There is no doubt that traditions are important. From the holidays we spend with family year after year to the foods we cook for special occasions, the traditions we keep are anchors in our lives and form a fundamental part of our identity.
The business world does not forgo the importance of tradition. Many companies take pride in their histories and strive to maintain techniques, products and facilities that have been integral to their brand for a long time.
Yet in staying steadfastly true to their heritage, businesses can put themselves at risk of becoming obsolete. If maintaining tradition starts to become a pretext for resisting change, businesses risk becoming inefficient, outdated, and noncompetitive in the modern consumer landscape.
In today’s saturated and globalized market, innovation is often the key to growth for businesses large and small. The abundance of digital startups that have sprung up over the past decade is a testament to this trend. Without innovation, businesses can become obsolete. Their products might fall behind competitor brands and become less popular (and less lucrative) as a result. What good are traditions without the capital and brand awareness to sustain them?
Using R&D Can Help Maintain Traditions.
Brands need to balance forward-thinking attitudes with the value they place on core brand traditions and histories. Though it seems paradoxical, innovation can play an important role in staying true to business and product heritage. If businesses can keep pace with current trends and meet modern demands through innovation, they will gain both the means and the capital to preserve the most valued aspects of their heritage.
Many highly successful companies have modernized aspects of their business structures and production processes while still staying true to their roots in critical areas. Brands must take a step back and decide where innovation can take place most effectively without overshadowing important heritage.
From corporate structure to production lines, from facilities to marketing methods, change can take place anywhere within a business model. Yet choosing where to innovate and where to keep traditions untouched is as much a challenge as it is essential for brands, especially those whose products are defined by a specific heritage.
Take iconic American whiskey label Jack Daniels, for example. This company has always sourced the water used to distill its famous whiskey from a single spring in Tennessee and continues to construct its own handmade wooden barrels for aging. These traditions are clearly not open for change – they are what define the brand’s products. Yet to protect these traditions long-term and meet modern demands, innovations were made in other areas: to the advanced fire prevention systems at its distilleries and the brand’s digital presence, most notably.
This is a good example of how selective innovation can help sustain tradition. By making aspects of its physical and online infrastructure cutting-edge, Jack Daniels has protected its core traditions by keeping these both safe and current.
The effectiveness of innovation in preserving product traditions is seen around the world. In the Mediterranean for instance, innovations have paved the way for historically small-scale culinary traditions and heritage craftsmanship to successfully enter global markets en masse.
Take Turkish fruit farming, for instance. Farmers in Turkey have been growing and harvesting apricots, figs, grapes, hazelnuts and pistachios in local plots for centuries. Yet without innovations, the reach of their products – and the longevity of agrarian traditions – would be limited. Initiatives to unite local farmers through new agricultural techniques and the development of cutting-edge processing facilities have given Turkish dried fruits and nuts a strong presence in international markets without needing to compromise on heritage.
This example also speaks to the importance of tradition as a check on business growth. Innovations have given these fruits a competitive edge, but it is the tradition of careful planting, tilling and harvesting that give these foods their fine flavor. The lesson: innovation is a means to sustain and expand traditions, but it should never overshadow these.
Successful innovations need not take place only in-house. Businesses should capitalize on the many new platforms, apps and online retailers that have sprung up in recent years to innovate sales methods and expand reach. Digital connectivity can give modern consumers easier access to traditional products and services that they might otherwise overlook.
Mom-and-pop restaurants should not shy away from listing their business on Yelp, for instance, and businesses should try to sell at least some of their product range through Amazon or Etsy. Whether you represent a bigger company or are an entrepreneur or artisan, the power of these platforms is not to be underestimated – products as niche as they are traditional, such as Turkish dry fruits and towels, Jamaican rum, or even South African wine are now widely available through major retail sites.
Research and development are another way for brands to keep their traditions alive in the modern era. Traditional need not mean outdated. Generating insights that can boost production or improve products can help spin traditions in new and modern ways.
Even in traditional industries, heritage can be supplemented and expanded by effective R&D. Global industrial giants such as Thyssen Krupp have used R&D to maintain a competitive edge in otherwise traditional automobile products. Innovations in textile engineering and production have bolstered the quality and expanded the reach of regional heritage products such as Turkish fabrics, heightening their use in European and U.S. markets.
R&D can be effective micro-scale too. Look at Northwest Cherry Growers. This hyper-specialized American fruit association has invested heavily in food science research, making the organization a modern authority on traditional canning and drying methods. This just goes to show that however niche, large, or international your products or services are, effective innovations through R&D can help maintain or even grow the standing of your brand’s most important traditions.
Whatever tradition your business holds dear – whether it be a heritage product, a method of craftsmanship, or a cultural history – innovation can hold the key to its preservation. After all, you cannot maintain traditions without capital, consumer interest or efficiency. Innovation can help assure these prerequisites to sustaining proud business traditions in our fast-paced world.
The key to it all is balance. Innovation with no anchor is like a ship with no compass: though it will certainly forge ahead at full steam, it may well end up far from the course it had originally chartered. Yet heritage with no foothold in modern trends and systems risks being lost to memory.
Tradition without innovation risks stagnation, but growth without roots risks instability. In other words, tradition is not the antithesis of growth; their relationship is instead mutualistic.