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The Strategy Behind Rebranding

Updated 2 months ago by Roger Dudler

Does your brand need to rebrand? Check out the strategies behind some of the biggest rebranding efforts from today's top companies to help you decide.

Consumers love consistency. They want a brand they can depend on, which is why brands that have consistent presentations across all platforms earn 23% more revenue. And consumers don’t always respond well when their trusted brands change things up. Like when Tropicana unveiled a new logo and packaging makeover in 2009, lost $30 million in sales, and opted to return to the original within a month. Or how a year later, Gap scrapped its new logo after a week because of backlash.

But at some point in a brand’s lifecycle, taking a rebranding risk might be the only way to grow. And if done strategically, your brand could come out better than it was before.

These are the strategies behind why some of the world’s biggest companies chose to rebrand and how their customers responded.

Rebranding Strategy #1: You Need to Reach a New Demographic

When you’re building a brand, you hope to create one that’ll have longevity. But older doesn’t always mean better in the minds of younger consumers. As Old Spice and Simmons show, sometimes rebranding is needed if you want to reach a new generation of buyers and increase your market share.

Old Spice Tries to Lose the Old

In the early 2000s, Old Spice was losing ground to newer brands like Axe Body Spray. The younger demographic didn’t want to buy Old Spice because they thought it was, well, old. The brand had been around since 1937, and younger consumers associated it with the smell of dads and granddads.

Old Spice realized they needed to change things up if they wanted to lose their outdated association. They opted to appeal to men of all ages by “celebrating the art of manliness” when “they launched one of the most successful rebrands of the decade.”

Its packaging got a new look, as did its website, but its biggest change was a cheeky, humorous new brand voice with messaging focused on manliness.

rebranding-strategy-old-spice-packaging Old Spice updated its product packaging.

rebranding-strategy-old-spice-manliness And the brand adopted a humorous new voice focused on manliness.

This refreshed look, voice, and positioning were brought to life in a new ad campaign by agency partner Wieden + Kennedy in 2010 to launch Old Spice’s line of body wash. The campaign recruited former football star Isaiah Mustafa in a series of ads to represent the man your man could smell like if only he used Old Spice body wash.

The overarching message was, “Smell Like a Man, Man.”

rebranding-strategy-old-spice-smell-like-a-man A new, funny ad campaign encouraged consumers to use Old Spice to smell like a man.

The campaign’s goal was to increase sales by 15%. According to Nielsen, by May of 2010, unit sales of Old Spice Red Zone body wash had increased 60% from the previous year. “And by July of 2010, sales had more than doubled versus the prior year, with an increase of 125% — an all-time high for the brand.”

It got other accolades as well, like the Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix.

In 2018, Old Spice began slipping from its No. 1 spot because of changing customer preferences. The company’s original rebrand target audience has gotten older, and younger consumers are looking for more subtle scents. To launch its new aluminum-free deodorant and body wash in a subtle scent called Ultra Smooth, Old Spice brought back Mustafa as the horse-riding manly man for a new campaign. But this time, he’s got a son, and the message isn’t about smelling manly but smelling “like your own man, man.”

rebranding-strategy-old-spice-ultra-smooth The original campaign got a 2020 update to encourage a new generation to smell like their own man.

Since Old Spice’s rebranding, its brand strategy has been focused on cross-generational appeal. Kristopher Hull of Ipsos says that bringing back Mustafa “along with a TV son and products that appeal to younger consumers, is a creative way to keep that momentum going.”

Historic Simmons Gets Savvy On Social Media

A recent rebrand of another long-standing company is Simmons Bedding Company. Simmons was created in 1870 and is the oldest mattress manufacturer in the U.S. But its 150-year history of quality mattress-making wasn’t as appealing to millennial and Gen-Z consumers, who’d been lured away by the convenience and big marketing spends of direct-to-consumer brands like Casper.

Simmons partnered with Burns Group to completely reinvent its brand. Its recommendation was to take one of America’s oldest companies and reimagine it as a startup. Together, they set out to rebrand Simmons as an entry-level mattress-in-a-box offering to compete with Casper and Purple.

Simmons got a new brand identity with fun visual elements — including a revamped logo design and brand colors — and a direct-to-consumer website, as well as updated pricing and product design.

rebranding-strategy-simmons-old-site Simmons website before its rebrand launch.

rebranding-strategy-simmons-new-site Simmons website after its rebrand launch.

In June, Simmons started a social media campaign on TikTok to reach Gen-Z consumers who will soon be living on their own and need basic furniture like mattresses. Simmons partnered with five creators who developed videos for TikTok using an original track made for the campaign, called Just for Fun-ZZZ, with the hashtag #Snoozapalooza. The concept was based on all of the festivals that were canceled because of Covid-19.

While it’s too early to tell whether this social-first strategy will make Simmons a hit with a new market, it did give the brand an online boost. Simmons got 3 billion views in six days, 2.3 million user-generated videos, and a 104% increase in website visits vs. the week before.

Rebranding Strategy #2: You Need to Differentiate Your Brand

If your brand is seen as too similar to its competitors, it’ll be hard to develop brand loyalty and achieve growth. A rebrand is a good strategy to help differentiate your brand in consumers’ minds. Target’s rebranding is a prime example of how this tactic can lead to great success.

Target Goes from Cheap to Chic

Back in the ’90s, Target was seen as practically indistinguishable from other discount retailers like Kmart or Walmart.

