When most people think of a company’s history, they typically envision a generic “about us” page on a corporate website, some black-and-white imagery from the company’s early years, and a brief blob of text from the company’s founder.
Sadly, this view of what comprises a company’s history and how it’s communicated isn’t too far from the truth, as many companies don’t see the value of their heritage apart from a small portion of their website and maybe a brief mention when a major milestone rolls around.
In reality, a company’s history is immensely valuable and it permeates every level of an organization — from customers’ initial interaction with your brand, to corporate leadership, and to the very foundations of company culture.
But what, specifically, is the value in company history? And what does it look like when a company does embrace its heritage and harnesses its value effectively?
With those questions in mind, let’s dive in together and explore what company history truly is, its value, and how a company’s historical roots and living legacy impact every level of an organization.
What Comprises a Company’s History?
A company’s history is the founding bedrock upon which it stands and continues to grow. And while it’s natural to want to highlight only the good times, an effective and authentic history embraces every aspect of a company’s legacy — both the high points and the lows.
While every company’s history is unique, most share a few key elements.
Founding values and original vision for the future
Companies are seldom founded on a whim. Whether they’re founded to start a movement, solve a vexing problem, or assist a specific community, companies are created with a vision of being a force for positive change and shaping a better future.
This founding vision, in most cases, forms the very heart of the company. This vision encompasses the problems that the founders aimed to solve and the virtues that guided their earliest actions toward creating that positive change.
Company growth, milestones, and significant triumphs
Reflecting on the moments of growth and success is one of the most enjoyable aspects of compiling and sharing your company’s history. When communicating these successes, however, it’s important to reflect on the fact that these successes didn’t occur in a vacuum.
These successes were built upon the combined efforts of virtue-driven leadership, hard-working staff, the communities that support your company, and the customers who place their trust in your brand.
By reflecting on the values that guided — and continue to guide — your company and the people, communities, and customers that make it strong, you can celebrate its many successes while honoring the efforts and relationships that made them possible.
In doing so, your internal teams recognize that their efforts are always valued and recognized, and customers can see first-hand that your brand cares about the relationship it has with the community and those that place their trust in your name.
Defeats and hardships that were overcome
No company that ever accomplished anything worth doing did so without its share of failures, but when you read the histories of some companies, you would think they experienced nothing but success throughout their time in business.
And how do these company histories feel when you read, watch, or listen to them? Hollow, non-human, and almost fictitious in some cases. In other words: It’s simply not an engaging or relatable story. It just feels like more bland corporate messaging.
Naturally, it’s not an easy task to dredge up old defeats; however, when they’re acknowledged and shared alongside the story of how your company learned and grew from those mistakes, it simply feels more human.
In these moments, your history is transformed from being a simple timeline of facts and dates into the story of the people who share a vision for a common good, who learn from their mistakes, and who have come together to ultimately help other people.
A chronicle of the impact on the communities served
Every company has an economic and social impact on the community in which it is founded. In turn, both the successes and the shortcomings of a company are felt — either directly or indirectly — by the communities that support it.
Effective company histories celebrate this relationship, chronicling how the company and the community grew together throughout the years. Even smaller moments, such as a company’s participation in a local bake sale or charity auction, bring a living energy and authenticity to a company’s history.
By cherishing and sharing these moments of community engagement and growth, companies demonstrate a keen awareness of how their actions affect the communities they serve.
Why is a Company’s History Valuable?
Though many companies only consider exploring their history around the time of a major milestone, such as a 30th anniversary or a large-scale merger, a company’s heritage provides immense cultural and communicative value throughout every level of the organization.
Though there is a plethora of reasons as to why people don’t trust brands, chief among them is authenticity. Simply put, when brands attempt to artificially inject relatability and humanity into their messaging, it falls flat.
This is where your company’s authentic heritage shines. It’s not developed in a focus group or concocted by a thinktank. It’s the real, human account of ideals, goals, successes, failures, and an ultimately unifying vision for what the future could be.
By infusing your messaging with your brand’s history — and the years of stories and strong customer relationships that have built your company — you instill a sense of authenticity within your messaging that can’t be found anywhere else.
It develops and strengthens a company culture.
Company culture matters. More than ever, it’s the driving force that attracts new talent, builds morale, inspires innovation, and ultimately communicates to customers that you are worthy of their trust.
It’s a living, breathing force that is shaped every day by your company’s communication, its leadership, and the relationships that your company builds and maintains.
But the culture your company has built throughout the years didn’t just spontaneously form. It took root in the founding virtues and visions held by the founders. It was shaped by the relationships that the company built with customers and communities. And it was tested by the failures and tumultuous setbacks that all business must overcome.
Throughout each year in business and with each hurdle your company overcame, its culture — and its enduring legacy — grew stronger, culminating into a guiding set of principles and practices that served as the foundation for achievement and strong, ethical relationships.
