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The art of building brand legacy in a digital age

Illustration of various branded products.

There are certain brands that global consumers just know. These legacy brands have not only been around for decades, but they’ve built a reputation and community beyond their products. Think, Nike (the infamous ‘just do it’ slogan always rings a bell) and Disney (movies, musicals, experiences, and more).

But, legacy brands aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Many staple brands like Sears and Toys R Us have had to close their doors over the past few years. Other brands like Lord & Taylor and Macy’s found themselves in hot water, filing for bankruptcy during the COVID-19 pandemic while digitally-native brands were thriving.

In the digital age, nostalgia is no longer enough. Consumers are much savvier than they’ve ever been. They’re looking for personalized experiences, multichannel touchpoints, and community both online and off. Legacy brands that fail to modernize themselves with a digital approach and relevant branding will quickly succumb.

Still, brand legacy isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s extremely helpful for D2C brands to begin building their legacy now. The key to success is finding the right mix of legacy and innovation. But, the real question is, how?

In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into brand legacy in the modern age: what it looks like, what it means, and what e-commerce brands need to know.

Let’s get started!

What is brand legacy?

A brand’s legacy refers to its ability to build an identity and community that goes beyond its products. And it’s not just about how long the brand has been around – it’s about how they’ve evolved to build trust and meet the needs of their audience. The most well-known legacy brands have not only produced quality products and profitability for several years; they’ve fostered an army of advocates who consistently show up for their brand.

Brand legacy in the e-commerce landscape

E-commerce may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about legacy brands. After all, the digitally-native brand is a relatively new concept. This being said, building a brand legacy comes with many benefits that will help D2C brands continue to make waves and stick around for the long run.

Withstanding saturation in the marketplace

Brands with a strong legacy are more likely to thrive over brands that don’t have as much history, testimonials, or background. For example, a legacy brand like Levi’s Jeans may be able to secure a wider brand reach than the digitally-native brand Mott & Bow. With so many brands to choose from, customers are likely to reach for products that foster emotional connection – Levi’s nostalgia and longevity in the marketplace give it the upper hand.

E-commerce brands that begin to take this into account and build a brand strategy around legacy (i.e. creating a consistent brand identity throughout the years to connect with their consumers) will see the benefits in the future.

Offering more than just a product

Legacy brands go beyond their products. When we think of a brand like Disney, we don’t just think of toys. We think of experiences – visiting one of their parks for the first time, family movie nights, and countless ‘magical’ moments. While not every brand will be able to offer as many experiences as Disney can, there’s still an opportunity to build emotional connections in small ways.

For example, Coca-Cola doesn’t have a theme park to visit, but they’ve built a strong sense of community within their network through creating emotion-fuelled marketing campaigns. The beverage brand’s ‘Share A Coke’ strategy encouraged their audience to connect with others by finding their friends and family’s names on Coke bottles.

This is something all D2C businesses can work on to build brand loyalty. Shifting the focus from product-only to community will help boost brand equity and attract more loyal customers.

Building trust and rapport with customers

Legacy brands are trusted by consumers. They’ve been around for a while and they’ve learned how to best keep up with their audience, even while navigating times of change. A huge differentiator between a strong brand and a weak one is their ability to continuously operate through a customer-centric lens.

Let’s take Starbucks for example. This world-famous coffeehouse chain was originally a storefront selling only coffee beans to consumers. Inspired by the cafes of Italy, Starbucks turned its storefronts into coffeehouses, offering cozy, communal spaces for enjoying a hot beverage. Now, with over 35,000 stores across the globe, Starbucks has built a massive community.

How have they done it? From loyalty programs to employee empowerment, Starbucks is constantly putting its people first. In turn, their customers and employees trust that they’ll have a good experience.

What does it take to build a legacy brand in e-commerce?

Consistent brand identity

Visual elements matter! Especially for e-commerce brands. Why? When customers interact with digitally-native brands, their brand identity is at the forefront of the experience. From the colors used throughout the website/socials to the logo that’s used on clothing, customers will begin to develop a sort of connection with the branding, and even their tone of voice.

If a business is constantly changing its look and feel customers may begin to feel less connected to the brand and look elsewhere for a more cohesive experience. DTC brands who want to build a legacy will need to have all their ducks in a row when it comes to their brand identity. This includes market research for their target audience: what they want to see and what they resonate with.

A compelling brand narrative

Every legacy brand has a good story. It’s the ‘why’ behind the product and the ‘how’ behind the evolution. DTC brands who follow suit and craft a compelling brand narrative will be able to connect with an audience that shares their values. The results? Highly engaged, high-intent customers.

For example, Levi’s was founded when Levi Strauss saw a need among the working class: clothing built to endure. Founded upon a mission to create comfortable, functional work clothing, Levi’s quickly grew beyond that – their blue jeans were worn by everyone from rock stars to miners to presidents. Their tagline ‘You live in Levi’s®‘ is a direct play at an emotional connection to many consumers’ interests in enhancing the daily quality of their lives.

Not only this, but Levi has a proven track record of corporate social responsibility initiatives. With a mission to lead with their values and make an impact on the world, Levi’s pioneered both labor and environmental guidelines in manufacturing and implemented clear sustainability goals. Recently, they’ve developed a popular second-hand site where they sell pre-loved clothing and encourage their customers to turn older pieces in for a gift towards future purchases.

Delivering memorable brand experiences

Picture this: You see an advertisement for Coca-Cola while scrolling through Instagram. It’s just a quick clip of a game night fuelled by glass bottles of Coke. You keep scrolling and think nothing of it. Then, a few days later you find yourself in the convenience store looking for a beverage. You notice all the Coke bottles have different names showcased and find your own. 

Out of these two interactions, which one is more memorable? The personalized experience.

Part of what helps a legacy brand thrive over the years is its ability to deliver memorable experiences to its customers that go way beyond its product scope. E-commerce brands that begin moving beyond the traditional transactional selling channel and explore things like experiential marketing, loyalty programs, resale channels, personalized touchpoints and more will ultimately come out on top.

A community of brand advocates

Last but certainly not least, the best legacy brands will always have a community of brand advocates. But, who are brand advocates exactly? They’re your most loyal customers – the ones who come back time and time again, the ones who tell their friends and family about your products, the ones who consistently show up. They can even be your most engaged employees who happen to be customers!

For brands, building a community of advocates requires plenty of thought-power, process, and a creative approach. The best vessel for brand advocacy? Social media. From programs that incentivize user-generated content (UGC) to community-building hashtags, social media is an all-in-one tool for DTC brands who want to improve their brand advocacy. Not only this, but advocates will likely be willing to give feedback – something e-commerce brands should take into account when optimizing their business.

How does a legacy brand stay relevant?

Legacy brands can be at risk with consumers who find them ‘old’ or irrelevant. But, we have good news! With the right strategy and initiatives in place, there are ways for legacy brands to stay at the forefront of consumer minds throughout the years.

Adapting to changing consumer preferences and trends

This may seem like a no-brainer, but what was popular decades ago may not have the same draw in today’s day and age. Consumer preferences are constantly changing! For example, there was a time when shoppers wanted the smallest cell phone possible, then somewhere along the line bigger was better. Now, there’s a good mix between smaller and larger devices. Apple gets ahead of this by offering its most popular phones in both regular-sized versions and ‘mini’ sizes.

Product page for Apple’s iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini.

Showcasing a commitment to social responsibility

Studies show that almost 80% of consumers are motivated to shop with a brand that has committed to making the world a better place, be it with social or environmental initiatives. This behavior is especially present among Gen Z, who have said they’d be more likely to boycott a company (and tell their friends) if they don’t agree with the business morals.

Legacy brands have been known to showcase their corporate social responsibility efforts throughout the years. However, it only becomes valuable when it’s authentic. Savvy consumers of 2023 will be able to tell when brands are greenwashing – they’re going to want to know just what the impact is.

Take Adidas’ pledge to be plastic-free by 2024. They’ve been partnered with the environmental organization ‘Parley for the Oceans’ to support this initiative since 2015. In 2022, they produced 27 million pairs of shoes containing recycled plastic.

E-commerce brands that include corporate social responsibility marketing within their business strategy and follow through on their promises are more likely to connect with consumers who care about creating a better world.

