Does Your Brand Need to be Born Again?

Some brands are timeless: Tiffany's, Ivory Soap, even Coca-Cola. They're classic icons in our minds. They've stood the test of time. We know what they are and what they represent. Their brand story is clear and consistent in any day of any decade.

Other brands don't age as well. Some are born bad and just get worse. Some start off good and then, over time, get sloppy and lose their focus. And others are innocent victims of our fast-changing world. Whatever the case, even shaky brands can become "born-again": a brand with a renewed spirit and a relevant connection to the market.

First let's define what a born-again brand is and is not. It is the evolution of brand to better meet the markets' needs and desires, while staying true to its identity. A born-again is not an old brand with new-color paint job, a redesigned logo, or even a tagline. Those are mere communication enhancements.

When is a brand due for true change?

I asked brand transformers Bill Schley and Carl Nichols, authors of the new book Why Johnny Can't Brand (Portfolio, 2005).

"Like most branding 'principles' there's little that's black and white on this issue. Re-branding is a judgment call that, far too often, companies make prematurely or unnecessarily, shooting their brands in the foot instead of launching them to the new heights predicted by the change-meisters." In fact, the duo say, premature re-branding is a serious disease generally caused by three factors:

  1. New executives who feels the need to justify their being hired by putting their stamp on a new campaign, regardless of whether the current one is successfully building brand equity.
  2. Brand managers acting on a short-sighted urge, sparked by impatience, to meddle with a brand structure that's not broken—and that would indeed build equity over time and exposure—because management demands more instant gratification.
  3. The company becomes "tired" of the brand identity over time and figures the rest of the world is as tired of it too. Brand boredom is a natural malaise affecting humans through time, but is not a good reason to dump all earned equity. Great brands work because of familiarity and repetition of a great, original idea of value—not in spite of familiarity and repetition. People love this familiarity and the trust it builds over time and through consistent performance.

Here are a few good examples of born-again brands that truly needed a change and how they're fairing with their new faces. All had different reasons for the re-branding.

The Market Changed
Burberry, the original British luxury brand, has transformed nicely into a modern and cool classic. The company has a history of good branding, having introduced its logo in 1900 and later registered the signature plaid pattern as a trademark in 1920.

As the brand aged, it became a lot less regal and relevant and sported a frumpy older guard image. Under new leadership in the late 90's the brand was born again.

The focus started with product design. New designers moved the line from trench coats to trendy pet chic (with items like blinged-out collars and china dog bowls) and even swimsuits. Advertising, featuring high-profile young models, was seen at all the right places. Result: The company is reportedly being served quite well by the new do.

Unexpected disaster
ValuJet was literally flying high the day before it famously crashed into the Everglades because of faulty operating procedures. Instantaneously, the brand ValuJet changed from meaning "low cost, convenient airline" to "death in a swamp." ValuJet thus renamed itself, re-building its entire identity. Today it is doing well as AirTran.

Returning to their roots
Saab's current commercials feature their new convertible, Aero, zooming on the ground, past jet fighters flying above. "Saabs are built by aircraft engineers," we hear the announcer say, before we see the "new" tagline, Born from Jets. This campaign is a resurrected classic the car-maker departed from many years ago. Saab is indeed the Swedish jet aircraft manufacturer that also builds cars—cars whose dashboards even look and feel like aircraft cockpits. But Saab, recently purchased by General Motors, was loosing this identity. So the company brought back its original Dominant Selling Idea: The cars built with Jet Plane Standards.

If you're considering rebranding your business, make sure it's for the right reasons. Listen to the market. And use your best judgment.

  • Confirm all parties understand that the brand is the sum of what you do. It’s not just the graphics, a new ad campaign, or the brand language; it may likely include operational, human resource, and mindset changes.
  • Secure buy-in from leadership and key influencers at the get-go along with a long-term commitment to adequately grow the born-again brand.
  • Find a budget that will provide needed resources and allow appropriate time for the introduction as well as maintenance for sustainable brand equity.
  • Start the brand change and communications inside your company. This way you'll have many owners of the new brand evolution. Then take it to your best customers and then to the external markets.
  • If you believe in it, and you've done your homework, stick with it. Resistance is normal. Stay the course. Your original brand took time to get accepted in your markets and so will a born-again brand. Brain tattoos take time.

To learn more about born-again brands, visit www.rebrand.com—a cool Web site that provides case studies and hosts an annual award for the best-evolved, born-again brands.

Brand on!


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