Are you having trouble with sales? Has your distribution run into a wall? There’s a boatload of rebranding experts telling you, “It’s time to rebrand!” They have a vested interest in your decision to do so. They get paid whether or not their rebranding strategy plans work for you in the marketplace. Before you pull the trigger on rebranding, you really should look long and hard at your sales and distribution challenges. These days rebranding seems like a cure-all for what ails your sales.
Any discussion of a rebranding strategy plan needs to start with a detailed analysis of exactly why your existing brand is not working – before you decide to change it. Rebranding, all by itself, will not fix a broken sales and distribution management system. Nor will it solve any misconceptions the brand builders may hold as to what it really takes to sell their existing brands.
Many brand builders, especially new brand builders, don’t want to look at the details, minutia, cost and flat out labor that’s required to sell a branded product in the retail market. They all know the cost of goods, but do they know the cost of sales?
The true cost of sales can only be realized by experience in the marketplace. Too many brand builders opt for rebranding if they can’t scale immediately. This is why we say to our clients, “Start small, develop your brand in a small area that you can personally manage, and soon you will discover what is necessary to build your brand in the retail space.” No amount of rebranding can replace the efforts and vigilance of a good brand representative in every territory into which you expand.
Brand representation and distribution management are the lion’s share of the cost of sales. Don’t blame your brand for poor merchandising! Too many brand builders believe their distributers and retailers are responsibility for presentations, chain authorizations, inventory control & reordering, placement of signage, securing displays, correct pricing & delivery, shelf placement, and a myriad of other distribution and merchandising details. Their not!
All this and more are your responsibility. If you think they are someone else’s responsibility, you can easily fall prey to rebranding experts who will imply that all you need to do is hire them and implement their rebranding strategy plan.
Rebranding is dangerous! Proceed with caution! Do you really need rebranding? Or do you need a rededication to distribution management? In other words, “Why are you doing it?” likely, it is to improve your sales. However, there is a great possibility that rebranding alone won’t improve your sales.
Rebranding can actually do further damage to your sales by confusing your salespeople, buyers, and customers by changing your consistent brand messaging.
So the first order of business, before you entertain any rebranding program, is to make sure you’re doing everything right in the marketplace with your existing brand. Make sure you are sober about the responsibilities, oversight, and merchandising labor your current brand requires. Then, and only then, should you entertain embarking on a risky rebranding program.
To mitigate the risk of confusion, whether you’re rebranding a product or an entire company, we recommend evolution not revolution.
Some rebranding experts might argue that shocking the system is exactly what you need to give sales a good jolt. But if it confuses the marketplace and requires too much rethinking on the part of your customers who are used to the original brand, it may be the shock that kills your brand’s growth.
If you decide you must rebrand, here are some rebranding tips to incorporate into your rebranding strategy plan. These will help you maintain the brand building inertia you have already worked so hard to achieve, while mitigating the risks of confusion in the marketplace.
- Brand Image. How to change your brand image and still be found on the shelf.
If you’re rebranding a product by changing the logo, brand name, or catchphrase, do it in stages rather than all at once. Your customers are looking for that familiar branded product they remember from past purchases. Maintain consistent brand messaging throughout the entire change process. Don’t make it suddenly hard for them to find your product.
Take it one step at a time. Consider a change to the logo without changing the rest of the package. Then, when the market gets used to your new logo, change some other aspect of your package such as the catchphrase, the colors, or the fonts. With every new iteration, give your customers a chance to digest, except, and embrace the change. Take your time. Make it a smooth and seamless transition. Don’t rock the boat. Save the momentum of your brand image!
- Brand Name. How to change your brand name without confusing your customers.
When making a change to the product brand name be very careful. One thoughtful approach is in stage one, use the old name in a larger font above the new name in a smaller font. Consider using a word like, “by” to connect a larger old name to the smaller new name. Then run them the same size for a while. Then, when the market gets used to seeing both names, reverse the order with the new name on top in a larger font and the old name below it in a smaller font. Then, when the market gets used to seeing the new name, drop the old name. This process can take months or even years but it preserves your consistent brand messaging.
- Brand Position. How to improve your brand’s position and keep your customers.
When you repositioning an existing brand you are usually doing so to raise the price and increase the perception of value. This is also very risky. Your customers are used to seeing your brand at the lower price point. And now, all of a sudden, you’re asking for more money for the “same” thing. Never mind the new upgraded packaging, quality queues, or the gold leaf ink. For them, it’s all about the price!
