When to show off that you’re a new brand
People usually prefer established, older brands. But the opposite happens for tech or innovative products (e.g. cameras, VR headsets)
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Imagine you’re shopping for a pair of noise-canceling headphones with a built-in voice assistant. You have two options:
Product A, from a company founded in 2021
Product B, from a company started in the 1980s
All else equal, which one would you choose?
Now imagine that you’re shopping for an elegant cashmere scarf. You have two options:
Product A, from a startup founded in 2018
Product B, from a brand established in 1865
This time, which one would you choose?
Here’s what scientists found, and why.
P.S.: It’s not only your company’s age that matters - but your size too. Here is when you should show off that you are small (or large).
People prefer younger companies for innovative products, older companies for less innovative products
Channels: Messaging | Brand positioning | Brand Strategy | Product | Marketing communications
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: May 2023
If your product is perceived as high-tech (e.g. smartphone, complex IT systems, healthtech, generative AI), emphasize and tell people that your company is young (e.g. “Established in 2022, we are new and here to disrupt the market”).
If your product is perceived as low-tech (most other products; e.g. furniture, real estate agency, homemade herb remedies, copywriter services), show off that you are an established brand (e.g. started in 1998). If you are a young company avoid putting attention on your age.
People will be more likely to choose your product.
People prefer younger, new brands when shopping for products where innovation is important (e.g. vacuum cleaner robot). When innovation is less important (e.g. tea leaves), or reliability is more important, they prefer more established brands.
As part of a series of 7 experiments, researchers asked people to choose between products. The products were identical in all aspects, except how old they were told the brand was.
70.6% chose the younger brand (started in 2015 versus a brand from 1987) for a home security camera (a tech product)
73.9% chose the older brand (from 1916 vs 2010) for a table cover, where innovation isn’t a factor
62.7% chose the older brand (1865 vs 2018) for a wooden armchair. But only 41% chose the older brand if it was a massage chair
Works no matter how young or old people are
Is stronger for younger brands if people are unfamiliar with them
Is weaker for older brands for people who have a strong need to buy unique, uncommon products. They tend to prefer younger brands even for non-innovative products.
🧠 Why it works
We use a brand’s old age as a positive signal of consistency, reliability and quality.
But new brands feel more exciting, modern, and dynamic.
For most products, we judge quality and reliability as more important - so we tend to prefer older brands.
But if we are buying a product because it’s innovative, we find it more important that the brand be exciting and modern.
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Brand messaging plays an enormous role in altering people’s perceptions regarding innovation and heritage. So the effect largely depends on the focus of a brand’s messaging. For example, home entertainment company Bang & Olufsen was started in 1925, but focuses on highlighting its innovativeness rather than its legacy.
The research grouped products into either high-innovation or low-innovation categories. But many products would fall in between (e.g. an ergonomic chair). It’s unclear what’s best in these cases.
The study only tested physical products, but the effect is likely to be similar with software (people will tend to prefer younger brands) and services.
🏢 Companies using this
An analysis of 1,436 products on Amazon found that older brands were less dominant in product categories where innovation is more important.
Companies with low-tech products commonly show off their age and legacy. For example:
Fuller’s Brewery advertises that their “breweries stood in London, besides the Thames since 1845”
Insurance giant Geico showcases it’s “over 75 years of savings and service”
Ray-Ban’s tagline reinforces its products as “Genuine Since 1937” while Tissot mentions its Swiss Watches Since 1853”.
Companies selling high-tech products and services rarely show off that they are new. For example, OpenAI, though only 8 years old, doesn't showcase its founding date on its website.
Whisky brand Jack Daniels rightly highlights its age and origin.
⚡ Steps to implement
Align your messaging and branding to whether you want to highlight your established origins - or recent creation - or not.
If you want to highlight your age, it can be as simple as mentioning your date of establishment as often as possible (e.g. since 1976).
But you can also align other brand elements to support this perception. For example:
If you want to highlight that you are old and established, try to use classic and reassuring designs, fonts, and colors (e.g. brown, maroon).
If you want to highlight that you are new and exciting, try to use bright colors and unstructured designs.
Alternatively, If you’re a new brand, you can focus on selling more innovative products - or make your existing products feel more innovative.
🔍 Study type
Online experiments and Market observation (analysis of Amazon sales data of over 1,436 products across 30 categories)
The “Achilles Heel” of Established Brands: The Effect of Brand Age on Consumers’ Brand Choice. Journal of Marketing Research (May 2023)
Yaeeun Kim. College of Business, California State University, Sacramento
Joydeep Srivastava. Fox School of Business, Temple University
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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