Rapid shifts in social perceptions over recent years have changed the way businesses market themselves to consumers. Giving the appearance of an up-to-date company that understands the trends and attitudes of a new consumer base is crucial in order to stay relevant. Those brands that seem stuck in yesteryear, be it in terms of aesthetic design or social attitudes, will be quickly discarded by consumers in favor of a fresher look and feel. With that said, businesses re-brand for a whole variety of reasons, not just to update their consumer image. Here are a few essential dos and don’ts to consider if your company is thinking of rebranding.
Bring the old customers with you
Before Skoda rebranded, it was viewed as a second-rate (or third) car manufacturer for those tethered to a tight budget. The company wanted to reposition itself as a higher-quality, reputable manufacturer, all the while maintaining its former customer base. Luckily for Skoda, its customer relationship was based mainly on low prices, so as long as they didn’t jack the prices up unnecessarily, they were likely to hold on to their former buyers. But while Skoda’s consumer relationship was based around affordable prices, there are many different forms of brand/consumer relationships to think about. It is absolutely crucial that the rebrand doesn’t undermine the original consumer relationship.
The trick to achieving this is understanding that less is more. I sometimes wonder how it is that a brand like Tommy Hilfiger manages to maintain multiple seemingly contradictory consumer relationships at once without issue. There are preppy, middle-class kids that have been wearing Tommy Hilfiger for decades, and elsewhere, neighborhoods of drug-dealing street gangs across America swear by the brand. From the company’s perspective, perhaps the middle-class kids are a safer target audience, but they don’t want to simply cut out potential avenues of profit by initiating a new marketing campaign exclusively for well-off kids. Tommy Hilfiger is aware of its fractured consumers and resolves the issue by not addressing it. As long as the company doesn’t do anything to dissuade any faction of its consumers, it’s laughing all the way to the bank. Tommy Hilfiger doesn’t have to single out who it’s selling to — the best course of action is to assume a quiet, subtle marketing image that blends into the background, betraying none of its disparate consumer communities.
The point is that radical rebrands are risky undertakings. In order to potentially capture new demographics and retain all previous consumers, rebranding should not overhaul what it was that initially generated consumer interest. The exception, of course, is with companies who have developed a wholly negative, outdated brand image — in this case, a complete overhaul is maybe the best course to take.
Additionally, one way to avoid pushing away former customers is by actively communicating the re-brand before it happens. A customer that wakes up one morning to find that Oreo has transformed itself overnight into a luxury, high-quality confectioner may feel unsettled and ill-disposed towards the transition. Whereas, if Oreo gradually spreads the message that it will be making the change, consumers will be more forgiving. Ross Pike of Quadrant2Design comments, ‘When it comes to brands consumers like and are attached to, they can be highly resistant to changes. ‘Why are you altering what I already like?’ they ask. The best course of action is to ease them into slow, incremental changes.’ Less is more; slow and steady wins.
Odors of inauthenticity
In these times, consumers can sniff out inauthenticity like trained hounds. Companies that try too hard to be ‘woke’, to adopt new internet slang or jump on the various cultural bandwagons currently in motion run the risk of attracting ridicule and animosity. Sure, it’s good to give the impression that you care about global issues and aren’t just a money-grabbing operation, but trying too hard to forcefully create that impression is counterproductive.
The same rule applies to design also. Investment house Standard Life Aberdeen recently changed its name to Abrdn as part of a rebranding venture to inject a modern quality into the business, and consumers have shown little mercy in their mockery of the name change. It is a relatively common trend for young artists and brands to remove the vowels from their name as an aesthetic decision (clothing brand Cmmn Swdn, for example), and no doubt Standard Life Aberdeen was trying to do exactly that with its change. Only, it’s an investment house and not a rap group, so the name doesn’t really fit. There are a few ways of alienating consumers more effectively than by falsely presenting your business as something it’s not. At the end of the day Aberdeen is not a young, cool brand — it’s an investment house. Don’t try to deceive consumers. They will sniff you out and tear your brand to pieces.
Consumers can be fickle at the best of times. Feelings can turn sour for the smallest of reasons, from minor social media mishaps to unwanted product tweaking. Alan Jenkins of Quadrant2Design comments, ‘With such a huge and diverse online community, pleasing 100% of consumers is nigh-on impossible. What companies should do is avoid irritating their customers as much as possible or forming allegiances that alienate parts of their consumer base’. Re-brands might seem too risky at a time when consumers choose the brands they purchase from so carefully, but it is for that same reason that they can be so successful — once consumers decide they like your business and what it stands for, they can be unwavering in their loyalty.
Theo Reilly is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. Theo has particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions, and events.
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