4 Ways to Protect Brand Equity During a Redesign

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If you have a brand that’s been around for a few years, one of your biggest challenges from a design perspective is maintaining your current equity while making sure your brand is relevant enough for modern consumers. It’s a delicate balance!

If you’re not familiar with the term “brand equity,” let me give you an example.

My favorite breakfast cereal is Special K. You’d recognize it; it’s the one with the giant red “K” on the package. My favorite flavor is Red Berries, which is easy to spot on the shelf because of its vibrant red color.

Imagine that Kellogg’s decided to refresh the brand. Maybe they want to follow the minimalist design trend, so they shrink the size of the K. Maybe their research indicated that Millennials favor the color blue. So they launch a new, blue package with a tiny “K.”

There’s no way I would be able to find that cereal on the shelf. I might not even recognize it as my favorite cereal when I saw it.

Instead, Kellogg’s has been very intentional in how they’ve evolved their brands over time. The giant “K” of Special K cereal is so integrated in how their customers recognize the product, it has hardly changed in decades even while the overall aesthetic has been modernized.

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We like to call brands that have done this well “heritage brands.” They are able to maintain their brand equity over years and years by carefully updating their designs without losing the essence of their brand.

What lessons can we learn from these successful heritage brands?

1.     Be Authentically You

Your brand has a unique DNA that is truly one-of-a-kind. You have your origin story, your values, and your mission. If you haven’t already, take the time to define your brand values clearly and concisely. What does your brand stand for?

If you have a clear sense of your brand identity, that can serve as a guiding light as you go through any change. If you have a brand that’s all about serenity, mindfulness and the environment, it probably doesn’t make sense for you to use intense colors and wacky fonts, even if that’s what your competitors are doing.

2.     Maintain Your Individuality

It’s very tempting to chase design trends whenever the next new thing becomes popular. However, by saying “me too!” to those trends, you can become lost in the sea of sameness. While you want to look appropriate for your category and your target audience, don’t hesitate to be a little different from everyone else.

Look at Pepsi, for example. Their biggest competitor, Coca Cola, has indisputably owned the color red for almost a century. Pepsi, on the other hand, was the All-American brand that always had a red, white and blue can. Then, one day in the 90s, they suddenly owned the color blue.

By owning the color blue in their product category, Pepsi is now able to receive instant recognition on shelf. Being different from their main competitor was a brand imperative.

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3.     Strive for Timelessness

Your branding needs to stand the test of time so that your products will be recognizable for a long time to come. Especially in the CPG world, it’s very important that your brand doesn’t completely change overnight. In addition to your customers, you may deal with complications from your printers or your retailers if you change things too suddenly or too drastically.

This is another pitfall of chasing design trends. If you choose a very trendy design, you run the risk of looking very dated in a few years when the popular aesthetic shifts to something else. What will people think of “Millennial Pink” in a few years?

4.     Build a Cohesive Brand

Above all else, you want your brand to look undeniably like itself. This seems obvious, but disjointed branding is all too common and can lead to a lot of consumer confusion.

Perhaps your brand has been around for 10 or 20 years and now you want to launch a new, organic line. You may be tempted to use an all-new color palette, with all-new claims on the package. You may even take the opportunity to update your logo, since you’re going through a new design phase anyway. The result will be a package that looks so different from what your customers are used to seeing that it will be like you started the company completely from zero.

Instead, take the time to ensure that all of your branding and marketing looks cohesive. This can include your logo, your packaging, your website, your social media posts, your print ads, and more.

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Have you ever heard the fable of the boiling frog?

If you put a frog into boiling water, he will immediately jump out because he knows it’s too hot. But if you put that same frog into cool water and then slowly, over time, bring the water to a boil, he won’t realize the danger until it’s too late.

It may be a morbid analogy, but I often think of that frog when dealing with a long-term brand strategy. You want to make changes so carefully that your customers don’t even realize the difference, and yet you’re always perceived as a modern, relevant brand.

