Why Brand Heritage Matters So Much: A Footwear Industry Consultant’s Perspective

What is your brand's “WHY”? 

Having a clear understanding of this is essential to building a strong brand that connects with customers. In today’s world, there is no tolerance for weak brands. Over the years we have seen some epic brands get buried in the noise as a result of reacting to market trends, rather than staying true to what makes them unique. Sanuk, a brand we helped introduce, is proof that it can be very challenging to maintain an authentic voice in such a demanding market. The truth is that their story is all too common. The fact is, all footwear brands face this threat. 

Brand DNA

Individuals gravitate to authentic people just as they gravitate to authentic brands. Remaining authentic, staying true to the brands DNA  and celebrating the heritage often times is what propels a brand forward in this industry. Inspiration drawn from the past can fuel future growth. With a good understanding of the past and a solid foundation for the future, brands can move through this ever-shifting industry with confidence.

Brooks: Celebrating Heritage For Future Growth

Authenticity is the very tool we relied upon to extend and diversify Brooks’ product offering and increase brand value back in 2005. We positioned them in an authentic way for the athleisure trend that was about to hit the industry by revisiting their past, extending their legacy, and celebrating their heritage. 

The advantage of being a footwear industry consultant, i.e outside the company, is that we are able to approach our client's challenge with a different, refreshed perspective. Prior to our involvement, Brooks had been stuck for months. They knew that they need to extend their brand, diversify their product offering, and provide additional value for their customers in order to continue to grow—but the right idea had yet to emerge. 

The Brooks team thought of every ball sport and were almost convinced that basketball was the direction to go. But my team and I at Concept 21 knew deep down that this did not seem right for their brand. Having grown up in the running boom in the 70’s and working in my mother’s running store, Super Jock N’ Jill, I was familiar with their legacy – it was technical running. Hardly anyone from that era was still working at Brooks by that time. 

Needless to say, their history and understanding of the successful brand DNA that propelled them forward in the early days had not been preserved. My job was to be their historian and I presented them with my personal archive of Runner's World Magazine. It was in these vintage issues that we found our inspiration, and discovered the emotional connection to the brand that was so vibrant in the 70’s and 80’s. 

The opportunity we recognized was to re-release the classic models as lifestyle products. But we had two challenges to overcome. The first was that we had no existing examples of any of the models. All we had was a single black and white photo that we found in one of the magazines. The second challenge was that by this point the retro trend had already matured and it was clear that we had to adopt a new unique perspective. 

To differentiate from existing trends, we adopted a mindset of creating a precise, visual recreation yet utlized modern technology to make them as comfortable as possible. On the outside, we made sure that every detail was there including the weave pattern of the nylon and the radius of the outsole pods. But because they were for everyday use, we included a modern midsole/outsole material to create an outstanding ride, and added a modern twist to one of the best lasts from the 70’s. Essentially we created an old school look with new school technology.  

This project prepared Brooks for the athleisure footwear trend, bridging the gap between performance and lifestyle, and engaging a new consumer demographic with their brand. From a branding perspective, it was a great reminder of the importance of heritage and what makes brand truly great. 

A Footwear Brand With Focus

Great brands tend to have a very sharp focus that is a result of staying true to their own unique point of view. They interpret trends through their brand’s lens and only react to them in their own authentic way. It’s so important to remember that we can not be all things to all people—and that riches are in niches! 

Making such a strong stand can feel risky, but it takes a level of maturity and confidence to withstand reactionary tendencies. Taking a clue from another industry—No one has done it better than Porsche and their 911 model. They are dedicated to a sing aesthetic  and a single way of thinking that has created not only a great brand, but also an extremely successful company. Their consistency has allowed them to develop the most popular sports car ever and enjoy consistent sales through many changes in trends. 

In much the same way, Nike has been able to be a leader in the footwear industry by staying true to a handful of core tenets. Everyone that works there is a student of Nike’s history and aspires to carry it’s greatness forward. The campus is as much a museum, paying homage to the past, as it is a work place. Their employees’ knowledge of the past provides the confidence, inspiration and maturity to propel them forward. 

If your brand feels lost, doesn’t have a strong”WHY”, and is struggling to really connect with the consumer, try looking back before looking forward. Look for what made you successful, own it, stick with it, and always make decisions from your brand's own unique lens.  

As always, feel free to reach out to us. We are passionate about creating great brands and would love to find an opportunity to help! 
 

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