Competing With Startups: Are Older Businesses Doing Enough?

Mature companies should be taking advantage of their long histories to connect with customers.

When it comes to being innovative and agile, being a “mature” company is often cited as a negative. Too many ingrained habits, and too much invested in doing things a certain way, often leads to a reluctance to try new things. But being a mature company comes with a whole host of positives too, and that includes having a long history to draw on.

Companies that have been around for a couple of decades can look back at a history of milestones and achievements, as well as some failed experiments that may well have transformed to valuable lessons by now. Brands should be mining their history to build loyalty as there are often good stories to be found in the archives.

Take a look at this Microsoft site, A History of Windows: it starts with a photo of a young, adorably goofy Bill Gates. “Few have heard of microcomputers, but two young computer enthusiasts, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, see that personal computing is a path to the future,” reads the text. “Like most start-ups, Microsoft begins small, but has a huge vision – a computer on every desktop and in every home.”. Knowing what we know today about how their little start-up fared, this site demonstrates how Microsoft have been making history since 1975.

“Collective brand memory allows us to have an experience as a group in ways we can’t as individuals, and that makes it more powerful. Indeed, collective associations can have such a big impact that they change us as a society,” Nick Rappolt, CEO of experience design agency Beyond, wrote on FastCoDesign. “As already established brands, long-standing companies have a big competitive advantage: their heritage and the brand memory they’ve cultivated over time.”.

Creating a section on the website for stories from the brand’s history means companies can take charge of how they present their heritage. As the Windows example shows, it doesn’t even have to be that complicated. Companies who neglect to do this are left with a partial history based on whatever the internet has retailed: what comes up on a search engine? What does it say on Wikipedia? By creating a brand archive, companies can take back some control of how their history is being presented, and make sure people who’re interested can find a complete picture with accurate facts.

A best-in-class example of how this can be done is the Sainsbury’s Living Archive. “Join us on a journey through history, revealing how bygone generations were first able to enjoy various frozen delights with the help of Sainsbury’s,” reads the text, before taking us back to a time when the concept of freezing food was in its infancy. “From the 1890s, all Sainsbury’s stores were built with huge icebox basements supplied with ice twice weekly by the North Pole Company but even this didn’t allow for food to be kept frozen, only chilled,” goes the story. Then, in the 1970s, Sainsbury’s had dedicated “freezer centres”, where people could buy frozen items to transfer to their home freezer. For people born in a time when freezers are commonplace this is a fantastic thought, whereas people who remember the 1970s may enjoy a bit of nostalgia.
“The history we have with a brand shapes our views of it for the long-term,” said Rappolt. “If a brand is associated with positive memories, it is more able to diversify into new sectors. A customer will trust it to offer the service they have come to expect, just in a new category.”. This sort of logic explains why Sainsbury’s has been offering bank services since 1997. Even when people don’t associate Sainsbury’s with banking, we associate it with something that stands the test of time.

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