Why Claims of History Fail to Impress Today’s Customers


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One of my favorite things to do is to facilitate a co-creation session with a client and their customers. They always lead to incredible insights thanks to the honest feedback of those in the room. Recently, I facilitated a session with a B2B company that was losing a bit of ground to disruptive competitors.

I bet many companies are facing a similar dilemma.

Startups like Uber and others begin to attract even the most long-term customers of traditional brands. One thing that came up was how claims like “we are the original XYZ company” or “The historic choice” have very little emotional resonance with today’s customers and prospects.

today's customers

And yet, these product claims of the Mad Men era are still seen today. Why? And does it ever work?

I started thinking about this. In my hometown of Chicago, there is great debate over who can claim to be the “original” deep dish pizzeria. This has meaning because people from all over the world come to Chicago and want to try authentic Chicago-style pizza. I get that type of claim.

But what about actual experiences?

How can organizations who do have a long history pay homage to that without becoming a dinosaur to be passed by a speedy little startup?

I think some of the claims of “the original” or “since 1960” certainly lend to the credibility and authority of an organization, but some of these claims are really just brand-centric. Companies love to obsess about their brands, but not necessarily their experiences. Brands are important, but customers will never be as concerned about your brand as you are.

One example I like is how American Express not only touts their history, but pays special attention to the history a customer has with them. Every card and statement shows “Member Since” with the year the customer became a customer. This is a good way to show history of the actual relationship, not just how old a company happens to be.

Another interesting idea is to look to the future. GE started advertising to a different crowd recently, trying not only to attract top talent, but also say something about their future. These are the companies we want to associate with as customers today. They are forward-thinking and innovative.

After all, the most innovative companies don’t necessarily discuss how long they’ve been around, they just discuss what they can do for us as customers today and tomorrow. How long has Amazon been around? We have a general idea but don’t think of history when Amazon comes to mind. Instead, we think of innovation and ease.

What history are you touting to your customers?

Are these claims meaningful to them or just to you? What can you tell them about the future of working with them? That’s where they want to go with you, if you let them.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeannie Walters, CCXP
Jeannie Walters is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a globally recognized speaker, a LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com instructor, and a Tedx speaker. She’s a very active writer and blogger, contributing to leading publications from Forbes to Pearson college textbooks. Her mission is “To Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers.”


  1. Jeannie…I agree with you that customers might not be interested in history. But, the touting of a long heritage and legacy might not be for their customers; it might be for the employees who front that organization. Employees who exude pride in their organization (for whatever reason) add to the positive experience customers have of that organization. So, indirectly it does impact customers. You might enjoy reading The Living Company by Arie de Gues. It is a powerful study of the features of organizations that have been around over 200 years.

  2. Decades ago, when I lived in Chicago, I’d think very little of standing in line outside in the snow to get into the original Pizzaria Uno. Tasting that pizza was THE experience, novel, delightful and memorable, sort of The Windy City’s version of dining at a 3-star Michelin gourmet restaurant. Today, I’d think so little of it…..that I wouldn’t do it. I’ve had THE pizza dining experience; but now, where pizza is concerned, I want the (lower case) experience, where my core needs are met, and hopefully exceeded.. Where pizza is the feature on the menu, the poor version of deep dish pizza served at the Pizzaria Uno chain bears no resemblance to Ike Sewell’s original recipe. So, per Kano, it is a disappointing experience I’ve no interest in repeating because they can’t meet my current needs.

    And, wherever history with any vendor is concerned, I’m less interested, or invested, with what you have done for me in the past, or even what you have done for me lately if you aren’t keeping current on my rational and emotional needs in the here and now. As a result, pretty much agree that, as a customer, my biggest experience requirements are what are you doing for me today and what are you prepared to do tomorrow as my needs morph..

  3. Great post Jeannie. I believe that no company on earth can afford to ‘res on its laurels’. Whilst a strong heritage and legacy can never be taken away, it does not give an organisation the right to exist in the same way forever. In the UK, the retail industry has been a great example of this over recent years – Woolworths disappeared completely off the high street in 2008 – over 100 years of history wiped out because they no longer played a relevant role in consumers lives. On last week, another ‘iconic British retailer, BHS (British Home Stores) went into administration – their history bears no relevance when they are struggling to identify with the consumer of today.

    Every organisation must evolve – not once – but continuously. That is why CX is a never ending, long term, infinite business strategy. I like to think of CX as ‘Back to the Future’ – it is ok to look back and remember the things you have achieved, but more important to then focus on where you are going in the future and what you need to do to get there!

  4. I think that any company is capable of appearing innovative and forward-thinking while being proud of its heritage. I don’t believe it’s either-or, or that a company’s proclivity to tout its longevity comes at the cost of complacency.

    But your question brings up a great opportunity for customer research. A study could be developed where two identical food products were offered to subjects, one was described as made precisely from a family recipe dating back to a certain year, while the other one, an experimental product from a start-up company. How might the preferences cluster? Would it make any difference if the “family recipe” were 300 years old? 100 years? 50? 10? Less? It would be great to probe how people would respond, and see if there are any differences.

    These questions could also be explored for service industry. When selecting a plumbing repair, for example, which company might consumers prefer – the one “servicing customers in East Podunk since 1920,” or the one that doesn’t contain any information. Or, does it make any difference at all?

    My hypothesis is that such information influences buyers. How – and how much – would be fascinating to learn.


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