First, let’s get one thing clear; a great brand is no guarantee of success (pets.com was fun while it lasted). As marketing pioneer, Bill Bernbach famously quoted, “a great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster.” In other words, you can only fool people once.
Successful businesses create their product or business models first. Brands then evolve to match the changes in the marketplace. That’s not to say a strong brand isn’t an important part of a product launch; it’s crucial. Just don’t get that tattoo, yet. Brands, like their products, need to evolve.
There’s an old marketing chestnut; ‘a brand is a promise of performance.’ A brand helps consumers quickly differentiate one product/service from another and provide them with a degree of confidence in their choice (both rationally and emotionally). While this is still true, the components of a brand have expanded. At one time, marketers could operate under the belief that ‘image equals reality.’ Now there are new elements of the equation; image must be combined with the vast amount of information at a customer’s disposal, customer expectations and ultimately the customer experience.
Products change. Markets change. Competitors emerge. If a business doesn’t innovate and embrace change, it will die.
Many successful companies have realized this and changed with the times but maintained the brand integrity. Look at the history of logo changes at Coca-Cola, America…err…I mean Budweiser, and NBC as it evolved from a radio network to the first national television network, and how it’s adapted since the introduction of color. But now think about the three notes that accompany N-B-C. Those xylophone notes haven’t changed since the get go.
Before we dive into the steps necessary to rebrand to keep up with the times, we should understand the value of a brand.
What’s in a name?
Financial statements are an excellent way to measure the value of a company with one glaring, gaping hole. Where is the line item for brand equity? If Forbes estimates the value of Apple’s brand to be $154.1 Billion, where is that line item on their balance statement? Certainly, it’s more than just ‘goodwill.’
And this ‘equation’ changes depending on the category. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my electric utility was called Electric Co., but when it comes to luxury goods, the brand is a highly valuable asset.
Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish poet and author of Don Quixote said, “A good name is better than riches.” At the time, he was referring to a person’s reputation (i.e., their brand). The right name is a strong foundation for a brand; to create one you’ve got to be mindful of your long-term goals.
Once you’ve determined if the name should be descriptive (harder to protect) or evocative, set well-defined criteria such as:
– Is it memorable?
– Does it tell your story?
– Does it align with the brand’s attributes and support the promise of the offering?
– Can it be owned outright and protected (both trademark and domain name)?
Make the right mark
Anthropologists believe that branding began in nature. The most common example is a bee’s stripes. They are easily and quickly identified, unique to bees, and communicate danger to potential victims of the sting.
Man stole this same technique to create easily identifiable marks. Early Christians used the ‘fish,’ cattlemen branded their cattle to show ownership, the Union Jack flag first flew in 1606, and in 1876 the first ever U.K. trademark was issued to Bass Pale Ale’s red triangle.
Logos, like names, need to communicate a brand’s promise quickly, uniquely, and distinctly.
The brands, they are a changin’
So, when is it time to change? When has your brand outgrown your current market? Why do you want to rebrand? Hopefully, it’s to address the need to change your target market’s attitude. It’s much easier to change customers’ attitudes before you attempt to change their behavior.
Please keep in mind that rebranding isn’t a sign of a failure of your current brand. At the risk of sounding like a Zen philosopher, neither success nor failure is permanent. If you succeed, you can’t rest on your laurels, or you’ll lose what you’ve achieved, and all the momentum created. If you fail, learn from it. Quitting at the first obstacle is the only thing that can truly defeat you.
Rebranding doesn’t mean starting all over again; your existing brand has equity; don’t squander it.
In the history of time, has anyone ever thrown out a baby with the bathwater?
First and foremost, do your homework. Research the perception of your brand among all stakeholders (not just customers). This includes suppliers, distributors, retailers, resellers, etc. Do a thorough brand audit, or you could end up recreating the ‘Gap Rebranding Debacle’ of 2010. In addition to rolling out a new (and really ugly logo), they managed to make themselves a laughing-stock of the design community, upset their core customers and suppliers, and wasted a ton of money before changing back to their previous logo in a mere six days.
By conducting a brand audit, you will find out what is most important to your target (and what’s not). Don’t just stop with your brand, either. Research the competition. What is it about their brand positioning that you’d like to add to your story?
Next, analyze your market. How has it changed? Aside from the competitive landscape are there new targets that you’ve been overlooking or trends to address?
Armed with this information, it can be used as your ‘north star’ as you work to develop more positive attitudes towards your brand.
Key questions to ask yourself and reminders
– Focus on the problem you’re trying to solve
~Has your customer profile changed?
~Do you have a broader target market?
~Is competition a factor?
– Don’t throw away your existing brand equity; your story still needs to be told clearly and consistently.
– Try to broaden your appeal to the right market with the best margins.
Uber is arguably one of the most successful ‘unicorns’ in today’s market. Then, earlier this year they rebranded. You may think that this falls under the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ category. But, in reality, their market did shift. What started in 2010 targeting an elite marketplace has grown from the Bay Area to 400 cities in 65 countries. They have different stakeholders, and various cultural norms to address. There’s a great article in Wired about the process and the thinking behind it.
The marketplace is in constant change, consumer needs change, and target audiences change. Don’t be scared to update your brand to keep your attributes and key differentiators relevant, just make sure you do your homework first.