Only when we take the time to discover our company’s heritage can we find the roots of its culture. When equipped with that knowledge of your company’s legacy, you can then instill those time-tested virtues within every goal you set out to accomplish and know that your company, its people, and its culture is on the right course.
It is a proven and powerful tool for company leadership.
All businesses face challenging times and difficult setbacks. In these moments of downturn, it’s up to your company’s executive leadership to make the necessary decisions to get the company back on a path to success.
These decisions are seldom easy, and the path to discovering the best course of action — let alone implementing it — can make even the most confident leaders second-guess themselves and fall into the trap of indecision.
By taking the time to explore your company’s history and share its story, you’re not only investing in your company’s ability to inspire your leadership and staff internally, but also your ability to build relationships with new audiences and maintain the trust within your existing customer base.
Why Is a Company’s History Important to Customers?
In addition to it being an effective tool for building a lasting culture and guiding leadership, your company’s history is a powerful, connective force between you and your customers that demonstrates your brand’s humanity and trustworthiness.
It allows customers to learn your company’s internal culture.
According to the Edelman 2017 Trust Barometer report, nothing instills trust quicker and builds more lasting trust within customers than when a company treats its employees well.
This correlation between the treatment of employees and customer trust just makes good sense: If a part of your company’s legacy is treating its employees well, your customers will naturally see that as a promise of faithful service and quality support.
By investing in the discovery of your company’s history, and sharing its legacy of treating its employees well, you communicate to customers that you’re invested in them and their long-term satisfaction.
It communicates that your company is dependable and trustworthy.
When it comes to winning new customers and retaining your brand’s existing customer base, there’s only one metric that truly matters: Trust.
And when customers seek to place their trust within a brand, they ultimately choose those who clearly demonstrate a history of unwavering commitment, honesty, and transparency with their customers.
This is where your company’s history shines brightest — as a beacon of trust. Your company’s history is its track record of commitment to its customers.
Even when times have been tough, your company’s founding values stayed true and forged ahead to create new success and continually honor the trust that customers placed within it.
When companies stand the test of time, it sends a clear signal that resonates deeply within both new and existing customers: “Our company has survived because we do good work and do right by our customers, community, and industry.”
What Can Happen if a Company Doesn’t Manage its History?
As companies grow over time, it can be easy for considerations such as managing company history to be relegated to the back burner.
However, as the company, its customer base, and its reputation grows over time, so too does the importance of effectively managing the company’s history. If left neglected, the company’s history — and in turn, reputation — can be heavily impacted.
The story and legacy of your brand are shaped by others.
If you don’t tell the story of your brand and its heritage, someone else will. And more often than not, the story won’t be as kind or as accurate as you might like.
When you neglect taking ownership of your company’s history and story, it can be told and controlled by:
Negative or fake online reviews
Disgruntled former employees
Published lawsuits and other public legal documentation
Social media comments
Though these reviews, comments, and documents may still exist after taking ownership of your company’s history, the full story of your company is told to your customers by you, rather than being piecemealed together through unreliable third-party sources.
Your company’s history can be lost entirely.
Unless properly managed, a company’s history rarely exists in one centralized location. It exists in stories, memories, friendships, and forgotten bits of storage that have existed — and often been forgotten — for years. These rich sources of history are often held in:
The homes and aging memories of former employees and company partners
Storage containers and long-lost boxes of old documentation and media
Retired hard drives from decommissioned computers
By reclaiming your history from these sources, you ensure that your company’s story is accurate, whole, and celebrates the people and partnerships that make your company uniquely authentic.
Company culture can become difficult to establish and maintain.
You’ve seen it time and again: Once the founder of a company steps down from a chief leadership role, the brand often begins a slow decline, losing customer trust and brand value over time.
This all-too-common decline in brand quality, customer trust, and internal culture is due to the company losing sight of its heritage: The foundational values and original guiding vision that anchored the company to the virtues that once made it innovative and trustworthy.
Additionally, with the quality of a company’s culture playing an increasingly important role in both attracting and retaining talent, it’s ever more vital that companies understand their history and use it to build a culture that brings order to the organization, inspires talent, and wins the hearts of customers.
Your marketing becomes less effective.
Your company’s history is a humanizing force for your brand, as it tells the stories of the people and communities that have worked together to build its successful legacy. By honoring these bonds, your company shows that you recognize and cherish the relationships you have with your customers and that your company honors that trust.
But without its history, every advertisement, social media post, and video rings as a hollow attempt at garnering attention, rather than customers feeling like a trusted partner is communicating with them.
Your company’s legacy is a living, breathing entity that exists very much in the present. When harnessed and communicated effectively, it is a powerful tool that helps guide your company’s future, boosts internal morale, attracts talent, and creates a closer connection between you and your customers.
Have you or your company dug into your history? What have you uncovered and how have you incorporated it into your company’s messaging or culture? We’d love to hear from you in the Facebook comments below!
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The story of your accomplishments should never be forgotten. Müllerhaus Legacy provides you with creative solutions for preserving and sharing your heritage in ways that inspire appreciation & understanding.