For brands established before the internet existed – never mind social media – digital transformation is one of the most pressing business necessities. And the past year’s COVID-imposed instant shift in customer behavior has only accelerated this, as ecommerce has become the default, even for people previously reluctant to be part of an online world.
Heritage brands looking to grow their presence in the digital space have some specific challenges and opportunities. While they may have the enormous benefit of historical brand meaning and purpose with an established loyal customer base, they are not always able to move at the pace that ensures they remain relevant to the way customers now behave.
Relevance is both the starting point and end goal when working with a heritage brand. If we can transform their unique brand proposition in a way that ensures it is culturally relevant, understood by modern-day customers and shared across the right channels and platforms, we can help heritage brands adapt, for the digital world now and for what the future also holds.
To do so, it requires a self-critical understanding of how people beyond loyal customers perceive the brand. The first step is to involve a forensic, collaborative deep dive to understand the brand’s story; the tone of voice, guidelines, performance, strengths and weaknesses, and where it operates.
When working with our client partner Avon, for example, this was particularly pertinent for understanding the brand’s base of in-person representatives; what its behavior was on social media, how frequently it engaged and shared and the breakdown of its audience. This created the starting point for how and where the brand should participate, the role of different platforms and the different stories the brand could tell.
The strategy may well include platforms where existing customers have started to engage, but it’s more likely to be centred on reaching new customers. The biggest challenge for most heritage brands – or those seeking the most drastic digital transformation – is future-proofing through customer acquisition because often their loyal customer base is ageing.
When taking Avon onto TikTok in recent #LiftLockPop campaign, it was imperative to recognize that Gen Z knows of Avon mostly because their mother, aunt or even grandmother might use it or may have even sold it.
Being truthful about that allowed us to use what is loved about the brand by existing audiences, and deliver it in a new, culturally relevant way to new audiences. In the case of Avon, this was the brand’s deep commitment to empowerment and inclusivity, which was reflected in the creators they worked with.
While there can be understandable trepidation for any brand looking to embrace new platforms, an agency needs to identify the most low-risk, high-yield approach.
For a heritage brand, sometimes it pays to be loud and proud. Avon could have launched quietly and organically, or it could go out with a hashtag challenge on TikTok, announcing its arrival onto the platform. In doing the latter, Avon has now garnered higher consideration and awareness among a new audience.
With more than 3 billion views of this hashtag challenge, Avon now has as much licence as a digitally native brand to make content and build community on the TikTok platform in an authentic way.
For most businesses, to achieve this requires a dramatic change in mindset, from a boardroom-down, brand-out approach to a consumer-centric, digital-first methodology. And then, brands need to commit. To earn engagement, they have to have a continuous presence and conversation in consumers’ lives.
We live in a time of neglected organic brand channels, yet people are more likely to check out a brand on their social platform than on the brand’s website.
Most organic content isn’t at all strategic, it doesn’t know what it’ll achieve, or who it’s trying to talk to, or why. It’s often a dumping ground as it’s perceived as free, when it’s the biggest missed opportunity brands have right now.
The beauty of social media is that it’s the biggest behavioral science platform we have. By putting out small pieces of contextual creative against specific audience cohorts and learning from people’s responses, you can derive an enormous amount of qualitative and quantitative learnings with very little spend.
This is where heritage brands can win like digital natives very easily. Building a daily presence on platforms earns brands the right to talk with people and prompts reappraisal. It helps brands connect with culture again. When done well, it can modernize the brand, acquire new customers and rebuild sales.
Alas, like anything else, digital transformation cannot be achieved overnight; it won’t happen in one hit, particularly for heritage brands that haven’t moved in time with culture for many years or decades. It requires commitment, consistency, belief and trust.
Sarah Baumann is the managing director of VaynerMedia London.