Embracing innovation and technology to stay relevant

In 2023, this is one of the most influential factors in whether a brand is going to be able to get through to its customers. As we enter an era that sees buying power shift to Gen Z and Millennials, who are very tech-savvy consumers, DTC brands will need to make sure that their technology is up to date. This goes beyond having mobile-friendly sites.

Brands that embrace non-traditional payment methods like Buy Now, Pay Later will be able to target younger consumers who may not want to commit to the full-priced purchase just yet. Similarly, those who are investing in non-traditional channels like TikTok Shop will have a wider brand reach with digitally native Gen Z consumers.

Brands that find themselves behind the curve when it comes to a tech-first customer experience may risk losing customers to brands that have already adopted these must-have strategies.

Examples of successful legacy brands


A Nike Just Do It billboard.

With its infamous ‘just do it’ tagline, Nike is one of the largest legacy footwear brands in the game. Founded with a mission to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, Nike reached the masses with its celebrity endorsements – scoping out partnering with the likes of Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and (of course) Michael Jordan in their early careers.

Throughout the years, Nike has focused on continuous marketing campaigns and product improvement with the customer at the forefront. They’ve branded better cushioning and support as ‘Nike Air Zoom’ technology and the use of lightweight, single thread as ‘Fly Knit’ technology.

In 2020, Nike began to put more focus into the DTC space, pulling out of its Amazon partnership to invest in an in-house premium direct-to-consumer experience for its customers called Nike Direct. This shift helped Nike grow DTC sales from 16% in 2011 to 35% in 2020.

Nike’s ability to innovate and change throughout the years has helped the footwear giant stay relevant with the younger generations of consumers.


e.l.f. tiktok challenge advertisement

e.l.f. (eye, lips, face) Cosmetics is still a relatively ‘young’ brand, but that’s not to say they haven’t built a strong legacy in their time on the market. Founded in 2004, e.l.f. originally launched their premium cosmetics fully online at a price point of just $1. As the brand began to gain traction, they quickly moved into the wholesale market, partnering with retailers like Target, Walgreens, and Walmart.

While their prices are more than a dollar these days, they’ve still stayed true to their mission of making beauty accessible with lipsticks, mascaras, and concealer products staying below $10 when many other makeup brands are selling the same products above that mark.

In addition to keeping true to their cost-conscious values, e.l.f. has innovated digitally and socially. In 2021, they embraced the NFT trend with a first-ever crypto cosmetic collection. They’ve also partnered with TikTok influencers like Chris Olsen and showcased a SuperBowl commercial featuring Jennifer Coolidge, fresh off her highly-watched HBO hit, White Lotus.


Photo images on the Gucci website.

With his interest piqued by the leather goods of the elite while working as an elevator operator, Guccio Gucci founded Gucci with the upper class in mind. At first, his focus was solely on fine leather luggage, but as the Gucci brand expanded, luxury items like handbags, shoes, and clothing were added to the roster.

Due to its unparalleled attention to detail, artistry, and sourcing of only the finest materials, Gucci quickly rose to popularity among the wealthier class. To this day, celebrities regularly sport Gucci’s designs at red-carpet events. A true legacy brand, Gucci reached 100 years in 2021 – aligning the triumph with a blockbuster film titled ‘House of Gucci’ starring none other than world-renowned actress and musician Lady Gaga.

So, how did Gucci do it? For one thing, they have always met the standards that they originally set – the utmost quality and prestige within every product. In addition to this, they’ve also begun to explore modern strategies like partnering with celebrities and even stepping into the metaverse with immersive experiences and NFTs.

The future of the legacy brand in e-commerce

If there’s one thing we’ve learned with this quick dive into brand legacy in e-commerce, it’s that it requires a seriously strong pulse on the times. Legacy comes when brands discover the balance between a ‘timeless’ and ‘timely’ approach.

We don’t see this changing in the future. Brands that begin to build their legacy today will have to innovate and find fresh, authentic ways to connect with consumers just like the legacy brands of the past have done – all while holding true to their mission and values.

The good news is that no matter where an e-commerce brand is in its journey, taking steps to build a brand legacy will only help to foster closer relationships and evolve with its customers along the way.

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