Out With the Old, In With the Rebrand

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How businesses take their company to new directions.

Your brand is more than your product or services – it represents your entire business; what you stand for, your aesthetic, and your promise to consumers. Your brand is what sets you apart from your competitors and connects your customer to what you deliver. It’s the sum total of your design, products, customer service, content, and overall ethos. And, sometimes, your brand needs to change.

Businesses rebrand for many different reasons. Some simply see an opportunity for improvement (think of this like a self-assessment that prompts a brand refresh). Others may do it out of necessity (a bad public image that needs revamping, perhaps, or confusion around the current branding). And others still do it as a result of shifts in cultural sentiments or company structure, like international growth, a new acquisition, or a change in leadership (Steve Jobs’s return to Apple in 1997, for example, was marked with a shift from the rainbow logo to the sleek metallic one we know today.)

When rebranding, businesses need to build on their foundation while moving forward. That’s what we did with WellPath. We had a variety of wellness products that we knew worked really well. Our formulas were effective and our existing customers were happy with the product we were offering. Still, we felt that there was a missing component when it came to having a cohesive brand identity and story that could expand our offerings throughout the wellness space. Our product had strong quality and efficacy, but when it came to the identity of our brand, it felt like there was a disconnect in the voice and the design that we were putting forward. We knew that in order to take our product to the next level and gain an even wider user base, it was important to hone in on our unique “character” as a brand and drive that home with a redesign and a new brand story that felt authentic and consistent with our product.

The question that every brand need ask itself, then – even those with a strong product offering – is this: is the unique brand identity that you’re putting forward a powerful one that remains relevant to your customers? Is your branding telling a story that does your company or product justice? To help decide when it might be time for a rebrand, here are four things to consider:

1. An Evolving Demographic

What is your customer acquisition and retention story? Do you need to re-engage current customers? Do you need to appeal to new customers with a new message or look? Your brand should continue to solve your customers’ needs as that customer base grows and changes. Find out what they want, or what they’re using in the market, and then see how you can apply those learnings to your own branding, even if that means changing course.

This evolving demographic might have something to do with changing tastes. Take Burger King, for example, which recently announced its plans to roll out a new beef-free Impossible Burger to support its vegetarian customers after acknowledging a higher demand in the market. Dunkin’ is another good example of a brand that had more than enough staying power to keep proceeding as it was, but that saw a need to update its branding in order to satisfy evolving consumer tastes and keep up with the likes of other chains like Starbucks. So, rather than carry on as a brand that was first and foremost connected with donuts, Dunkin’ chose to adopt an updated identity that highlighted its wider variety of offerings. By simply dropping “Donuts” from their name, Dunkin’ ultimately made a statement about their intention to up their game and compete with other chains on a new level (a plan which involves some other major changes in the pipeline, like new food cases, digital ordering kiosks, etc.)

An evolving demographic may also come down to changes in age. While many longstanding brands – think Levi’s, Brawny, Old Spice, etc. – have gained more than enough momentum over time to have a strong position in the market, there’s no denying that as customers age and the market becomes populated with younger shoppers, it becomes crucial to shift marketing efforts to appeal to fresh audiences. This might mean employing new types of marketing content, like video, or changing the messaging around the product to appeal to a more youthful consumer. Take Old Spice, for example. As Jayson DeMers, the founder and CEO of Seattle-based content marketing firm AudienceBloom, put it: “The Old Spice rebranding effort was a success, in part, because it helped a new demographic access a traditional product. It capitalized on new trends, like non-sequitur-based humor and online videos, and ended up being a massive boon for the brand.”

