Secret Marketer: Brands that forget their history are doomed to repeat it

When I was a teenager, I used to write a diary. Not the three lines every other week variety, but the Samuel Pepys sort. It got so serious that I was spending four hours a day capturing on paper the 12 to 14 hours of my life while I was awake.

I still have my diaries – four years of which are hand-written and two years of which are typed up. Alas, none of it is held electronically as this was before the age of the computer.

I do worry about what would happen if I were to lose my diaries, even though I haven’t looked at them in a decade, and my wife and children have little interest in the memories that they contain.

However, they bring me a level of comfort that should I ever forget the details of something important, or need to look it up, there would be my diaries in blue and white (I always wrote with the same blue pen) ready to check.

I have a similar compulsive approach to business, and I went for many years printing off all the important papers that I had written, and saving copies of all of the marketing campaigns I had been most proud of. But as time went by, I realised that I never referred back to them and as I moved on to other jobs, my successors had no interest in what had gone before. And as I moved into new roles, I realised that I did the same – a new leader meant a regime change – out with the old, in with the new.

This can’t be right. How can all that has gone before be obliterated with the push of a ‘delete’ button? All of that knowledge, all of that experience, all of those lessons. Whether you are a brand manager or marketing director, surely you should learn from what has been done before – given that customers tend to have a much longer tenure than a CMO. Surely they deserve better?

But, very much in the way that my children do not want to learn from their dad’s mistakes, marketers have little interest in knowing what their predecessor got up to. This is nothing new – brands up and down the country have been doing it for decades, yet those brands have survived and grown through this limited handover of the reins between successive guardians. So maybe it doesn’t actually matter. As marketers, we are judged by our present and our future, rarely the past.

Call me old-fashioned, but I remain of the view that brands do not belong to anyone. They have a life of their own, and their past – good and bad – deserves to be written down and recorded, even if few people will ever find the time or the inclination to discover it.

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