Why do some brands appear so much more authentic than others?
The quest for brand authenticity among marketers has become akin to the search for the Holy Grail—a fool’s errand that ends in frustration. Authenticity is a subject that is endlessly debated, poorly defined and universally desired. A new study by public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe cites three key characteristics tied to brands that are authentic. It includes “reliability,” “respectfulness,” and “reality.”
In his new book, Start with the Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto, author Bruce Weindruch and CEO of The History Factory, outlines ways in which the world’s best organizations are tapping into their own unique inventory of experiences—their heritage– as a means of telling an authentic brand story.
Heritage management enables companies to tap into the abundant wellspring of authentic stories that lie within every organization’s history. It can communicate an authentic brand story, unify distinct organizational cultures in the midst of a merger, or tell an old story in a new way to captivate and inspire employees.
Weindruch offers tips about ways past behavior can be the best predictor of the future, and how heritage can be a useful tool in reassuring employees during times of stress that their company successfully overcame similar challenges in its past, and can do so again. Heritage can also be a powerful mirror that reflects the truth about an organization’s track record on diversity, or whether its customer-first positioning is simply a slogan or part of its DNA.
Even Startups Have History To Be Mined
In some cases, an organization’s heritage inventory spans hundreds of years, as is the case with The Hartford Insurance Company whose roots go back to 1810. In others, such as with a hedge fund, it may only go back two decades. And at a Silicon Valley Unicorn company (where the arc of history is short), decisions made last week are part of that organization’s unique and authentic brand narrative and heritage. With today’s accelerating pace of business change, fast moving companies like Tesla, PayPal and Amazon have already made history, disrupting longstanding industries such as automotive, payment services and retail.
Reaching Back into Your Archive Can Support Today’s Reputational Claims
Another way to preserve heritage is to build an archive that can be used to offer indisputable evidence that the image you’re trying to project, the values you espouse, and the reputation you defend are not only legitimate, but also completely warranted. You want to demonstrate that you’re an innovative company? Or that you’ve been at the forefront of environmental preservation over the course of your history? Well, often the proof can be found within your own archival assets, which can then be repurposed to validate your claims.
The Power of the Collective Consciousness in Storytelling
Among the best chroniclers of any organization’s story narrative are the men and women who have worked there over the years. Oral histories derived from current employees and retirees are a powerful way to gather context about important periods of historical change within any organization. Nothing will get a group of employees more engaged or emotionally connected to an organization than hearing the authentic stories of a past leader, or even a previously unsung hero (a rank and file employee) who made a unique contribution that bent the curve of history, shaping the organization of today.
Why Anniversaries Matter
In a world where many businesses fail within their first five years, commemorating a significant anniversary represents another powerful form of Heritage Management that’s an authentic way to support your brand. Huntington Bancshares, which is celebrating its 150th year in 2016, is a case in point. Among the 200 oldest banks in the United States, the Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington is using its sesquicentennial to engage its employees and other stakeholders around the stories imbedded within its history.
It’s an inspiring example of how the men and women of Huntington and its predecessor banks, through grit and determination, built an organization that was able to survive the Panic of 1893, the Panic of 1907, the Great Depression and the Great Recession of the past decade, and went on to become one of the largest banks in the Midwest. This narrative of growth and success also links to the future, as the company recently announced plans to buy FirstMerit Bank in a deal that would make Huntington the largest bank in Ohio, and an emerging contender in Chicago and Wisconsin.
Today’s consumers and employees, especially Millennials, are looking for relationships with organizations that have a clear purpose and character. The book offers useful case studies about ways in which leading organizations are embracing history as a means of defining (or in some cases, redefining) their brand so that authenticity becomes more than just a mantra.
Kevin Kruse is the author of the bestselling book Employee Engagement 2.0 and the Personal Engagement Personality Quiz.