Why Brand Reinventions Require a Total Overhaul

They're Risky, Sure, but Mere Tweaks Won't Get the Job Done

By Published on .

Marcus Hewitt
Marcus Hewitt

The challenges of the past few years have made many of us look for ways to reinvent ourselves. We know that personal reinvention is risky; it may mean learning new skills, sporting a different look or even ditching our path to find a new one. Done right, reinvention may turn out to be the best thing we've ever done. Avoiding change by refusing to adapt can lead to obsolescence.

The same could be said for brands that passively watch sales erode as competitors snatch market share. Often, their first solution is to "refresh" the brand, rather than doing what's really needed, which is a total brand overhaul.

Change is always a risk, but sometimes it's the right thing to do, if:

Your values have changed. YMCA became the "Y" to become more inclusive and shed its religion/sexist bias. BP changed to Beyond Petroleum from British Petroleum (and maybe another reinvention is in their future).

You have a crisis. Tylenol's tampering recall and the Perrier benzene problem were marketing disasters. Confident packaging programs helped to reground their brands.

You are the leader but you look like the underdog. Federal Express changed its identity to FedEx, surpassed its competitors and never looked back. And, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't know what Apple does, since it dropped Computer from its name. Starbucks is on a similar path.

You're looking old, not classic. Many brands can become more relevant by simply updating their visual vocabulary. However, Heinz Ketchup and Campbell's Soup have achieved continued success not only by adding more natural elements to their classic labels, but also by introducing completely new forms and products.

True, there have been some colossal brand-reinvention failures. But the majority are successes. Just because Gap got it wrong doesn't mean you should sit back and let your market disappear. There are plenty of rebrands that have turned troubled brands into valuable stars.

Jack in the Box had some serious brand damage after four diners died from food poisoning. The company introduced a food-safety program designed by NASA, won numerous safety awards and then looked to a brand redesign to signal change. Their new design is focused and confident and better aligned with their core consumers, young men.

A few years ago, Coke went back to its roots to move the brand forward. After spending years adding splashes, droplets, polar bears and other extraneous graphic elements, the brand stripped back to the iconic red ribbon and script logo. This brilliant move exudes confidence and will endear the brand for generations to come.

When Target decided to rebrand its previously anonymous store brand, they reviewed more than 4,000 customer comments on quality and performance. By relaunching as "Up & Up," they were able to create a brand, not just an in-store line. The high-quality look and feel delivers on Target 's "Expect More, Pay Less" promise.

Brand reinventions fail when the plan to reinvent turns into tactics that are more like tweaks. Here's how to avoid the tweak:

Ban "design by committee." Involve all of the influencers up front, then assign one person to lead the project. Every brand needs a champion.

Do smart research. Research can be useful, but not all research is created equal. Conduct research early, thoroughly and often. Talk to consumers before you start. Loyal and potential customers can provide surprising gems. One consumer group told us the only way to improve their whiskey was to make the bottle square -- to stop it from rolling around in the truck.

Test new designs against new positioning. Consumers will often be more comfortable with the current look, but if your objective is to reposition the brand, beware of playing it too safe. If the goal of a project is to shift consumer perceptions or appeal to a whole new attitudinal segment, eye tracking is not the right research technique to use.

So for all you brand marketers out there who are itching for a brand reinvention, but are frozen in your tracks, here's my advice:

Make sure that your product is good. Restaging a brand to compete with an innovative new competitor will only go so far if the product itself is weak. The old GM is a good example. Cutting-edge advertising was trying to promote lackluster cars.

Anticipate roadblocks that can derail the process and deal with them ahead of time. Usually the roadblocks are people. Get the decision makers involved early on, make sure your process is robust, and keep the project moving fast.

Measure success by measuring brand relevance and sales. Sales may not rebound overnight, but trust your gut. Is your sales team more motivated? Are your buyers more interested? Change makes everyone feel anxious, but if you feel good about it, go for it. You're the expert.

Marcus Hewitt is the chief creative officer of Dragon Rouge, a brand and design consultancy with offices in New York, Dubai, Hamburg, Hong Kong, London, Paris and Warsaw. Clients in the U.S. include Campbell's, GE, Kellogg's, Marriott and Sam's Club. Contact him at [email protected].
Most Popular
In this article: