The recent Gap rebranding debacle gave brand folks like me ample opportunity to gas on about (pick one): a) how foolish Gap was; b) what a clever ruse they’d created; c) how social media saved the day; or d) how quickly Gap responded (or caved, if that’s your point of view). But while plenty of digital ink was spilled about all that, I saw very little commentary about what SHOULD have provoked The Gap — or any other company — to take the rebranding plunge. How do you know when it’s the right time for a company to take a hard look at its brand and stir it up?
As Gapgate showed us, rebranding is a big deal. And it can take many forms: a change in “behind-the-logo” fundamentals; logo and tag line changes; a name change; and anything else in between. Putting all the forms of branding aside for a moment, let’s look at how to know when it’s time to consider the disruptive step of rebranding.
#1: You’ve lost market position.
If you were number one ten years ago and number three now, or number three two years ago and number six now, you better start fixing something. Tinkering around the edges won’t get you back to the top spot. Consider your brand. And by “brand,” I don’t mean your logo. If you’re not connecting with customers, there may be something seriously off, not only in in your brand fundamentals, but in your business strategy, or maybe in how your brand reflects your business strategy. In The Gap’s case, if they were worried about their market position, a logo change alone was the wrong answer. Maybe a more thorough brand initiative may have been a good idea. But I’m not sure they had really lost much market share; the market has simply been in a slump and sales have been lackluster.
#2: Your organization has (or is about to) change its business strategy substantially.
Apple is a great example of how a business strategy (to make people’s lives more interesting through digital products) is reflected in a branding strategy (sleek, simple, witty, smart). If they were to change their business strategy (and God knows why they’d do that) to one based on delivering productivity solutions to Fortune 500 companies, they would obviously consider rebranding. Companies don’t usually change their business strategies on a whim, but may find that those strategies have evolved over time, because of mergers and acquisitions, changes in the category, or simply because of the passage of time. Those are the moments to consider brand brush-ups, even if the correct decision is to hold off. If The Gap is seriously changing its business strategy, it certainly isn’t apparent.
#3: Your brand has outlived its customers.
Cadillac is a good example of a brand that had to evolve its brand before its customer base went extinct. They added a good bit of power and speed and updated their vision of glamor. And it’s worked, even though they didn’t change their logo. Pepsi tinkers with its branding every few years, to keep up with a young market that continually replenishes itself with new faces. They evolve their brand to maintain it. I find that many companies consider rebranding at about their twentieth year of existence. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seems that’s about the time the original vision, leadership and customer base have turned over. The Gap was started in 1969, then — for a variety of reasons — changed considerably in the 80s to become the store we know today. Maybe it IS time for a brand evolution. But — like with Cadillac — maybe tossing out your heritage with your logo isn’t the best way to start.
#4: Your marketing just isn’t working anymore.
Okay, I’m not espousing brand overhaul as a solution to a flawed marketing program, but… If your marketing has lost its luster, AND you’ve dialed through a number of strategies, AND your execution is sound, AND others in your category have been driving sales, you think just maybe you have a marketing problem that marketing strategies and tactics alone can’t solve? If your marketing is struggling to leverage a weak brand, you’d better strengthen the brand. I suspect this was the thinking behind The Gap’s rebranding: “Our advertising is world class, but sales still suck. Let’s rebrand.” Maybe the idea wasn’t such a bad one, even though the execution may have been wanting.
One more note: all of the “ifs” above relate to building long term growth. Rebranding, brand development, or whatever else you want to call it, should be undertaken with financial goals in mind. If not, don’t bother.