The Legacy Brand Challenge: weaving a greater purpose into brand narratives

Planning Director

As we recently gained our B-Corp accreditation, I’ve been reflecting on how we can help our clients on their journey towards impact. I think for many, this can seem like a daunting task but especially so for legacy brands – those established in a bygone era when the world and consumer desires were very different. For these brands they are at a critical point: choose to evolve or risk being left behind.

But this transformation isn’t simply about ticking boxes or reducing environmental footprints, it’s about weaving a genuine narrative of purpose into the very fabric of your identity. While start-ups who have purpose built into their DNA from the get-go, may seem to have a head start, I don’t think the answer is as simple as chasing after them. Yes, legacy brands can take valuable lessons from the challenger mindset and innovation of these start-ups, but if you want to truly compete in the age of purpose, you have to leverage your own unique strengths.

Harness heritage for impact

Although it may seem like it, embracing a greater purpose doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch. Actually, it offers a unique opportunity to harness your brand’s rich history and inherent strengths to create impact that aligns with your values. Another key point, which I find is often overlooked, is that a greater purpose doesn’t just have to be about environmental responsibility. Yes, that is crucial, but there’s also lots of other ways to have a positive impact on the world, like addressing broader societal issues. Choabani, America’s leading yoghurt brand is a great example here. Founded by Hamdi Ulukaya, an immigrant from Turkey, it has expanded its mission to hire refugees and promote inclusivity, demonstrating how an established brand can evolve its purpose while staying true to its roots.

Infuse creativity and fun

I often see sustainability messaging falling into the trap of technical jargon and corporate-speak, unsurprisingly failing to resonate with audiences and leaving them feeling overwhelmed or simply uninterested. But why should sustainability communication differ from your brand’s overall tone and messaging strategy?

Tony’s Chocolonely and Who Gives A Crap? are prime examples of brands that effectively blend humour, vibrant branding, and a clear mission statement to make sustainability not only informative but also engaging and impactful. By integrating sustainability seamlessly into their brand narratives, these companies deepen their connection with consumers and reinforce their core values, demonstrating that sustainability can be an integral and compelling part of their overall brand experience.

From compliance to leadership

As an established brand, you might feel overwhelmed by the idea of overhauling complex supply chains, but striving for absolute perfection can lead to inaction. Even small shifts in sourcing or production at scale can have a significant impact. Not only that, unlike most startups you have the opportunity to lead category-wide change through cutting-edge innovation or by advocating for greater regulation and industry standards.

I think this is an area where many larger brands often stumble but Carlsberg stands out as a positive example. Their Snap Pack innovation replaced traditional plastic rings on six-packs with a recyclable glue and while there is still some plastic on pack, it’s a significant improvement from where it was and part of an ongoing, transparent journey towards sustainability.

Innovation and collaboration

Established brands, with their vast resources, can sometimes struggle with the agility required for rapid innovation. Startups, in contrast, excel in this area. Rather than competing, I see a valuable opportunity for collaboration. Walmart, for instance, partnered with AMP Robotics, a startup specialising in AI-powered recycling solutions for automating plastic sorting. This not only boosted recycling efficiency but also reduced Walmart’s overall environmental impact. Embracing such partnerships allows established brands to leverage the agility and fresh perspectives of startups without the need for extensive internal R&D efforts, ultimately accelerating sustainability efforts.

By embracing these strategies, legacy brands can embark on a meaningful purpose journey. In my view, this isn’t about deleting the past, but building a future that resonates with a generation that demands more from the brands it chooses. The real challenge is to harness your rich heritage and adapt it to this new landscape. By doing so, you can solidify your brands legacy for a new era, and prove it can not only survive but thrive in the age of purpose.