 

Good brand building takes planning and forethought.

This starts with building a strong, solid foundation for your brand.

Fill out the form below to download your copy of our Brand Experience Worksheet. This four-page, easy-to-follow worksheet includes questions that will help you clearly articulate the vision for your brand, consider how you want customers to perceive your brand, and craft an experience around your ideal customer.

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How Far Can Your Brand Stretch?

Have you ever noticed that brands lately have morphed into areas that you just may have not expected?

I just received an email blast from Wegmans that they are now selling yoga wear. As a person who sees Wegmans as a food store and a foodie one at that, it caught my attention and not in a good way. It felt strange to me, jarring. I’d expect such a product launch from a retailer like Walmart, but not a food store whose main brand premise to date has been about the eating experience.

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen other big brands stretch, expand into new categories and extend their reach. For example, Dove successfully expanded from being known for a moisturizing soap to being a wide-ranging beauty brand that connects with “real” women in every area of their beauty routine. Gerber did the same thing, growing from primarily a baby food brand to being an “all about baby” company.

Food stores sell general merchandise including light bulbs, sponges, paper plates and toilet paper – everything you need for your home to run, but people typically don't enter their favorite food store in search of clothing. An argument could be made that selling organic, fair trade “purposeful” clothing is in line with Wegmans’ brand position, but how far can a brand stretch before it snaps?

We talk about brand stretch often with our clients at the beginning of an engagement. Creating a long-term plan and vision for a brand at the onset is very powerful. It also creates a messaging platform, a brand architecture and visual guide that can stay consistent and grow, continually bringing in new customers while keeping and connecting with current ones.

What can you do to ensure that your brand stays on message as it grows?

Plan and Envision

Many companies never take the time to be together and just brainstorm about the future. There is no immediate ROI on brainstorming and the time it takes, so a team’s energy is primarily spent on revenue generating activities. However, I would challenge that taking the time to create a shared brand vision has more ROI than you think.

As a kid, people are constantly asking you “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While some kids just instinctually know and never waiver, others struggle to define their path. Your company may be like that directionless child – you have some sense of what you’re good at, but can’t clearly state your ultimate goal.

Take time with your leadership team to reflect inward, look outside immediate expectations and assumptions, and create a best-case-scenario vision for your brand. This can provide a clear purpose for your company and help motivate the entire team to focus their efforts as you work toward the company’s ultimate goal. 

Know Who You Are

When we learn what our weaknesses are, our natural inclination is to work to improve them. In practice, however, it can be much more successful – for an individual as well as a company – to forget your weaknesses and instead work to maximize your strengths.

Being honest about who you are (and, just as importantly, what you’re not) will help you build a solid, authentic foundation and will make brand choices much easier moving forward. Once you’ve defined who you are as a company, the path for growth and expansion should be easier to see.

Stop Moving the Target

Have you ever seen the movie Airplane? I’m reminded of a scene where the tower supervisor hands an air traffic controller a piece of paper:

“Johnny, what can you make outta this?”
“This? Why I could make a hat, or a brooch, a pterodactyl!

It’s a very funny scene, but it begs the question – what is it?

Your brand could be anything, but what is it?

Some brands encounter an identity crisis as they grow. If they expand to appeal to a new target audience, they feel the need to pivot their branding to fit what that target wants or expects them to be. This puts a brand in danger of losing the core of their brand and it can be very confusing for customers.

Trust that the core values of your brand will have a mass appeal. Apple’s famous “Think Different” campaign, for example, appealed to outsiders and yet they became a household brand. Whether your brand represents tradition, change, integrity, heritage, rebelliousness, youth, or experience, those qualities can be expressed in many ways that will allow you to remain genuine to your brand even as you evolve to keep up with your company’s growth.

Ultimately, stay true to yourself. Grow and stretch your limits, but be aware of what it will mean for your brand, your customers, and the health of your business.