Heritage -- It's Such A Misunderstood Concept!
October 13, 2015
Many radio stations have awarded themselves the label 'heritage.' General Managers and programmers proudly boast, "We are the heritage Rock station!"No doubt you have sat in research meetings and heard the phrase "that show has heritage in this city" or "well we have the heritage morning show." I am frequently amused by how the phrase 'heritage' is tossed around with such ease. Its meaning is widely misunderstood. A generation of management fails to understand the true importance of the word and, as a result, are making misguided strategic decisions.
Before I get into what heritage is and how you'll know when your brand has it, let's explore the common misunderstandings that I hear.
- People confuse longevity with heritage. This is the most common mistake and it's fatal. A brand being in the market for a long time isn't the same as having heritage.
- People confuse awareness with heritage. Just because people are aware that your brand exists doesn't qualify as heritage. There's no disputing that awareness is essential in building your brand's foundation, but it is a stepping stone to growth, not heritage.
- People confuse winning with heritage. Winning is the Holy Grail, but there are different types of winning. There are brands who go from worst to first for brief periods. There are also brands that circle the podium often. Just making it to the top doesn't warrant you claiming 'heritage.'
Having a brand with heritage is without question something we should be aspiring to. We just need to understand what it is. The word heritage has a sense of gravitas to it. Heritage is best described as "the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc. that are part of the history of a group."
There are three important words to consider before attributing the label 'heritage' to a station, show or personality.
Beliefs. It always comes back to what the audience thinks. Not what station management thinks. Your audience -- your tribe - needs to believe that your brand is exceptional. You need to be consistently delivering to your tribe's expectations and often exceeding their expectations. Steve Jobs taught us an important lesson about turning consumers into evangelists, not just customers. One of Apple's most important strategies is to get the consumer wanting to recommend the brand without being paid for it. To achieve this Apple had to foster a sense of pride and belief in their tribe that what they offered was significantly better than the other options; beyond what their competitors could offer. Belief is about building the image, in the audience's mind, that you are the best.
Achievements. There has to be evidence of exceptional performance. For our purposes exceptional performance should be considered continual winning. The station, the show or the personality must have a ratings track record that makes us all jealous. It's not about winning once or twice but the continual demonstration of winning. Think of Alex Ferguson's run as the manager of Manchester United; a record breaking 49 trophies in 38 years. Achievement is about rising to the top and staying there.
History. For something to be considered as historic it must have great and lasting importance. This is the final piece of the heritage jigsaw. Time is an important attribute of heritage. There are many examples of businesses that have launched straight into success or businesses that have gone from worst to first. Winning isn't the measure by which you can bestow the word heritage onto your brand. Heritage comes from the continual exceeding of expectations and achievements. History requires you to dominate a market over a substantial period of time. History is about succeeding in a way that is remarkable over a significant period of time.
When you consider heritage you need remember this equation:
Belief + Achievement + Time = Heritage
Without the essential three elements working in unison your brand - your station, show or personality -- simply doesn't have heritage.
It is vital to remember that just as heritage can be awarded to a brand it can also be taken away. You need to ensure the three elements continue to work together - constantly evolving for the changing competitive demands and your audience's expectations. The moment your audience begins to question their belief in your brand, or your achievements begin to slide backwards your heritage starts to unravel. Quickly. Considering when to exit the market is important because you can't rebuild heritage once it has started to erode. You build it. You sustain it. You get out before the cracks appear. Think of the TV show Friends. Its audience believed in it, it dominated the ratings for a decade, but they chose to end it while it was still in demand. The show has heritage, proven by the fact that there are constant rumors -- or desires -- for a reunion show or a movie. It will never happen as the show's creators and cast understand the value of heritage and how quickly it could be undone.
There's a saying that I love: "With heritage comes great responsibility." Achieving heritage takes a lot of talent, effort and time. Once you have earned it, then it's your responsibility to hold onto it.
Next time you hear someone say "we have the heritage," or "we're the heritage Rock station," consider whether that's really true. Making a strategic move based on a misunderstanding of what heritage truly means -- and its current value to you - will always equal disaster.
Belief + Achievement + Time = Heritage