Legacy marketing, as we may call it, is when a brand embarks on a campaign promoting a significant anniversary or milestone or simply wishes to remind consumers of the more sentimental, evergreen aspects of its property.

Content is ideally suited for legacy marketing because it helps brands avoid a fine line when engaging consumers with this kind of branding – and that is the fine line of condescension.

When invited to celebrate a brand’s anniversary or accomplishments, it’s tempting to ask, “why?” as a consumer. Even for some of the most respected brands in the world, it’s not a given that consumers will have the same emotional response to legacy marketing as intended. It can be hard to convey the real meaning of a brand’s legacy with a 60 second TV spot. A somber-voiced narrator or rogues’ galley of actors foisted off as regular ‘ole employees proud to be part of such an inspiring enterprise is a delicate act to nail, and if bungled even slightly can produce benign indifference in an audience, or worse, turn them off entirely.

With content, brands can create experiences as deep or as wide as necessary to paint a clearer picture, and rather than define an “activation” or expiration date for their legacy campaign, consumers can discover the content when they’re most receptive to it — when a friend shares it or while they’re engaged with content on another site, a different approach than blunt force TV campaigns.

One of my favorite examples of this kind of marketing is IBM’s “100 Icons of Progress series”, an ode to innovation launched for their centennial that, two years removed from its inception, is still a compelling experience.

By telling genuinely interesting stories about tech innovations and discoveries, IBM was able to demonstrate more comprehensively and impressively than a display ad could what their brand is about. While ostensibly the semi-obscure pioneers and their stories chronicled in “100 icons” always relate back to IBM in some way, the overall experience is one of genuine reverence for tech discoveries and the ways in which many of them impact daily life, right down to Predictive Crime Fighting, the Tracking of Infections Disease, and the unlikely birth of Magnetic Stripe Technology.

These stories take the often-dry world of math and science and humanizes it for people like me who frankly hated math growing up and suffered unhealed anxiety in the lab during science class. Doesn’t hurt that the stories are beautifully designed, multimedia creations either.

The variety of content is important here as well. IBM is able to tell the story of Nanotechnology and the story of The Self Serve Kiosk on the same platform with cohesion, and with the latter, demonstrate traits not commonly associated with IBM, like quirkiness.

So, if you want to engage consumers with your legacy, consider the following:

Assume You’re Boring – Not everyone gets out of bed for the invention of Automated Test Scoring, but finding out the IBM 805 Test Scoring Machine was used in the days of the Depression to help the government process larger numbers of job applicants? Now that’s a little more interesting. It’s the little corners of your history, the obscure tidbits that can draw people in and then illuminate them.

Let People In – I always associated IBM with corporate boardrooms in black and white (thanks to years of their commercials), but some of the quirkier “Icons of Progress” content helped me embrace a side of the brand I hadn’t before – an endearing nerdy streak. When you invest in content, you give yourself the flexibility to showcase less well-known attributes that can surprise consumers who thought they knew you better.

→ Choose “Inspired” Over “Inspiring” Content Every Time – If you try to “inspire” audiences, good luck not being trite. Consumers have seen it all before, and the harder you tug on the heartstrings and strain for profundity, the flatter you can fall. Don’t over-think how much you really know about consumers. Your best bet? Whatever inspires you. You’ll find it’s much easier to produce content on what genuinely turns you on then what you think consumers will find inspiring, and it’ll probably be more inspiring too.

Go Back to the Start – This is where your legacy was forged, so why not revisit the early days before everything became so complicated? The fundamental problem your company solved might have seemed small at the time, or better yet, not even a problem at all, but if you’re marking a significant anniversary, chances are you did something right, and your solution still resonates. Why not share the story of how it started? Don’t worry if it was a happy accident – most of the good ones usually are. Telling consumers your brand is “making the world work better” is nice, but what does that mean? Telling real stories populated with real people trying to solve real problems paints a clearer picture.

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