5 Ways to Keep Heritage Brands Alive in A Digital Age

5 Ways to Keep Heritage Brands Alive in A Digital Age


As a twenty-one-year-old girl living off of a college budget, buying luxury fashion items for everyday wear is not really an option for me at this point, as much as I wish it was. Instead, I reach for the more accessible options on a daily basis, which usually means the brands that fall under the category of cheap and quick, but still trendy. More often than not in the past few years, I find myself online shopping rather than buying clothes in-person and exploring smaller boutique brands that I come across on my Instagram feed.

I know I am not the only consumer whose buying behavior has shifted towards favoring e-commerce shopping experiences. According to Digital Commerce 360, e-commerce purchases have grown to take up about 21.3% of all retail sales. This statistic from 2020 has over tripled from ten years ago, when e-commerce took up only 6.4% of all retail sales in 2010. This increasing trend does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

While I may not be in the target market for luxury brands at this point in my life, the actual targeted consumers are succumbing to the easy access of online shopping as well. Online shopping will always be more convenient than going in store to shop, and consumers can be exposed to a wider range of styles and brands on the online marketplace. Not only will this prove to be an issue for general luxury brands, but specifically luxury heritage brands that are behind the curve of creating a large online presence.

What is a Heritage Brand?

A heritage brand is defined as a brand with a history going back decades, or even centuries, that manufactures trusted products and uses its respectable image to create an experience associated with its brand. These companies have been around for what feels like forever, and they produce items that are made to last, and also create an image that’s based on both traditional values and creative, innovative designs. Examples of luxury heritage fashion brands would be Dior, Tiffany’s, and Hermès.

While brands like these have undoubtedly had a strong presence throughout the years, the recent rise of technology in the retail sector is posing a challenge to brands that market primarily through brick-and-mortar channels. Many heritage brands have not placed a major emphasis on building their online channels, and with the increase of total sales percentages coming from e-commerce platforms, these luxury brands are forced to consider procuring a digital presence.

Here’s a look at the topics we will be discussing today:

  1. Use History as A Landing Point
  2. Integrate Storytelling
  3. Learn What Consumers Want
  4. Embrace New Platforms
  5. Reposition the Brand
  6. Conclusions

1. Use History as A Landing Point

Brands that have been around for over a hundred years obviously did something right in the first place in order to build the reputation that they have today. A misconception about traditional companies adapting to the new tech-driven environment is that they have to completely rebrand in order to be successful. However, this is not the case. By emphasizing on the values that have gotten them to where they are today, a heritage brand will maintain the respect and interest of already loyal shoppers but catch the attention of customers that are not as aware of the brand.

An example of a heritage brand that is embracing its roots in the midst of the digital age is Gucci. Gucci’s products today all have details from the past in order to honor the brand’s beginning years. The company still releases the original style of the Jackie Bag, made famous by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961, or the Horsebit Bag from 1955. Along with a clear statement of their original values on its website, nods to the company’s traditional values are what help Gucci “reinforce its position as one of the world’s most desirable fashion houses”.

Other classic fashion powerhouses like Chanel are following a similar methodology to Gucci by releasing new versions of old bags. By doing so, the companies will strike a chord with consumers who will remember the original releases, or newer shoppers that can respect the history behind the items.

2. Integrate Storytelling

In a similar fashion, heritage brands can sell the story of their origin in order to create a strong narrative around their products. Those who are already well-versed in a company’s beginnings can feel a sense of familiarity when presented with storytelling as the center of a branding strategy. But, companies that have a large amount of consumers with no previous exposure to the brand’s narrative have the advantage of communicating a fresher version of the story.

Louis Vuitton took advantage of its large, young consumer base by creating an exhibition in Paris, Tokyo, Seoul and New York called “Voyagez”, in which the most famous items from the brand’s beginning in 1854 to present day are displayed. With this showcase, viewers are allowed to visualize and connect with the history of the brand.

Exhibitions like Louis Vuitton’s do not have to be in person experiences to be successful; visualizations on a brand’s website can be just as effective to craft an experience that highlights its history. Alexander McQueen’s website is a perfect example—the site offers a “stories” tab where customers can learn about McQueen himself, as well as the history of store design and more contemporary topics. Sharing stories of the past is what can help keep a heritage brand stay alive today by creating a common experience among all consumers.

