There’s a reason it always says “New look, same great taste!” when a bottle of tomato ketchup changes its logo.
That text is a reminder that tinkering with logos or any other part of a brand’s identity can be powerful and useful. But it can also be dangerous.
People need to be reassured about the “same great taste” because with ketchup or any other product, business or service, a surprisingly powerful feeling of unease can come with such a small change to a familiar item. That’s because a brand is the powerful emotional connection between customer and a company.
As a company that specializes in brand activation, we believe there’s enormous potential in campaigns to energize or re-energize brands. But it’s not something to undertake lightly.
Here are the steps we recommend taking before launching a new brand or making any big changes to an existing one.
1) Culture, culture, culture: Make sure you have a firm grasp on your company’s culture before proceeding
Without branding, your business’ product or service would just be a commodity: not Heinz ketchup or Hunt’s ketchup, but a generic, interchangeable ketchup commodity that sells at a low price. It’s hard to be successful in a commodity business.
A company’s reason for existing is a big part of its brand. A company with a well-defined purpose is better organized, can attract better employees, and can also attract more customers. As Simon Sinek famously said, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Before enlisting graphic designers or marketing agencies for a brand design (or redesign), stop and study the why of your business through the lens of the public: your customers and your employees.
Start the process by interviewing some of your best customers and employees. Some incredibly well-known company leaders didn’t realize success until they understood what their purpose is from the perspective of their customers. Let’s take V8 Vegetable Juice, for example:
As Clayton M. Christensen described in his book “Competing Against Luck,” the team behind V8 Vegetable Juice didn’t always know that a large segment of their customers used their product as a nutrition supplement, not as V8 intended, which was as an alternative to apple or grape juice. It would have been a mistake for the company to market the product as if it were a fruit juice.
Avoid this potential marketing mishap and take time to understand how the public views and perceives your company’s purpose. If they aren’t seeing why you do what you do, fix it.
2) Don’t call it a re-brand: brand activation might mean re-branding, but not necessarily
A common misconception is that brand activation always means fundemently reinventing a brand. But applying a new logo is only one kind of brand activation.
A brand activation strategy should be based on research into a company’s culture and customers. The result of your research should dictate the branding approach, which might not involve a re-brand.
Here are some examples from our work.
- Re-brand necessary - With Fit4D, a technology company for clients with chronic diseases, we helped re-brand the business Cecelia Health. The “D” in “Fit4D” stood for diabetes, which is no longer the company’s exclusive domain. To give customers a direct look into the company’s purpose, we renamed it after Cecelia, a Diabetes Educator Clinician in New York who helped the company founder when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
- Re-brand not necessary: For Owly.fm, a discount concert ticket app, the company’s name and owl logo were already good fits for the app’s young, music-loving demographic. But the app was a startup, so no one had any associations around it. For this job, we helped Owly introduce itself to a wider audience with customized promotional products they gave away at a major summer music festival.
- New slogan warranted, but no need to change company name: Farrell Properties, a Burlington, VT based leasing company, wanted to align their marketing with the way of life of the Lake Champlain city. Our team captured “Live BTV” as their trademarked slogan, which added a lifestyle brand to the clothing, hats, and coolers they distribute to new residents.
3) Get buy-in from employees and customers (but don’t expect consensus)
Marketing history is filled with stories of disastrous brand launch campaigns like New Coke and Netflix’s short lived streaming spinoff Qwikster. Brand activation can fail for many reasons. But one common thread of some of the most notorious bombs is insular planning teams that don’t run their ideas by focus groups or even other employees at the company.
Research needs to be about the marketing message in addition to actual product testing. For example, in 1985 Coke famously found that its New Coke formulation beat both Pepsi and old Coke in more than 200,000 test testings. But the company hugely underestimated their customer’s nostalgic attachment to the company’s century-old brand. In the face of customer backlash, Coke returned to using the “Classic” Coke recipe 79 days after launching New Coke.
Large companies are unwieldy and complex, so it’s impossible to get a consensus about big branding decisions. But taking the time to take the temperature can save costly embarrassments. For example, surely German conglomerate Siemens could have avoided the “writhing, Spandex-clad horror” it used to launch its “Healthineers” medical brand if it had run its cheesy theme song and dance routine by more employees.
Brand activation is worth the risks
Studying famous rebranding failures is a good reminder of what can go wrong. But the moral of this story is not to never mess with a brand.
A change to a ketchup bottle design might bother some customers in the short term. But in the long run, it’s more important that your customers and employees perceive why you do what you do.
The risks of stagnation are ultimately higher than the risks of change. But before you make changes, consider minimizing the risks by asking yourself these three questions.
1) Does your company have a clearly-stated purpose? Does your internal perception of your purpose align with your customers’ perception?
2) Based on your culture research, is a major re-brand warranted? Are there more subtle ways to increase awareness and engagement with your brand?
3) After you’ve decided on changes to your brand strategy, have you done research on how your customers and employees will receive these changes?
Ready to put your brand in motion?
For more on the step-by-step how-to of how a brand activation campaign works in practice. Check out this blog post about Cecelia Health that breaks it down.