No matter how much you love your brand, eventually it may come time to change things up. Your target market may grow uninterested, you may develop a questionable reputation, or new competitive forces may put pressure on you to adapt. When you face these challenges, you only have two viable options; you can cling onto the old branding standards that got you into this mess, or you can rebrand your company with a new image and new vision, and start to rebuild.
Obviously, the latter is the correct choice, but rebranding can go wrong in a number of ways. What happens if you change your brand too dramatically and wind up alienating the core, passionate audience you’ve held from the beginning? What if you don’t change fast enough, and your customers never really catch on to your new approach? Even worse, what if your rebranding efforts aren’t grounded in practical research and data, and you end up with a messy brand that doesn’t mean much to anybody?
These are common, and realistic fears, but the corporate world is ripe with examples of companies who have faced such challenges and risen above them with smart, well-researched new angles for their historic brands:
1. Old Spice. Prior to 2010, Old Spice was seen as a brand for older generations, a somewhat uninteresting and stagnant brand that wasn’t especially bad or especially good. Then, in a massive rebranding stunt, they came out with a new advertisement (and a series to follow) featuring athlete Isaiah Mustafa in a strange, funny, “random” video implying the deodorant to be something sexy, surprising, fun, and youthful. The 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. High Fructose Corn Syrup. Most people cringe when they hear the term “high fructose corn syrup,” recognizing the sweetener as a common additive in many consumer food products that adds sugar and calories, and according to many studies, is a possible contributor to the widespread obesity epidemic. Corn farmers and corporations that rely on the product as a sweetener and a preservative, however, were displeased with the downward trend in sales of products that featured the ingredient. Together, they decided to rename the ingredient altogether — you’ll now often see it listed as “fructose” or “corn sugar.” This is somewhat shady, but is an effective way to repair a brand whose reputation has been damaged.
3. Burberry. Burberry is a fantastic example of how a brand can change its image with a few simple marketing tweaks. Just a couple decades ago, Burberry was suffering from a bad reputation, being associated as gang wear. In 2001, a new creative director, Christopher Bailey, took over and started introducing new products like swimwear and trench coats that were unaffiliated with previous images of the brand. Celebrity endorsements from Emma Watson and Kate Moss helped cement the new image of Burberry, and now the company is a major luxury brand, touted as a symbol of high class and wealth.
4. Apple. No rebranding article would be complete without a mention of Apple, possibly one of the best rebranding stories of our era. In the early- to mid-1990s, Apple was suffering from low sales, low consumer interest, and tons of competition driving customers away from them. The brand didn’t stand for much, and certainly didn’t stand out, until Steve Jobs took over the company in 1997 and started flipping consumer expectations on their heads. With an image of minimalism and modernity, a host of innovative new products, and a series of marketing and advertising campaigns that focused on ideas and experience more than products or purchases, Apple was able to attract a new, diversified customer base, and cement itself as a thought leader in the tech industry. It’s still riding the momentum of that dramatic shift today.
5. McDonald’s. This is a distinct entry on this list, because it covers a rebranding campaign that’s still going on. In the 1990s and early 2000s, McDonald’s shifted from being seen as a friendly staple food provider to a cheap, maybe even dirty location that sold bad-tasting, unhealthy food. The documentary Super Size Me and resulting scrutiny put McDonald’s as a central player in the obesity epidemic, and sales began to drift. Rather than be dragged down by this undesirable reputation, McDonald’s decided to evolve, and has since poured tons of money and effort into changing its image. The chain now offers healthier options, including salads, fresher foods, and is dramatically overhauling the appearance of its physical locations to appear cleaner, more modern, and chic. So far, the brand is recovering well — keep watch as it continues to develop.
Rebranding isn’t simple, and it can’t be done overnight. Instead, you’ll need to dive deep into your company and your target demographics; why, exactly, is your current brand failing? Is there a way to recover with your current audience, or do you need to target a new audience? What’s the best way to reach this new audience? What are the best marketing channels, ideas, and images to associate with yourself? There’s no right answer to these questions, and the possibilities can be intimidating, but in any case, if your current brand isn’t working — it needs to change.