Jun 8, 2009

Is it Brand New, or New Branding?

This has been a busy year so far for companies trying to get noticed. Now I can understand with the recession that there is cause for concern and more reason to bring attention to your business. But attention alone doesn’t make a customer suddenly what to do more business with you. There is something to be said about familiarity too as well as what kind of attention you bring to yourself.

     Original and now new again Tropicana packaging on the left, new but now old generic branding on the right.

Original and now new again Tropicana packaging on the left, new but now old generic branding on the right.

Eariler this year Tropicana brought attention to itself by switching it’s packaging. A whole new look brought much attention for this orange juice icon. However, the attention was not positive. Amazingly, Tropicana was not able to have the foresight to realize that trading in a premium branding campaign built up over decades with a generic branding campaign anyone could have come up with wasn’t a good idea. It makes it harder to justify a premium price too if your branding reflects a generic brand. Customer outcry made them realize the mistake and a few months later, and a bunch of marketing dollars shorter, and the original branding is back.

I’m driving to work and pass by the local Wal-Mart Super Center – what the heck is that funny new logo? Oh my gosh, did they paint over the trademark blue on the outside of the building? I just can’t help thinking this is a change for the sake of change without any business reasoning behind it. I’ve never seen a shortage of cars in their parking lot and I’ve never stood in line for less than 30 minutes just to buy a pack of batteries. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the new branding is just going to further irk detractors and alienate core customers, in my opinion. Wal-Mart is too much of an institution than a store – maybe more of a tradition as generations of families have been brought up under it’s roof. You just don’t mess with tradition. I’d love to see the price tag for this re-branding vs. how much more it actually adds to their bottom line.

How about that new Pepsi logo? Kinda weird, huh? Ok, they have always tended to market mostly to a younger demographic, so I’m not going to be too critical of their new branding. It may not appeal to me, but then again, I haven’t had a soda of any kind in about a decade or so. I’ll remain neutral on this one.
Even Maxwell House!

Even Maxwell House can't resist a major tweek to their branding.

Even Maxwell House can't resist a major tweek to their branding.

I dislike their overpriced coffee and over-sugared specialty drinks like Frappacinos, but have always loved Starbucks coffee-flavored ice cream. I mean, I really love the stuff. But Starbucks has played musical branding with it’s packaging – each time getting more generic in appearance and each time I end up seeing less of it being stocked in the ice cream isle at my local supermarket. Hmmm…. Then, about 6 months ago it disappeared altogether from the shelves for a few months. I must have bought every other coffee ice cream brand known to man when magically Starbucks coffee ice cream reappeared on the shelves with what’s that, yet another packaging design (and what I swear is a different taste too). Why can’t they just leave well-enough alone – all these improvements are making it worse.

You’d think I was an anti-new-brander by this blog post so far, but I’m really not. I love pointing to the rebranding that UPS did a few years back. They took their tradition with them, enhanced their logo and made the color brown kinda cool. There was no re-adjustment, no “that’s weird” stage – everything was the same just better. You didn’t feel like you were doing business with a different company – they maintained their identity.

Now these are big multi-billion dollar corporations with established identities at stake, but what about the small business owner? What is the identity of your brand – do you have a brand identity?

Usually small business owners start on a small budget and logos and branding tends to be at a lower importance level than other factors in getting the business up and running. But as your business grows, the importance of your branding grows. As you become more established in your field, your premium rises. Just as Tropicana can charge more money for their better known, premium orange juice, your rates for your products or services will increase too. As your rates increase your customers will expect your branding to reflect this new premium. Tropicana spent a lot of money learning this lesson – don’t expect a premium while presenting in a generic fashion or stripping away your established identity.

If you are new to the game then you are in a good position to start off on the right track. Working with a good design team you can establish the look of a premium brand before you really are one. Upfront costs in this case are more, but you can save yourself a lot of retooling of your brand down the road.

What does your brand say about you? Are you a generic, a premium, or somewhere in the middle?

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