2. Cultural Shifts

Similar to a changing customer base, cultural and societal trends can influence new business strategy. What was once cool, or seen as a necessity, may no longer be in fashion. Take the shift from weight loss to wellness. In September, Weight Watchers transformed itself to WW, and began promoting itself as wellness hub rather than a weight loss program. According to a press release, WW will now focus less on dieting, and more on its “overall approach to health and wellbeing of inspiring powerful habits rooted in science.” This shift in direction, from eradicating a brand ethos on weight loss, is a direct result of a cultural and generational shift in the concept of lifestyle wellness as a necessity. The market proves it: wellness is now a $4.2 Trillion Global Industry – with 12.8% Growth from 2015-2017, according to The Global Wellness Institute.

As Brigid Delaney, author of Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search for Wellness, told Vox, “Wellness was once the preserve of an elite. It was people who could afford $3,000 spiritual retreats, or $30 Barre classes or $150 Lululemon yoga pants. It was an aspirational ideal that flashed past you as you scrolled through Instagram … but out of reach for most people.” She added: “The movement has trickled down to more affordable options — as wellness is seen as not just for the rich, but something you should do for yourself. Almost like a responsibility.”

3. Emerging Competition

When competition increases and eats at your market share, you need to double down on your brand strategy to differentiate yourself. In 2008 Sarah Robb O’Hagan, the founder of Flywheel and author of Extreme You, was hired away from Nike to become the President of Gatorade. Gatorade was struggling and she was tasked to shake up Gatorade’s image. O’Hagan led the company in its logo redesign from “Gatorade” to just “G.” It wasn’t successful. After the launch, O’Hagan told CNN, “sales went from flat to declining 20% every month. It was a pretty big disaster.”

But then came a change for the better: the repositioning of Gatorade from a hydrating sports drink, which was a growing field with Powerade and Vitamin Water on its heels,  to a “sports fuel” brand worked and sales started to increase. Failure isn’t always a negative, especially when it can drive your brand to differentiation. In this case, the new Gatorade logo didn’t stick with consumers as much as its finely crafted positioning as the sports fuel brand to support serious athletes.

Another strong example here could be email marketing platform MailChimp, which also found itself wanting to amp up its branding to stand out in a competitive CRM crowd. In an age where rebranding for a lot of growing and evolving brands means going for something sleeker and more refined, Mailchimp went in the other direction by not only embracing its quirkiness but actually doubling down on it. With fun prompts and casual language, they’re betting on the appeal of this off-the-beaten-path approach to buck the trend of small companies losing their appeal as they grow in size. “Ultimately, the goal is to make Mailchimp a beacon for its own customers, who are growing brands trying to figure out how to speak to their people,” Angie Shih, a strategist at Collins told Fast Company. “[They’re] hoping to send a message to these companies that success doesn’t mean erasing your peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. It’s about amplifying them. That’s how you stand out and connect with everyone.

4. Your Company’s Mission

Where you started is not always where you may end. WeWork, the perceived leader in the coworking space (and race), recently announced a rebranding to We Company, to reflect the breadth of its company’s offshoots and changing mission: WeWork, WeLive (housing), and WeGrow (education). “The We Company’s guiding mission will be to elevate the world’s consciousness,” its founders shared in the announcement. “Living a conscious life means choosing to live proactively and with purpose. It means being a student of life, for life, where we accept that we are always growing and in a constant state of self-discovery, self-growth, and change.”

Sometimes your mission evolves based on shifting beliefs. Sporting goods store Dick’s made headlines last year when it decided to decrease the sales of guns; Uber underwent a complete leadership rehaul after reported toxic behavior; and Staples repositioned itself as “the Worklife Fulfillment Company,” or a place where it says workers can feel happy and productive.

These strategic evolutions showcase how the businesses have changed in light of both positive and negative experiences. The companies that aren’t afraid to step out, take a risk, and own a new point of view that their customers can connect with are the ones who will succeed. As Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks, put it: “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”

Alex Song

CEO and Founder at Innovation Department
Alex is the Founder & CEO of Innovation Department. Prior to launching Innovation Department, Alex worked at Goldman Sachs and Pershing Square Capital Management.
Alex Song

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