The power of history and heritage in communications

Ever shared a memory through Facebook’s ‘On this day?’ Do you ever get the old family photos or home videos out to show a friend? How often do you reminisce when you hear a certain song? When we want to connect with people, we share our stories and get to know others. We want to know where people come from, how their lives were when they were growing up, and what their values and beliefs are. This should be how brands communicate with their customers; telling a story and connecting people with the past, present and future.

Brands who do this, are considering history and heritage in their communications, and by doing so, have a positive impact on their customer-brand relationship, and foster consumer loyalty.

Heritage communication is not a new trend – companies have been capitalising on their histories for years. You just need to look at Twinings or Coca Cola to see. But not every organisation gets it right. To really harness the benefits of heritage communications, you need to consider three things:

  • Nostalgia and storytelling
  • Milestones and anniversaries
  • Branding and design

If your brand addresses these key areas with authenticity, customers will perceive you as trustworthy, loyal, valuable, dependable and of a high quality.


Nostalgia and storytelling

Storytelling showcases a brand’s authentic and emotional intelligence. This creates nostalgia and provokes emotion, ultimately giving their customers a sense of loyalty and trust. It has been scientifically proven that people are hardwired for stories – thinking in stories, remembering in stories and explaining things with a story.

So how can your brand tell a nostalgic story?

Every company has a story – how it all begin, how it grew to success and how it’s customers have grown to love it. LEGO are the perfect example of how to tell a compelling corporate story, and they did so through the medium of video.

The LEGO Group were founded in 1932 and the company has passed from father to son, and is now run by the founder’s grandchild. In 2012, the grandchild narrated a video all about the company’s heritage, and when the video went live, it surpassed more than one million views in less than a week. Although 17 minutes-long, the video gave consumers a behind the scenes look and allowed them to connect with The LEGO Group family. Essentially the lesson here is; a good story will make a brand seem unique among similar fierce competition.

Watch the video here

Now you may not have a long history with extensive archives, but there are some things you can try. Why not try posting a #ThrowbackThursday on social media? The hashtag is widely followed and searched for, and if you post something relevant to your brand and to your customer, you will see people engaging and sharing memories based on your post.

One example that really caught my eye was on the University of Michigan’s Instagram account. They posted an old black and white photo of Michigan students and overlaid it on top of a photo of a current building. This type of nostalgia saw them gain over 3000 likes and tonnes of engagement online. Just take a look through your company archives and see if there is anything you can recreate.

University of Michigan – Instagram account

Milestones and anniversaries

Celebrating a milestone or an anniversary will always give you engaging content. Instead of just ordering in the champagne and balloons, think about how you can position your celebration internally and externally – you need to make staff feel proud and excited; you need to make customers feel like they are part of the company’s history; and you need to make prospective clients notice you and trust you.

One company that does this really well, is Barbour. For 2019, Barbour are celebrating 125 years, by asking people to share their memories and any stories about Barbours being handed down through generations.

The best example on their ‘Barbour Life’ site is from Duncan MacGillivray. Duncan shared his story about buying his first Barbour in 1989 when he was just 19 and needed a durable coat for fishing. Now 30 years on, he has swapped the fly boxes and spools of line from his pockets, and filled it with poo bags and whistles for his dog. This is a great example of customer engagement, brand loyalty, nostalgia and celebrating a milestone with the brand.

Old Navy also celebrated an anniversary, but in an entirely different format. They used gamification using the technologies of today to celebrate the past. They invited people to become part of the brand’s image through the Selfiebration Machine. Customers were encouraged to take a selfie, use an Old Navy hashtag and then watch as a wall of inflating balloons recreated the selfies – in Old Navy’s brand colours. It was a different approach to your regular historic celebrations, but it’s an excellent example of celebrating the past by using the future, and appealing to different generations of customers.

Finally, Oreo are definitely worth a mention. To celebrate their 100th birthday they encouraged the very people that made the brand it is today, to share their Oreo Moments. From dunking in milk, and separating the biscuits, to racing your friends to eat an Oreo from your forehead – the campaign had mass engagement from the customer making it a successful user generated content event.


Brand and design

If your brand dates back, look at the imagery, logos and words used then, and see if any of your current brand guidelines ring true to your brand’s origins. Unless your old branding was truly awful and didn’t play well in the market or with your customers, it is always important to consider how you can bring your heritage into the way you look.

London Underground has always maintained the infamous look; the red and blue roundel. For over 100 years, the logo has been used for London’s most popular form of transport and it has become an absolute iconic symbol of London, worldwide. The branding is true to its origins and I can’t see it changing any time soon. Sometimes it is best to keep the same look and feel, and just re-touch it every now again, instead of making a drastic change.

British Airways tried to deviate from its logo on a fleet of aircraft, but this was met with uproar. The brand had built such recognition, dependence and loyalty over the years, that the flag became iconic. Instead of continuing with a series of different tail fin designs, British Airways reverted back to its historic look. The lesson here? Even if you feel your brand is looking dated or tired, talk to your customers and test any new ideas first. You need to work in partnership with the people who put their trust and custom into you.

There are services out there that can help by looking at your corporate history and embedding it into your current design and tone of voice. Teams like Heritage for Business, from the University of Hertfordshire, offer tailored services to create heritage videos, oral histories, design, publications, and social media solutions. They have worked with Mulmar Food Services and John Lewis, and you could be next.


As a graduate with a History and Public History degree, and now currently a manager in internal communications, it’s safe to say that history and heritage communication is my passion. I strongly believe that public history is just the marketing of the past to inform the present and excite the future.

This post is just one of many, looking into the benefits and tricks of the trade for heritage communications. The next in this series will look at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. Follow me on Twitter @ShelbyLoasby or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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