3. Learn What Consumers Want

Different generations look for different things in a brand. Heritage brands should consider the different needs of different age cohorts in order to build the best experience for the target market at hand. For example, as explained by How to Build A Brand, millennials “tend to distrust establishments”, and since heritage brands are very established, this positioning may make shoppers of this generation weary of luxury brands. This is an issue to be aware of, because millennials and people around this age group are the ones who have most likely not already formed a connection with a heritage brand but have high enough incomes to be looking to splurge on luxury items. They are also the ones that will be most impacted by a strong online presence, as they are one of the most digitally active generations.

Heritage brands can avoid running into this issue by clearly stating their missions and values on their website. By doing so, consumers will understand that the company is not trying to make shoppers a pawn in a capitalistic scheme, but rather a brand with a mission and values that will benefit them in the long run.

While it may be too young of a brand to be considered a heritage name just yet, Stella McCartney is widely respected for being the first completely vegetarian luxury fashion brand on the market. From just the landing page, viewers can be directed to pages to learn about its cruelty free products, sustainable initiatives, and upcoming events for those looking to partake in environmentally friendly movements.

4. Embrace New Platforms

Many heritage brands have yet to focus on building experiences on their website, but even less have looked to develop a strong social media presence. At the risk of lessening brand image, luxury brands often don’t send free PR to influencers to help promote new products, because let’s face it, teenage girls on Instagram with a few thousand followers probably aren’t going to help raise brand awareness for a brand like Dior. However, luxury brands can create more of an identity on social media by using the platform for more creative purposes.

Fashion house Yves Saint Laurent utilizes Instagram as another creative outlet, rather than simply to promote products. The brand posts mostly in black and white to create a distinct look on its follower’s feeds. Not only does it highlight new collections, but it also posts different content series like live music sessions and shots from up-and-coming photographers in order to give more life to the brand and provide a communal space for its consumers.

5. Reposition the Brand

To tie all of the other aspects of keeping a heritage brand relevant, brands can look to highlight these elements in a new way in order to reposition the brand. Heritage luxury brands all have a rich history, as we have established. Similar to Louis Vuitton’s “Voyagez” exhibition, brands are establishing their presence in the art world in order to promote their brand value. Alexander McQueen’s exhibit in the Met drew in over 5 million visitors in one year alone, which sparked brands like Prada, Valentino, and many others to follow the lead into museums. This repositioning allows the brands to not only be seen as clothes, but as works of art that are meant to be cherished (in such pristine settings, nonetheless).

Another way a heritage brand can reposition itself is by positioning itself as a necessity. When a brand is able to get into a consumer’s mental accounts so that the shopper believes they need an item in their life, it is more likely to drive sales. While no shopper is going to think that buying a new handbag is a life-or-death situation, advertising the benefits and planting in consumer’s mind that an item can prove to be a convincing argument. Repositioning strategies like these are not meant to fundamentally change a brand, but rather to enhance the history and value that a brand has already created in its many years of existence. A brand that uses new means of advertising and raising brand awareness can use its history as well as its innovative product range to its advantage.

6. Conclusions

It is hard to deny the ever-growing importance of e-commerce platforms. Each year an increasing percentage of all retail sales are from online purchases. This may seem hopeful for some brands, but most heritage fashion brands will have some adapting to do in order to stay competitive with newer luxury labels. Heritage brands have been around for many decades and have created a strong brand image through their core values and product lines that are a mix of classic and innovative. However, this brand image is often curated through brick-and-mortar channels, opposed to newer online channels. Luckily, there are a few ways that traditional brands can be reborn for the digital age.

First, it is crucial for companies to use their history as a landing point. Brands should embrace their heritage within their collections and throughout their image. Staying true to original values will resonate with both previous customers, as well as those consumers who have not yet formed a strong relationship with a brand. Second, companies should use their history to integrate storytelling in their operations. Whether it’s in an exhibition or on a website, telling stories of the brand will give it more life and value to a collection, rather than just being expensive clothes. Third, brands need to assess the needs of their target market and understand that each generation has different interests. For example, millennials value brands that set out a clear mission to be at the heart and soul of the business. Fourth, heritage companies can explore the use of new platforms in order to stay relevant and have another creative outlet. Fifth, a thoughtful repositioning of a brand can lead to its success. Whether the brand repositions its clothes to either be works of art or necessities, it can add value to the label that previously did not exist for new customers.

Whatever the strategy may be, heritage brands have ways to capitalize on experiential marketing in more ways than one in order to keep up with the times. By emphasizing both traditional values and innovative designs, luxury brands can reach the widest range of consumers, and create a cohesive luxury shopping experience through multiple channels.

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