Consider a price raise with the introduction of a new, upscale package. Then after a very short time provide a temporary price reduction back to the old price or just slightly over the old price. This will give your customers a chance to judge for themselves the improved value of your repositioned brand without having to pay the higher price. Then, over a period of time, initiate a program that alternates between the new higher price and the temporary price reduction on a regular basis to attempt to graduate your lower-priced customers to the new higher price (and higher perception of quality). Then, if you are making sales at the higher price, you can begin to reduce the frequency of your temporary price reductions.
- Company Name. How to rebrand a company that produces and sells branded retail products.
If you’re going to rebrand your company, or if your company recently acquired a new brand, be careful about how your new company name appears on your branded products. Be sure to maintain consistent brand messaging. Customers and retail buyers are suspicious of any changes to the label or messaging coming from a producer. Suddenly, the product they love has a new producer! “Is the quality the same? Is the integrity of the company the same? Can I continue to depend on this brand? Will they cheapen the quality or raise the price?” Those are the kinds of questions that go through your customers’ mind when they see a new producer on the label.
For this reason, we think it is important to initially play down your new company name. We have seen many branding mistakes associated with acquisitions. When the new acquirer decided to boldly announce that the product was now being produced by a new company and simultaneously change the label, package, or position, disaster often followed. The marketplace doesn’t like changes.
We recommend that the old company name precede the new company name for a period of adjustment before the old company name is dropped. Wording like, “in association with,” or, “a division of,” or, “now part of” maintains a consistent branding messaging. Further, we recommend against any radical changes to the rest of the package until the new company name has been established. The message should be in effect, “Don’t worry, there’s no change to the quality, price, or appearance of the product you love.”
- Relaunch. How to relaunch an old brand name for a new product.
Brands themselves have value especially if they are established over time and are independent of any single retailer and available in many or most stores. Their name recognition is so great that it survives the product it used to represent. “It’s a household word,” as they say. Certain brand investors will buy a brand that had been defunct for years in the hope that the brand name itself will continue to carry some weight in the marketplace and in the minds of its previous customers. They hope that they can apply an old brand name to a new product in an entirely different category.
Most of these brand names are older and still recognizable. Although, because of generational changes, they may no longer be remembered as associated with a particular product. A great example is Shinola of Detroit which purchased the brand name Shinola in 2011, which had been known as a shoe polish until it went out of business in 1960. Now Shinola Detroit produces watches, bicycles, leather goods, and more.
Brand builders who apply old brand names to new products hope they are getting a head start in the marketplace with a name that people still recognize.
- New Categories. How to use a brand from one category in another category.
Some brand builders try to extend the line of a proven brand into new categories. We see this done regularly with clothing and accessories emblazoned with the brand name and logo known for products completely outside of the apparel business.
On the one hand, this may be a great form of branding to make their name and logo more familiar because people see it on garments. On the other hand, we’ve seen many attempts to extend popular brands into the garment world that fail because the brand builders know little about the garment business. This type of rebranding can actually hurt their brand image. We advise our clients to stay within the category of the products they’re known for.
- Line Extension. How to extend the brand line with new offerings.
Still another form of rebranding is to try to extend the product line of a proven brand into new products within their category. The danger here is that they can easily exceed their brand-width. If you extend into many directions, your salespeople, buyers, and customers can lose track of your core products, the ones you are known for.
Now the buyers are asking your salespeople to cannibalize your core products in order to put in your new products. Now your salespeople are confused about which products to prioritize. And now your customers are getting confused with so many offerings. This form of rebranding is subtle. The brand builders may not have intended to water down their brand image. But all of a sudden, the customer sees your brand as somehow diluted without a specialty. And now you can become vulnerable to new upstart brand builders who are narrowly focusing on specific products within your category.
When developing any rebranding strategy plan, make sure you start out with the understanding that it’s your customers’ brand and brand image – not yours! You are but the brand steward. Your job is to grow the brand and not do anything that will hurt that growth or upset your customers. Before you embark on a rebranding, understand the full implications and take steps to mitigate the unintended consequences. Rebranding should be your last resort to kickstart or reignite sales.
Before you rebrand, get out into the marketplace. See how your brand looks on the shelf. Recognize what your competition is doing. Inspect all the aspects of distribution including inventory, delivery, out of stock situations, invoicing, pricing, shelf position, point-of-purchase advertising, programming, and reordering. Take a good look at your marketing program and whether or not it is effective at getting your original message to your customers. If any of these factors needs fixing, fix them first before you hire a rebranding expert.
Just remember, it takes years to gain traction and develop a brand, but a brand can be wrecked in just a few months. Think you need to rebrand? Not so fast!
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) & Shelf Smarts courses to help consumer product brand builders achieve success. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular business site at www.thebarefootspirit.com.
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