of an eye. A desire for things that last is only logical. We yearn for the tactile, and a connection with the real, physical world. Digital fatigue, and all that it precipitates, creates an ideal environment for heritage brands, which can logically champion the analog.

Though it's argued that “heritage” has become an overused buzzword, brand history can still be used in a smart, compelling way. Indeed, heritage means a lot more than “old”; it encompasses ‘the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation,’ as defined by Merriam-Webster. Having history does not automatically mean that you have a heritage brand; you must also have a strong belief system.


Filson is one example of a brand successfully using its history and analog qualities to create a strong heritage brand positioning. The outerwear and bag purveyor leverages its impressive 100-year existence with a positioning that focuses on the craftsmanship of the products and a connection to nature; Filson is an escape from urban connected living. Witness the Open Door to Solitude brand video (above), created with Finback Films, in which 68-year-old Ed Zevely gives viewers a peek into his annual weeks-long rides into the high country in Colorado: ‘Far from the modern world, it’s a place where the only goal is to move and breathe, and where you can truly understand the difference between loneliness and solitude.’ This disconnect from connectivity not only aligns with the brand’s pre-digital history, but also with its largely non-digital present.

Barbour is another top-of-mind heritage brand. Built upon its position as ‘a British brand to the core,’ the clothing and accessories brand has grown gradually, innovating at opportune times over the past 120 years. To celebrate the 120-year mark and communicate that legacy to customers and fans, Barbour and interactive design agency Nation created a timeline that lives online, yet is refreshingly non-digital in its approach. Content is immersive; a single event consumes the entire screen with minimal doses of text. It is an online touchpoint bursting with analog qualities.

Similarly, Jack Daniel’s deploys a digital medium to communicate its analog traits and rich history. Visit the brand’s Arnold Worldwide-designed website and you are launched into this ethos: ‘This isn’t a history lesson. This is a story about independence and craftsmanship using years as chapters.’ The whiskey brand also emphasizes its distance from major urban centers as a proof of its remote (and thus analog) beginnings: ‘Jack Daniel’s distillery might be a bit out of the way. Of course, any journey of this kind should be.’

Some history is necessary for building an authentic heritage brand, but that history need not be extensive. Consider Saddleback Leather, a heritage brand founded in only 1999. In addition to the candor that saturates the brand language, Saddleback Leather emphasizes the high quality of the materials and durability of the products, which have a 100-year warranty. Visitors to the site are met with a bold statement: ‘They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.’ Young brands can strengthen their heritage positioning by looking to the future, instead of just being rooted in the past.

Not all brands with a history have successfully created heritage brands. Campbell’s has the advantage of 144 years of history, combined with a healthy dose of nostalgia; many Millennials associate Campbell’s with their childhood. But when the soup brand decided to target the lucrative Millennial market a couple of years ago, the strategy ignored these assets. Instead, Campbell’s Go mimics the streams of content and notifications that consumers try to deflect on a daily basis, and the cluttered brand website, built on Tumblr, lacks any sense of authenticity. Campbell’s would be much better off speaking to this desirable demographic in a way that builds on the brand’s history and multisensory product, and in doing so give Millennials a ‘real-world’ break from the digital chaos.

Heritage brands, often with their benefit of pre-Internet histories, have the opportunity to position themselves as the “anti-digital” to a generation that sometimes needs a break from being always on. A Barbour coat or sip of Jack Daniel’s represents a moment of respite from the online cacophony in the very fact that everything that these brands stand for is crafted, multi-sensory, and enduring. If your brand has the benefit of a significant history and an experiential, multisensory product, don’t add to the digital chorus. Your voice will carry further if you address those plugged-in youth from a place that we all miss: the real world.

Kristen Nozell is a junior strategist at Red Peak Branding and Red Peak Youth