Does your brand need a refresh?

Even the biggest brands don’t always get a refresh right, but there’s as much to learn from their failures as their successes.

Has your brand reached a crossroads and you’re not sure which road to take? Have sales flattened or started to decline? Is the message and design of your marketing materials all over the place?

Your business is not alone. Even the most iconic brands have stumbled over the years to remake their image, often by failing to make necessary changes until it’s too late or making unnecessary changes with the best intentions but poor execution.

So, how do you get a brand refresh right? There are four key inflection points in the life of a brand when it’s time to press pause and regroup, notes Todd LaBeau, SVP and head of digital, and Lindsay Ferris, SVP and chief marketing strategist at Madison marketing agency Lindsay, Stone & Briggs.

Tood LaBeau


Lindsay Ferris

Through real-world examples, the branding experts at LSB will help attendees at the In Business Expo and Conference identify when it’s time for a brand refresh and provide an actionable checklist for building a modern brand. The Expo is set for Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Alliant Energy Center.

“At LSB, we’ve done hundreds of brand strategy and brand repositioning projects, and we’ve learned through experience that brands that need a refresh generally fall into one of four business situations,” notes Ferris:

  • “The first (and most obvious) situation is brands that are new to the world. So often, we see new brands that design a logo and call it a day, then two years later come to us because they don’t have any idea what their brand is about and they’re struggling.
  • “The second is brands that have received no marketing support for a period of time and are seeing their sales drop. They realize the need to support their brand and often have tried to DIY it without success. We help them realize their brand’s potential and can help them create a sustainable marketing support plan that can scale with the brand.
  • “Mergers and acquisitions or corporate restructures are the third big brand-refresh driver. When brands are acquired or spun off, a new team can see new potential, or marketing resources may become available and a once stagnant brand can begin a resurgence.
  • “The final situation is sometimes the most challenging and fun: brands in categories that are being disrupted. Brands experiencing disruption often need to refresh more than just their brand — they may need to fundamentally reevaluate their product proposition and channel strategy.”

“There are other factors that can drive the need for a refresh — sometimes your brand is just tired and outdated — but we always start with the business problem and figure out where the brand fits in to the consumer’s world,” adds LaBeau.

Ferris explains that understanding what a refresh really means is important for brands looking for a boost. “Often, people think of the outward expression of a brand — the logo and brand identity — when they think of a refresh. But when we think about a ‘brand refresh,’ we start from the inside. We need to figure out the brand strategy and the brand story we’re trying to tell — who the brand is and what it’s about — before we design the brand identity.”

Knowing whether your brand needs a minor refresh or a complete overhaul is also very dependent on the specific situation a company finds itself in, says Ferris. “Every brand is different. Some brands need ‘the works’ — new strategy, new name, new brand identity, new advertising. Some brands just need sharpening.

“We’re currently working on an interesting project for a service brand, and we’re only focusing only on a specific part of their brand strategy,” continues Ferris. “They know who they are, but they don’t have a focused story, so every consumer communication they put out is saying something different. We did research and the results were startling: Brand awareness is exceptionally high, but consumers have no idea what the brand stands for and all of the amazing things the brand does to literally make the world a better place.”

Knowing when it’s time for a refresh also isn’t as simple as hitting a milestone on the calendar, says LaBeau. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to brand refreshes; it all depends on the health of your business and the strength of your connection with your consumer or customer.

“Even when business is booming, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to the context in which your brand exists,” LaBeau says. “Cultural shifts can sometimes take even the healthiest brands by surprise. Take the bottled water category, for example. One day sales are growing at double digits and the next day plastic bottles are the scourge of human existence. Taking time to understand what’s going outside your immediate category can alert you to early signs of trouble.”



Brand (new) identity?

Some iconic brands have enjoyed a revitalization as a result of a refresh, while others have created a solution when there wasn’t a problem to begin with. There’s something for other brands to learn from all of their experiences.

A classic example of a successful brand refresh is Old Spice, notes Ferris. “Ten years ago, that brand was all but dead. Then a visionary brand team at Procter & Gamble realized they could harness the cultural zeitgeist of the early aughts and a love of all things retro — hello, PBR, I’m looking at you — to market to a new generation of millennials. The result was a cultural phenomenon. But the key was that they didn’t just change the logo and the advertising. They took the time to deeply understand their consumer and created a brand story that was wildly appealing.”

Burberry is a great example of taking a brand that had struggled to go beyond being known as “the trench coat company” — and for also being banned from certain pubs in the United Kingdom in the early 2000s — to a true global fashion icon, states LaBeau. “Burberry essentially re-invented themselves — and their brand — by building on their iconic check patterns and trench coats while introducing new designs and a fresh brand identity supported by a powerful digital platform designed to connect with modern high-end consumers.”

Other brands could have saved themselves the trouble and not done a brand refresh in the first place.

“Two words: Coca-Cola,” says Ferris. “We all know the story: All-American, iconic brand tries ‘new and improved’ with disastrous results. Presumably, they were trying to fix a business problem, but did they even talk to consumers? Because it seems like they fixed the wrong problem.”

“Sometimes, there is certain look a brand has that simply needs to be preserved,” notes LaBeau. “Take Tropicana, for instance. They had a familiar package on shelves that consumers instinctively reached for. However, when they decided to change the package in 2009, it resulted in an almost immediate 20 percent loss of sales. A year later, they changed the package back and faced a loss of more than $50 million on something that could have been avoided. That’s a huge bummer.”

Ultimately, when it comes to a brand refresh, Ferris says the most cost-effective solution for businesses is to leave it to the experts. “Whether you’re a big brand or a small one, your brand is one of your most valuable assets you have. Don’t leave it to your niece who took a marketing class in college or your neighbor who knows Photoshop.”

At this year’s IB Expo & Conference, attendees will have the opportunity to gain critical business insight from area experts on leadership, branding, and sales through a series of three instructive seminars running throughout the afternoon.

To learn about more of LaBeau and Ferris’ branding best practices and more, register to attend the Expo.

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