Is Heritage Branding a Bore?

Ben Pindar
2 months ago

Is Heritage Branding a Bore?

Lessons learned from the Lyle’s Golden Syrup Rebrand.

A dead lion in any situation is inevitably going to cause a bit of a kerfuffle but it’s unusual for a deceased big cat to spark a debate about branding.

The Guinness World Record holder for the world’s oldest unchanged brand, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, has finally decided to update its brand after 150 years. Crucially, it’s dropping the image of a dead lion surrounded by bees.

The decision to drop the historic branding (on their plastic squeezy bottles at least – the tins will continue to stay the same) has triggered an interesting debate about the benefits and dangers of heritage branding in marketing to customers.

For many, a brand with history shows it has experience and can be trusted, but for others a historic brand can be perceived as being stuck in its ways with an outdated offer.

The UK agriculture sector has a wealth of brands with a long history but, the sector as whole is constantly evolving and innovation lies at its core.

In this blog we explore whether agricultural companies should use their history in branding or if that history can negatively impact their image with potential customers.

Branding for agricultural businesses

I’ll kick off with a sweeping statement and say branding in agriculture is generally pretty rubbish. Far too many companies have bland, generic, and outdated branding that has remained unchanged from the foundation of the business.

For a sector that still relies heavily on agricultural shows, with businesses dutifully lining up alongside each other several times a year at major exhibits, it amazes me how few look to create dynamic and eye-catching branding that will help them stand out from the crowd.

Agriculture is an innovative sector, with new equipment, solutions and thinking constantly being brought to market as we fight to create a sustainable future for farmers. The majority of agribusinesses are constantly looking for ways to improve and deliver more.

However, that same ambitious spirit is rarely reflected in the branding, and I bet most of you reading this will still be using the same branding and messaging that your grandfather came up with when he founded the business decades ago.

Some may argue that people have come to trust your brand as previous generations of farmers have always bought from you. But is your brand really that memorable and, crucially, is it helping to attract new customers and build new relationships so your business can grow?

Heritage brands versus brands with heritage

History is important but there is a difference between a heritage brand and a brand with heritage. A heritage brand is for a company that relies heavily on its history, showcasing continuity and delivering something that people have been able to trust for decades.

A brand with heritage is different. While they may recognise they have a long and successful history, these companies play down their history in branding, and instead showcase they are bringing fresh thinking and innovation to customers with an up to date and eye-catching brand that reflects that ethos.

Research has shown that for products that remain largely unchanged, a heritage brand adds value because people feel it has a proven track record spanning generations and can be trusted. However, if that same heritage brand then tries to bring a new or enhanced concept to market, customers don’t trust them to deliver because they are seen as old-fashioned and unable to create innovative solutions for modern problems.

The question is, what sort of business do you need to be to grow and succeed?

I’d argue, in agriculture you need to be a brand with heritage as farming is having to change. Farmers need to be able to trust that you are able to adapt just as quickly as they are.

Even if you are a heritage brand with a product that will remain largely unchanged, there’s still a need to have a strong brand presence as new entrants will be trying to steal your market share. A new and strong brand can still lean heavily on the heritage and the original feel, but it also needs to have a place in modern agriculture.

The importance of branding in agriculture

The importance of branding cannot be underestimated. Look at the biggest brands in agriculture and people automatically make assumptions associated purely with the brand and not necessarily with the state of the current line-up of products.

John Deere has consistently updated its brand over the past 150 years or so to reflect the advances it makes in its machinery. My feeling is, probably somewhat controversially, that John Deere tractors are starting to feel a little dated when compared to some of the competition, but the loyalty associated with the brand is fierce and looks beyond the actual quality of the product today. Everyone knows “nothing runs like a Deere”, this is the power of a brand.

You can take a look at the progression of the John Deere branding here: https://www.deere.com/en/our-company/history/trademarks/

Case IH shouts “trust red”, New Holland leans heavily on innovation and a host of new entrants, such as Kubota, are all battling to create strong customer associations with striking branding, whether that draws on the heritage of the business or not.

Just look at farmers attending agricultural shows and the majority will be proudly displaying which team they are on, with branded clothing and hats. The big companies have created their own tribes around their branding.

Every agribusiness needs to be working to do the same. By creating an iconic brand, customers will not only associate that brand with quality, but they will actively promote your offer to others as they will feel a personal connection to your business.

Should your heritage feature in your brand?

The history of your company is important, and it should play a role in your marketing. However, it’s also important to show that you are looking to the future and working to bring innovation to the agricultural sector.

You can still incorporate your proud heritage into your branding, but a brand needs to evolve with the times. Competition for attention with your customers is fierce and a strong, engaging brand will help to set you apart from your rivals.

This is especially true in agriculture as so many other businesses have dated and weak branding. By updating yours to something bespoke, creative, and striking, you can stand out from the crowd.

A memorable brand coupled with the quality of your offer becomes something powerful. People will congregate around the brand and display it with pride.

It’s this that builds trust and loyalty, not your heritage. As I’ve said history is important, but a compelling message and brand can overcome even the oldest brands when done well.

So, heritage can feature in your brand but it does carry risks if it feels dated and old fashioned. Look to the big brands and how they are doing it. They all update their brands regularly, making small changes to make it feel modern but still retaining the core elements from across their history.

Branding can be a complex subject and changes should always be navigated with care. If you have any questions about branding or how to create compelling messages for customers, get in touch and I’d be happy to share my thoughts. I’m available at ben@redstagmedia.co.uk

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