Transitions, time changes, longer days. Spring is in the air. It all inspires us to review brands making their own changes and evolutions – some forced, some planned. In this issue of the Brand Brief, we explore how companies determine the best time to make a brand change. Weigh in on the conversation with us, and share your thoughts on Twitter. #BrandNew
When brand managers evaluate and refine their strategic priorities, it is often to address shifts in customer needs or in broader market trends. These leaders intend for their brands to control their own destiny.
Take the strategic shifts that Western Union made last year. An integrated approach linking technology and marketing enabled the brand to evolve from one that was merely transactional to one that provided emotional connections with customers. By leading with the needs of the customer – always amazing when this fundamental focus is lost – this 164 year-old brand developed new services, options and channels that honor a consistent promise of “moving money for better.”
A brand’s appetite to keep up with change can drive the depth of reinvention. While McDonald’s new CEO has expressed a goal to refocus on quality burgers and simpler menus, today’s digital pulse is also shaping what may be next for the golden arches. The combo-meal of better food and intuitive interfaces may be the reimagined fast food of the future – more real and more digital. The embracing of technology to reinvent aging food brands may be part of how the world eats going forward. Domino’s is now India’s largest international foreign-food chain, as the company introduces culturally relevant shifts to their menu, locations and customer communications.
Automotive brands are being reshaped by the transformative forces of technology – from new players like Tesla or the original boss, Mercedes. Volvo, considered dead by some, is using technology to re-establish its leadership in safety. The brand’s bold commitment of “zero fatalities by 2020” both honors heritage and nods to the future. No auto brand refresh is being watched more closely than Cadillac. It has moved from Detroit to Soho, asking us all to believe in a shared vision to “dare greatly.” It’s as American a notion as possible, and holds great promise for a strategic repositioning.
From real cars to toy cars, Lego has an obvious place in the conversation. Their ability to advance the brand one brick at a time over the past 10 years relied on a deep understanding of what a modern toy company could be. The emphasis placed on research and consumer insights enabled the company to reinvent itself at the intersection of toys and innovation. As we think about the young engineers who love Lego, these same young minds may grow up to work inside The Timken Company, which recently launched a new, interactive world headquarters. An extension of a broader brand refresh, the building is a content-driven environment that highlights the core story of “making” and “knowing.”
Economic performance and bottom line results certainly serve as motivation for a brand reset. In these cases, the brand efforts are often times more about recovery than anything else.
After earnings took a dive, SodaStream admits to needing a refocus and reinvention. The brand’s rapid transformation centers on a shift from competing with soda products to competing with water products. A new slogan promises to “make water exciting,” emphasizing a shift in focus to hydration, health and wellness over flavor profiles. More stream, less soda.
Following in the same pursuit of the healthy consumer dollar, General Mills’ acquisition of Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million diversified overall product offerings. Reinvention sometimes happens as part of portfolio mix. The question now is will this bet on shifting consumer tastes pays off by reaching new shoppers, or will it challenge other brands owned by the General?
With shopping malls under economic pressure from more convenient digital shopping options, brands like Gap Inc. now must rethink what it means to connect with younger consumers where they hang out. American Apparel, once a celebrated challenger to Gap, has a more complicated road to recovery. Marred by personal scandal, the youth-favorite needs to refocus on its social and cultural messages that got lost along the way. With both brands under pressure, we may be in for re-ordering leaders in the neatly stacked T-shirt space.
Brands that reflect cultural transformations and innovation in their industry play a leading role in conversations that have a lasting impact. As a brand that confidently evolved to reflect cultural transformations, National Geographic, now more commonly known as NatGeo, embraced change like the very geographies and environments they highlight. Recognizing the risk of becoming a casualty of the declining interest in the printed word, NatGeo reorganized brand priorities, restructured product offerings and revitalized overall image. The diversification of channels and types of media used, coupled with the hire of a first-ever CMO, NatGeo embraced social media and new forms of storytelling to breathe new life into the brand.
The physical embodiments of culture – museums – are making interesting moves as well. Instead of succumbing to the impact that the distractions of a digital culture could have on attendance, leaders like New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Boston’s Athenaeum will test the use of technology to enhance their exhibits and brand value with new content and delivery mechanisms.
There would be little digital culture at all, though, if not for the leader of the now-aging desktop revolution: Microsoft. Under relatively new leadership, it is once again reinventing itself. At this month’s 8th annual Convergence Conference, CEO Satya Nadella credited their business users for pushing the company to “fundamentally change the way (Microsoft) thinks about technology through the evolution of the information age, to the point now of extending far beyond the enterprise boundary taking everything into the digital age.” Business users or competition is up for debate. Yes, sometimes the economic pressures created by the world’s largest company, Apple, make the light bulbs finally go off.
The smartest brand strategies have to be made real – tangible – for consumers to get the message. Whether through a new brand image, clarified narrative or fresh campaign, creative elements can update and enhance, while upholding trusted brand promises.
From snack bags to collateral materials to livery on the fleet, the brand remodeling of Southwest is a case study in creative brand assets reinforcing the heart of the matter: people first. We can’t help but think about #brandlove when we see these new elements.
Sears Holdings, owner of both the Sears & Kmart brands among others, has said it will attempt a creative refresh. But can a holding company driven by real estate finance not consumer insights be a successful general contractor for the remodel of failing brands? A word of advice: the retail experience and merchandise must be great first; then the advertising has a story to tell. Sometimes even great creative can’t make up for an absence of fundamentals.
A merchandise makeover, in fact, is what has driven a resurgent Birkenstock. With a storied past and global success, the brand is signature footwear of women often times described as “down to earth,” and “socially conscious.” What comes now is a creative product expansion into boots and socks that will surely dress up the modernization of the historic brand.