The ideas of branding and brand revival follow closely the ideas of historic preservation. There is outright restoration (making an exact copy), renovation (taking pieces of the old and redoing) and adaptive reuse. We heard another historic preservation analogy that fitted the branding process, in today’s New York Times. It was a story on preservationist Christopher Ohrstrom of The Plains, Virginia. Ohrstrom and his wife have rescued all manner of old buildings from Virginia on their farm, and rebuilt them.
The main house is old, but new details fit with the old:
Floors are covered with boldly patterned ingrain carpeting, the wall-to-wall of the 1800’s, and archaic push-button light switches give the impression that Lee Hall was last rewired around 1900. It’s an artifice that conforms to Mr. Ohrstrom’s belief that alterations to an old house should follow what he called ”a plausible chronology.”
So how does a “plausible chronology” fit with branding?
When you have an old brand, what is done with the brand today needs to fit with what the brand was. That doesn’t mean you need to follow the old slavishly. It just means that you need to have precedent. And when there is not a precedent, the consumer gets confused, and the brand identity and idea gets muddled.
So when you redesign a package, or think about a spin off, the spin off needs to relate to what has gone before.
Like a law court, you need precedent. And if you decide to take the law into your own hands and do some civil disobedience, you better be sure that a jury will side with you, or you are prepared to take the consequences because you have a longer term view than the next few months.
- Learn what was before. Gather materials, products, marketing literature, advertisements, files and information.
- Put together an actual timeline. This means just a bullet point list of dates pertinent to the brand.
- Document the good points of the brand. Try to find everything that worked.
- Find fault. Make a list of what did not work, from ethereal things like strategy, and physical things, such as bad graphics or product faults. That does not mean that you are trying to go around blaming the past. Instead you need to look it in the eye.
- Talk to customers. Always talk to customers.
- Document everything. Find photos, and preserve all records and past products.
- Keep imperfections: Ensure that there are things that are asynchronous, and perhaps imperfect, if they got you where they were going. The landscape architect Charles Gillette, who designed many longstanding gardens in Virginia in the mid 20th century, had a philosophy of letting something stand that was there before. For instance, even if he had a new classical plan for a garden, he would allow an old cedar tree on the property to remain.