Brands with a heritage make us feel confident and comfortable, in part because history conveys a sense of weight, of gravity, of trust. Modern brands (going back, say 50 years or so) do not, by simple fact of being born at a later time, have that depth. Which is why they typically need to build a heritage, a story – or that trust. Some new brands do this very easily and naturally, like Hiut Denim. Some do it through first class customer service, which immediately *becomes* the story. Zappos? Check. Amazon? Check. Most brands that emerge suddenly and situate themselves in this loud world without either a heritage or customer-centric focus fail to adequately communicate their reason for being, and consequently come across as having missed a beat in the rhythm of the market.
During the Brighton Photo Biennial in October, I walked down a high street in Lewes, East Sussex, where one of the projects on show was the Reeves Archive. In the window display of a few stores was an image of the frontage of that store, taken around 1855. It was just a regular high street in a small town, but that project made Lewes’ high street feel much more important than that because it did a great job at communicating the heritage of all those stores. In some cases, the stores were actually modern brands that had simply bought or leased real estate over the years as older stores went out of business; the photo project added something to them at least temporarily.
I visited the Sainsbury’s Archive last week, and that told a similar, enduring story about Sainsbury’s.
Bowndling is built ground-up with a story too. When Collyn Ahart was around 14 years old, she went kayaking 10 miles all by herself in Canada, over a route that could on occasion be so treacherous that it had killed someone the week prior to her outing. Her parents weren’t too happy when they found out of course, but it was testament to that spirit of adventure they instilled in her themselves. Collyn has built Bowndling for women like her – women who want to enhance their lives with beautiful and strong experiences, personally and professionally. She is inspired by the doers of our generation and hopes that future generations will take these women as inspiration themselves and reject currently held stereotypes of fitness and success. As she told me, ‘If there was ever a time for fearlessness, it’s now.’ It’s a timely and important point of view that has a place amidst the growing global discussion on gender disparity in spaces ranging from corporate boardrooms to Davos. If, as recent research indicates, women lack self-confidence and fear being judged, then the voice of a brand like Bowndling is relevant and important.
It’s clear when you look at it that a considerable amount of thought has gone into the design of the brand. Collyn confirmed this and explained the inspiration to me: “Maps, souvenirs of travel like postcards, postage stamps, passports and old photos, especially those in duotone and sepia. Think of the photojournalist with the Raybans.” This spirit of adventure is reflected in Bowndling’s communications as well. Their online journal, featuring conversations with inspiring women across the globe, is the home of a growing body of inspirational travel writing.
So if you’re working on a brand that has no heritage or history to begin with, think of what your reason for being is, what kind of narrative you want to be remembered by, and go from there.