“Authenticity” has likely been mentioned more than once in any modern company boardroom. And for good reason: A 2017 study from Cohn & Wolfe revealed that 91 percent of consumers reward “authentic” companies for their behavior, purchasing their goods or recommending them to others.

But all of the strategizing and positioning that goes on behind the scenes to create an authentic image makes many companies come off as, well, inauthentic. Working hard to find a niche or an angle that makes a specific company appear both appealing and honest simply makes the company look like it’s trying too hard — and that’s a big turnoff for consumers. In fact, a lack of authenticity has been deemed the “fastest way to kill your brand.”

What’s a company in today’s economy supposed to do? In a world driven by high tech, many brands have overlooked one of the simplest ways to highlight what’s most authentic about them: their heritage.

Using Your Track Record to Your Advantage

The truth is that consumers view brands’ past successes, failures, behavior, and products as indicators of what’s to come. WIRED and other outlets have argued that things change much more slowly than we perceive them to, so consumers aren’t unreasonable in their “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior” mindset.

This is a good thing for brands that have built a solid track record they can celebrate. One of the benefits of building a strong brand that can withstand the winds of change is that it comes with a built-in and incredibly authentic backstory and history to share. One analysis of Ford, for example, valued the brand at nearly $14 billion, with its heritage component making up around $1.5 billion of the total.

Brands that understand the value of heritage have come up with some pretty unique ways to celebrate it. BMW, for example, celebrated its 100th anniversary by introducing new models; Slurpee celebrated its 50th by offering collectible cups and partnering with 7-Eleven to host #BYOCupDay. Others have launched corporate museums to honor their past successes and get consumers excited about future developments.  

The value of heritage applies to both established enterprises and growing brands — and playing it up is less complicated than some might think.

How Heritage-Driven Brands Get It Done

Lee Jeans is one company that ties its heritage to its modern image. The brand, founded in 1889, started as a company designed to help laborers in the Great Plains get work done; its well-known jeans were introduced in 1924 to support farmers, cowboys, and railroad workers.

Today, the brand is maintaining its classic styles, combining them with high-grade touches and high-quality materials to make them collector’s pieces. Its Lee 101 collection includes a modern version of its 1952 zip fly composed of Japanese artisan-made selvage dry denim; a fresh take on its 1941 Slim Rider jeans, made of Japanese left-hand twill; and a new rendering of its 1933 cowboy denim jacket, which positions the tarnished brass button next to dark indigo denim and a modern cut. Each item highlights the brand’s heritage while building on it.

The brand became known for long-lasting styles made of durable fabric, and it’s shifted to doing the same thing today with different materials. It’s worked, too: According to the NPD Total Measured Market Data, Lee’s men’s denim has outpaced the total market’s men’s denim growth by seven times over the past two years.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka has also made an effort to capitalize on its history. The brand’s website offers the story of its founder, Tito Beveridge, underscoring his desire to craft high-quality liquor while utilizing time-tested techniques: “Tito’s Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin at Texas’ oldest legal distillery. We make it in batches, use old-fashioned pot stills, and taste-test every batch.”

The growing brand has seen the heritage angle work to its advantage: Tito’s became America’s top-selling spirits brand in 2017, built on a one-year growth of 44 percent that resulted in sales totaling almost $190 million. The independently owned brand’s success — earned without TV advertising — is credited to its “folksy” marketing and brand consistency.

Authenticity is the name of the game in today’s business landscape, but brands shouldn’t be jumping through hoops to “create” authentic reputations. Instead, they should be doing something many tech companies aren’t comfortable with: looking to their past and embracing it as they move forward into the future. Authentic reputations are earned, not won, and heritage offers brands an excellent opportunity to prove they’ve earned them.

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. You can reach me at brad at readwrite.com