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Celebrating the Souls of Beauty Icons

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How can heritage brands stay fresh and relevant in a rapidly changing marketplace without diluting their brand DNA? By stewarding themselves forward with innovations that don’t sacrifice the timeless values rooted in the past.

Evolve or Die

The term “heritage brand” is associated with tradition, authenticity, quality and core values that have stood the test of time. Heritage brands are often described as having “soul;” they use their past and belief system to tell a strong story and create an emotional connection with consumers. This helps establish familiarity and comfort—conferring constancy in a changing world.

Many heritage brands have histories that date back long before the Internet and digital era. The prized millennial generation of consumers, however, is the first to be born in the post-digital age. They are digitally savvy and empowered, socially connected and accustomed to operating at the speed of technology.

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Without a brick-and-mortar presence, and with a high-end product range, Lancôme’s digital channels obviously play a critical role in its customer engagement strategy.

In this age of “digital Darwinism,” where technology and consumers are changing faster than companies, “evolve or die” is increasingly becoming the mantra of brands, and none more so than heritage brands. Unless they rejuvenate themselves to keep pace with consumers’ changing needs, they risk becoming dated and disconnected.

Understanding Brand DNA

The key to balancing the old (heritage) and the new (innovation) lies in understanding the difference between what is sacrosanct for a brand—the parts of a brand that should never be changed—and what areas must be changed in order for it to thrive. The elements of a brand that must never change are its DNA, or brand “soul.”

Earlier this year, legendary French perfume and cosmetics brand Guerlain, with its storied history dating back to 1828, unveiled a striking collaboration with American graffiti artist JonOne.

The codes of a brand, its story, communications and product range may evolve as long as they honor the original DNA. With the advent of digital technology, the proliferation of new touchpoints can serve to enhance and strengthen the brand’s consumer experience, while keeping its heritage alive.

To illustrate, France and Britain are home to many heritage brands with histories built on longstanding traditions and belief systems. Many are evolving to stay relevant. 

Graffiting Classic Fragrances

Earlier this year, legendary French perfume and cosmetics brand Guerlain, with its storied history dating back to 1828, unveiled a striking collaboration with American graffiti artist JonOne. The project features an explosively colorful and iconoclastic reinterpretation of the iconic “bee Bottle,” designed in 1853 by perfumer Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain for Empress Eugénie.

Three classic fragrances—Shalimar, La Petite Robe Noire and Rose Barbare—are presented in graffiti-splattered, neon-hued liter bottles, numbered and signed by the artist. To commemorate the occasion, Guerlain held a JonOne exhibition in January and February at the Maison Guerlain on the Champs-Elysees. The brand also posted videos on YouTube of the artist at work with his signature splattered technique. Vibrant and contemporary, the collaboration and limited-edition series is a striking marriage of old and new, luxury and street.

A 3-D Garden and Emojis

The design heritage of Diptyque, the French perfumer and maker of luxury scented candles and home fragrances founded in Paris in 1961, has been beautifully translated in an immersive website that preserves the creative integrity of the brand while evolving its distinctive aesthetic.

In particular, “The Diptyque Garden” section combines artful storytelling with a dynamic, 3-D experience, featuring an illustrated garden that allows users to explore and learn about the flowers behind the perfumes. For Valentine’s Day, the brand launched a whimsical emoji keyboard by way of a creative collaboration with designer Olympia Le-Tan: 40 downloadable emojis (kisses, hearts, keys with ribbons around them) that add playfulness and an irresistible youthfulness to the brand.

Boosting Digital IQ

Beauty brand Lancôme, founded in 1935, achieved the highest “Digital IQ Index” of any brand in its category, according to a 2015 benchmarking report published by digital research firm L2. The analysis ranks the digital score of 106 beauty brands based on a variety of digital platforms, including social media, e-commerce, mobile and tablet, and website.

Without a brick-and-mortar presence, and with a high-end product range, Lancôme’s digital channels obviously play a critical role in its customer engagement strategy. The brand’s website is a digital magazine of sorts, marrying content and French flair to products, educating the consumer and elevating the brand. Lancôme leverages social media to engage with consumers in a relatable way, in particular on Instagram, whose user base is overwhelmingly female and under the age of 35. 

Conversely, in March, Lancôme deftly moved to strengthen the emotional connection to an older generation of consumers when it announced the return of actress Isabella Rossellini as brand ambassador. More than three decades after she became its first-ever face, Rossellini will refresh Lancôme’s brand appeal with what promises to be a broader definition of beauty.

Innovation Taking Center Stage

British cosmetics brand Rimmel London, founded in 1834, is one of the world’s oldest cosmetics brands, with a rich history that includes Royal Warrants from all over Europe, including from Queen Victoria.

The brand has a long tradition of innovation, having pioneered many beauty products, including the first-ever non-toxic mascara. Today, the brand is still at the cutting-edge, with trends, rather than its abundant heritage, taking center stage.

Rimmel uses digital platforms to full effect as a springboard for engagement. Virtual makeovers, “backstage” views, news, competitions and street style abound on Rimmel’s social media. 

Tapping Consumers’ Hearts

Brands with heritage have tremendous value; they are loved and trusted, and the heritage factor is a unique asset that cannot be created retroactively. But brands need to evolve over the years in order to stay alive, relevant and vibrant, so that they can continue to resonate in the hearts of consumers.

Laura Ziv is a creative brand strategist specializing in beauty, fragrance and personal care. Her work spans trend analysis, innovation, ideation and concept development for brands. Ziv has a Master of Arts from Oxford University, and previously worked as a magazine writer and editor for international magazines based in New York.

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