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Legacy Brands: Keeping Long-standing Brands Relevant in the Digital Age

Rebecca Robins

The buzz around rising brands and new entrants has focused on the technology sector, where the leading brands are characterized by their relative youth and agility. However, youth is by no means the universal new pretender, and agility is not the exclusive domain of young brands. Long-standing brands combine legacy and customer focus to create real resonance and relevance.

To illustrate, half of the Top 10 brands on this year’s Best Global Brands report are more than 50 years old—and three of those are well past the century mark (Coca-Cola, IBM, GE). Aside from PayPal, which debuted after its break from eBay this year, the report’s New Entrants are all well established brands—most notably Moët & Chandon, founded in 1743.

In a recent op-ed published by The Guardian, I explore the ways in which some of the world’s top brands are harnessing their rich heritage to remain both prescient and timeless.

Legacy brands are back. In the vernacular of luxury, you might say they are the new black. When Apple surpassed Coca-Cola three years ago to take the #1 spot in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands study, it triggered a cascade of commentary on the rise of brands born of a new and different age. However, delve deeper into the study and what’s fascinating is the ascent of brands that have spanned generations. New entrants this year feature ’60s icon MINI, revving in at #98; the LEGO brand, an exemplar of creativity born from the constraint of a depression, with an awesome arrival at #82 and Moët & Chandon, at #99, one of the oldest brands in the LVMH portfolio which dates back to the 18th century.

Moët & Chandon also tops the five oldest brands in the list (accompanied by Colgate, Citi, AXA, and Hermès) which span a combined legacy of over 1000 years. AXA breaks into the top 50 Best Global Brands this year and Hermès, one of the top five risers in the report, increased its brand value by 22 percent. The five youngest brands, by contrast, (Facebook, Google, PayPal, eBay, and Amazon) haven’t yet amassed a century between them.

Interbrand’s 2015 Best Global Brands report examines what it takes for brands to succeed in a hyper-fragmented world. As brand experiences that are both immediate and personalised are expected by consumers, business and brands need to move fast in order to keep pace. The success of a brand has little to do with a brand’s age, but everything to do with its ability to stay relevant. The question is, what are these legacy brands doing to stay relevant?

A common theme is that they have user-centricity at their core. They are using tech to connect with customers in more meaningful ways. Ultimately they are succeeding in providing ever more integrated experiences for consumers, and blurring the boundaries of traditional sectors of business as they go.

Consider The LEGO brand. It’s a truly great example of a brand whose original vision from 1932 has stretched beautifully into the 21st century. The journey from toy brand to entertainment brand has been driven by the LEGO brand embedding innovation at its core and its fusing of the physical and digital.

An even more fascinating movement among the legacy brands is the movement across brands—the “brand tangos” that boost their reputations through collaboration. Think the Apple Watch Hermès cross-over. Legacy brands are tapping into tech brands to increase awareness and connect with consumers. Tech brands are tapping into legacy brands for their heritage and exclusivity.

The resulting blurring of boundaries increasingly calls into question whether we will even be defining brands by sector in years to come. Consider Apple’s reach into the traditional domain of financial services with Apple Pay.

Collaborations in various manifestations will continue to rise, as brands look to complementary capabilities to exert their influence and desirability. Just this week, the newly combined Yoox Net-A-Porter climbed on its first listing on the Milan stock exchange, and LVMH (owner of Louis Vuitton and Moët & Chandon) has asserted a serious commitment to e-commerce. At the same time, Hugo Boss is accelerating the cutting of its e-commerce cloth and Condé Nast is planning to enter the fray with the hotly anticipated e-commerce venture

The level of sophistication needed for a brand to maintain its presence as one of the world’s most highly valued is not to be underestimated—but the principles of success are fundamental. A brand needs to evolve constantly to stay relevant but it also needs a centre of gravity, a clear vision and a commitment to stay true to the core of its DNA. A brand still has to find a place in our hearts and minds.*

The success of legacy brands also points to a trend in consumers’ tastes: As individuals’ ecosystems become saturated, those seeking the brands they can trust gravitate toward authenticity. Legacy brands with a strong identity, who consistently bring the experience of their brand alive for consumers, are poised to stand out. In the Age of You, heritage that strikes the right chords of resonance and relevance can be a powerful asset.

*Re-printed from

Rebecca Robins, “Keeping long-standing brands relevant in the digital age,” The Guardian, 9 October 2015,

Interbrand’s expert on luxury, Rebecca is also co-author of the book Meta-luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence.

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