In the early 2000s, Target decided it couldn’t grow if it kept trying to chase Walmart with low prices — especially since Walmart was built to keep costs and prices low. The brand opted instead to differentiate itself by repositioning “as a mass merchandiser of affordable chic goods.”

Target updated its logo.

rebranding-strategy-target-logos

And it also began focusing on new product collaborations, starting with Alessi designer Michael Graves, that introduced great design at non-luxury prices.

Target also launched marketing materials that showcased another partnership with fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, shown standing under two street signs reading “5th Avenue” and “Main St,” celebrating the intersection of high design and low prices.

rebranding-strategy-target-mizrahi-ad

Over the years, Target has continued its luxury brand partnerships with companies like Rodarte, Victoria Beckham, and Hunter.

And you can’t argue with the outcome. Today, Target is ranked number 114 in the world’s 500 most valuable brands, while discount retailer Kmart, who kept chasing Walmart’s low prices, is on the verge of disappearing. It’s also got the youngest average customer when compared with other brands like Walmart and even Amazon, suggesting it’s on track to continue its growth.

Rebranding Strategy #3: You Need to Expand Your Brand

If a brand is lucky enough to grow beyond its original product offering, sometimes a rebrand is required to communicate your product expansion to stakeholders. A great recent example of this rebranding strategy is Dunkin’ Donuts.

Dunkin’ Loses its Donut

In 2018, Dunkin’ Donuts announced its rebrand to show consumers it’d become overwhelmingly more about coffee than about donuts. One of the steps it took to transform itself into a “premier beverage-led, on-the-go brand” was to unveil its new name as just “Dunkin’.” The change took place in January 2019.

rebranding-strategy-dunkin-ooh

Other elements of its move beyond donuts included a greater emphasis on beverages, the introduction of unique products like Donut Fries, and the introduction of Dunkin’s next-generation design concept.

Dunkin’ is hoping its bright orange and pink color palette will help differentiate it in its beverage pivot from the other “brown, serious and heavy” coffee establishments.

Since the rebrand announcement, Dunkin’s “Buzz” score increased from 12 to 21, indicating that a growing number of U.S. consumers heard good things about the brand. And the company generated $242 million in income in 2019, an increase from $230 million in 2018.

Rebranding Strategy #4: Your Brand Needs to Stay Relevant

In addition to falling out of favor with younger demos, legacy brands can also find themselves struggling to stay relevant to cultural shifts. That’s what happened recently to Weight Watchers and why it rebranded to WW.

Weight Watchers Changes its Focus to Health

The Weight Watchers brand started in 1963 and was a hugely successful point-based weight loss program for decades. But recently, the culture change to focus on health instead of weight, and the success of brands like Aerie, which promotes body positivity, made the company rethink its weight emphasis.

In 2018, the brand announced it was rebranding and would undergo a name change, its tagline would be “Wellness that Works,” and the company’s mission would focus on encouraging healthy lifestyle habits over weight loss.

rebranding-strategy-ww-logos Old Weight Watchers’s logo and new WW logo.

The change didn’t go over well with everyone. Some members didn’t like this new version. Someone even started a Change.org petition to bring back the previous version; it gathered more than 3,600 signatures.

But over time, the rebrand seems to have resonated. By Q2 2020, the brand announced a record number of digital subscribers.

Rebranding Strategy #5: You Need to Repair Your Brand Reputation

All brands are vulnerable to a crisis from internal or external factors. Sometimes your brand reputation and brand equity take such a hit that you may need to rebrand to show stakeholders you’re not the same company you were. That’s what Wells Fargo recently did after negative perceptions overtook the brand.

Wells Fargo Stages a Comeback After Scandal

In 2016, news came out that millions of fraudulent accounts had been opened for the brand’s clients by Wells Fargo employees without their permission. The fraud was discovered after clients started receiving unexpected debit and credit cards and new lines of credit.

An article in CNN said that “Wells Fargo used to be able to brag of a superior reputation, rich in history, and mostly clean of the mud from the Great Recession.” But negative perceptions about the brand, which had been around since 1852, began to soar from 15% before the scandal to 52% after.

The company rebranded to begin repairing its tarnished brand image. There was a new tagline, “Established 1852. Re-established 2018,” following an apology campaign, “Building a Better Bank,” that debuted in 2017.

There was also a new logo that tweaked the typography, removed the gold hue from the lettering, and provided a contemporary update to the stagecoach icon.

rebranding-strategy-wells-fargo-logos Wells Fargo updated its logo as part of its rebrand.

After the rebrand, Wells Fargo’s loyalty numbers took a slight dip. The problem was the brand was trying to show customers it was different on the outside without explaining what it was doing on the inside to make sure the issues didn’t happen again. When the company removed its president and showed it was taking responsibility, the brand’s approval rating “improved from a low of 58% in February 2019 to 73% in April.”

A Rebrand Is Risky But Can Lead to Great Results

It can be risky for an existing brand to redesign its look. As Tropicana and Gap show us, change just for the sake of change can be bad for your brand recognition and your bottom line. But when there’s a strategy behind your rebrand to help your company reach new customers, stand out in a sea of sameness, reflect your brand’s growth, or modernize in changing times, it can lead to great results.

If you think your company may need a partial rebrand or a full brand overhaul, here are some good things to know before you begin the rebranding process. You also might want to consider the different types of rebranding and their rough costs.

Roger Dudler

Founder & CEO

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