Rebranding is dangerous! Proceed with caution! Ever wonder why so many brands disappear right after they are acquired? It’s because the acquirers thought they “owned” the brand and could do whatever they wanted with it.
Maybe they saw their new acquisition as just another label, or a maybe they saw it as a new faucet for their raw materials. Maybe they saw it as a blank slate ready for their marketing department to redesign. Maybe they wanted it to conform to the look and feel of their other brands. But for whatever reason, the brand they bought was, and is still, owned by its customers! For that reason, the acquirer is more of a brand steward than a brand owner.
Radical changes to the logo, positioning, catch phrase, or packaging can lose the very brand equity the acquirers thought they bought. Why? Because brand equity is ultimately the loyalty of the brand’s customers. The brand is simply not strong enough to hold onto its existing customers through any kind of changes that disaffect them. It’s fragile and it’s dangerous to mess with.
Once the brand’s customer base senses a substantial change, they become wary. It may have been that entrepreneurial look and perception of authenticity that kept them loyal. It may have been that easy-to-find familiarity and dependable positioning that kept them coming back. It used to be their brand, but now someone has “cheapened” it, “wrecked” it, and gave a quirky, friendly label a dull “corporate look.”
When it comes to rebranding, we advise evolution, not revolution! Be extremely careful not to lose your customers and advocates along the way. Remember, consumers don’t really like to shop for new brands. They are loyal and forgiving (to a point) because shopping for a new brand causes anxiety, uncertainty, and the potential sting of making poor choices. So go slow. Take your time. Rebranding without losing customers is a real art. It requires a keen sensitivity to the concerns of the customers who actually own the brand.
What do loyal customers think the brand stands for? What do they expect it to look like? Where do they think it should fall price wise, quality wise, and status wise? What changes will signal alarm, suspicion, and loss of trust? Figure out all this first! You may not have the luxury of making big sweeping changes, unless, of course, you want to start building customers all over again. We say, “Brands aren’t killed by the competition. They die from self-inflicted wounds!” Rebranding an established brand, especially by a larger corporation, can be suicidal.
One of the most common rebranding errors we see is corporate standardization – for standardization’s sake. It makes the corporation’s job easier, as if that’s a valid reason to let the customer down. The first things that go are the quality ques. The original use of more expensive inks and treatments in the labels like gold and silver are eliminated. Then the logo itself is simplified, usually into forms with less character and less color. It becomes increasingly clear to the customer that this is not an entrepreneur’s only brand, but is now just part of a big range of brands owned by a big corporation. Customers see the rebranding as the brand losing its uniqueness and even tainting its promise.
When brands are rebranded, there’s always a query in the press about whether it’s better or worse than the old brand. But we think a successful rebranding should be so subtly phased in that there is no debate because it happened so slowly, nobody noticed. Of course “getting noticed” is the main motive for rebranding. Any big changes will get noticed alright. Just make sure you are ready to rebuild when you rebrand!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders