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Is It Time To Rebrand? Repositioning Your Products Or Services

By Anelique H. Caffrey

How Can Rebranding Help Your Business?

Listerine® shouldn’t be around. In an era of sweet, minty mouthwashes, who would voluntarily choose to use the amber colored, medicine-tasting Listerine?

Lots of people as it turns out. In fact, Listerine, now owned by Pfizer but up for sale (and being seriously considered as of March 2006 by rival Colgate®, distributors of Scope), is an industry leader, bringing in a staggering $309 million in sales in 2005.

So what happened to Listerine, the pungent stuff we historically swished around in our mouths with a grimace? Though it was always a market leader, there came a time a few decades ago when Listerine’s executives recognized that if they wanted to stay competitive, they needed to change. After all, Generation Xers weren’t willing to sacrifice good taste for fresh breath.

Thus, the public was introduced to Cool Mint®, FreshBurst®, and Natural Citrus Listerine®; Listerine Pocket- Mist™; and Listerine PocketPaks®, enticing a whole new generation to be loyal to Listerine, no longer only known for its “gotta be good for you because it tastes so bad” status. (However, the original intense flavor is still out there for those loyal to the stuff they remember seeing in their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets.)

This reinvention of a product or service is known in marketing lingo as “rebranding,” and for Listerine, the move has meant a sizable chunk of the $700 million oral rinse and antiseptic market (AC Nielson.)

However, rebranding isn’t a matter of slapping together a novel marketing campaign or throwing a new product into the mix. True rebranding involves time, effort, and corporate risk; after all, there are no guarantees in marketing.

Process of Rebranding

Anne J. Aufiero, president of full service advertising agency AdAbility, Inc., Camp Hill, talks about the biggest mistakes companies make when considering whether or not to rebrand:

“Branding is much more than the company logo on stationery, business cards, brochures, ads, etc.,” Aufiero begins. “A beautiful set of corporate identity materials will not counteract negative experiences customers have with the company” product or personnel...Companies also need to make sure they look beyond immediate concerns - to a long-term strategy. Will the new brand stand the test of time or will it quickly become irrelevant?”

Irrelevancy is exactly what happened in the notorious New Coke rebranding fiasco. In 1985, Coca-Cola® decided to change the Coke formula. New coke took the place of Old Coke which, after a few months of plummeting sales and the outrage of millions loyal to the original brand, was brought back under the moniker of Classic Coke. The whole event took place in less than a year’s time, but it will forever haunt the Coca Cola Company as one of the biggest rebranding blunders in American history.

The major error Coca Cola made was in underestimating how loyal Coke drinkers were to the original soda formula, thereby fueling their indignation when it disappeared. Even those who didn’t mind the taste of New Coke swore allegiance to the classic formula, thus prompting its hasty return and the red-faced mea culpas of Coke’s top executives.

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When Should You Think About Rebranding?

So how do you know whether it's time to rebrand? After all, if Coke misjudged their audience, any organization can. According to Aufiero, the decision “should not be taken lightly. It should not be done because you’ve seen the ‘old’ stuff one too many times and/or you're experiencing knee-jerk reactions to competitors’ ads or hot new trends in the marketplace.”

In Aufiero’s experience, companies should consider rebranding when one or more of the following is occurring or about to occur: 1. The company has made or is planning to make radical/revolutionary changes to its business model; 2. The company has suffered from poor brand image, long-term bad publicity, or other events that prevent future good will toward the brand; 3. The current brand has become outdated by today’s standards; 4. There is confusion about what the company brand is.

Mergers or acquisitions and new innovations or technologies may also be catalysts for companies to rebrand. (One caveat, though: rebranding is not a cure for fundamental business problems. If finances are suffering because of poor management or ineffective sales or marketing, rebranding won’t help.)

The company looking to rebrand will most likely want to hire an outside consultant to help in the rebranding process because an unbiased opinion could mean the difference between a Listerine success story or a New Coke flop. An experienced marketing professional will be invaluable to help smooth the process; he or she may even uncover ways to boost sales instead of launching a rebranding campaign.

But for those companies determined to reposition their products or services, Aufiero suggests a few initial steps:

“Take stock of your current brand equity,” she states. “Get a sense of perceptions of your core audiences, including current customers, your competitors, the general public, and very importantly, people you haven't yet reached but want to.”

One common way to gauge our company’s “word on the street” reputation is to set up “focus groups” where an impartial moderator asks questions of a randomly chosen group of people. Another way is to send out questionnaires either via email or postal mail. Though there is no magic formula that will definitively tell you whether a rebranding strategy is the best route for your company, you need to have data from all your shareholders, internal and external.

And never forget that the process is only as strong as the employees supporting the new product or image.

Aufiero explains, “Getting a new brand buy-in is a sales process. Instead of selling your products or services to a customer, you’re selling a concept to an employee. Inform them. Explain the motivation, the process and results. But mainly, involve them in the process. They need to know why. The need to know when. They need to have a say. They need to have a direction. They need to see passion.”

Unquestionably, rebranding involves taking calculated risks; but for the company fully invested in undertaking a rebranding campaign, the experience can be exciting and fascinating for everyone involved.

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