How a heavily nostalgic brand can (and should) evolve its story

When the holiday shopping season comes around each year, nostalgia-associated memories of a favorite brand or group of brands pull at our heartstrings. One brand that resonates most strongly with me is Lincoln Logs, created by the son of iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1916. John Lloyd Wright was incredibly successful with his new educational toy initially marketed to affluent parents interested in childhood development. I unwrapped my first set of Lincoln Logs during the Christmas of 1966, at a time when the Wild West, adventurous cowboys, and wagon trains permeated primetime television and the imaginations of children and parents alike.

Fast forward to December 2012 when I sadly discover that Lincoln Logs appears to have remained stuck in the past, without much evolution in product features or brand relationship with advocates and customers—which is supremely important. The Lincoln Logs digital brand ecosystem overall is anemic and therefore invisible. I believe that strategically targeted efforts in the digital brand experience would help grow the brand in awareness, affinity and ultimately, in sales.

First, I would recommend that Lincoln Logs take a deep dive into its positioning and messaging, recognizing that limitations exist with the narrow-focused, “old-timey” cabins and ranches that dominate its brand story. Most advocates and fans would be intrigued to discover that the original mold for the toy was based on the architecture of The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This amazing architectural story needs to be woven into its greater brand story and messaging—not as passive brochure nomenclature but as an active, engaging, integral piece of it. This enhanced brand story could also serve as the platform for product development and expansion which moves beyond the simple cabin “log” into ever-expanding possibilities as Lego did in evolving its structural “brick.” On a larger scale, perhaps Lincoln Logs could provide a series of digitally printable building facades that can be trimmed and applied to log structures to give them different characteristics and themes. The possibilities are endless.

Second, I would engage advocates in the social media space as well as initiate messaging and conversations around the expanded brand positioning to test the water in order to gain greater insight into the brand, which would help map where it could go in the future. Currently the Lincoln Log-associated Pinterest activity is based solely on memories and nostalgia, which attests to the positive brand equity and opportunity for greater engagement that exist. These need to be leveraged with contextual linkage to enhanced online properties and experiences, such as Facebook, which for Lincoln Logs, is disappointingly flat, providing no opportunities for fans and advocates to engage. Toy truck brand Tonka provides an excellent go-to-market example for Lincoln Logs. Tonka leverages the past, evolving the future of the brand with colorful product posts, contests, community outreach and facilitation of relevant conversations.  (Two thumbs up, Tonka!)

Last, to leverage the existing brand association with the holidays, product photos shared via Instagram could encourage deeper introspection and conversations, which would inevitably drive sales. Images of Lincoln Logs used with collectables or other holiday associated brands such as Lionel Trains, could assist in reaching a far wider audience, while gaining deeper emotional equity with existing advocates.

A brand’s ability to utilize nostalgia in the social media space can assist in maintaining continuity of its evolution over time—if used properly.

Roy DeYoung, Jr. is senior vice president of creative strategy at Paradysz.

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