Amnesia is bad for business

3rd February 2015

History is cultural psychoanalysis. Its mission is not to discover facts, but rather to uncover understanding. We delve into what happened way back to make sense of who we are, and consider what we may become.

The idea of historical accuracy is bunkum. We can, of course, agree on the facts of the past, but not their meaning.

There is no absolute truth – and history pays dividends to she who looks closest, and he who asks the most interesting questions.

Just like any culture, every brand has a history – a past in which its fortunes shone brightly or, perhaps, flagged. Within a brand’s history are the roots of its future growth strategy. Not the rules; just the roots.

I am struck by how little time we spend considering a brand’s past before busying ourselves with its future. As if overcoming Greece’s debt crisis were not intimately linked to how the Greeks ran their economy for the last 25 years; as if to maintain Apple’s success is achieved by failing to consider 30 prior years of Steve Jobs’ obsessive bravura.

‘Steve Jobs will always be the DNA of Apple’ has become a mantra of current CEO Tim Cook, and with good reason.

In brands, when we do look to the past, we rarely go beyond the mere facts of the thing. I would guess that most businesses cannot methodically locate brand research which is more than five years old. Before that? Well, that’s pre-historic.

The curator of a recent British Museum exhibition called ‘Germany: memories of a nation‘ made an interesting assertion on the occasion of its opening.

‘The greatest single asset of a nation is its collective memory; the things it has learnt about itself.’

As it is with nations, so too is it with brands.
© Brian McIntyre 2015

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