The Art and Science of Rebranding

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Rebranding is at times mistaken and loosely used for a redesign, repackaging, and repositioning. While these can be the means for it, the process cannot be called rebranding alone. Rebranding is a change in thought process and ideology and the brand philosophy. While some rebranding is evident overnight, some take years to even activate and further more years to show results. And not to forget, it involves customers’ and the employees’ active support and green signal

In May, Star News had a massive campaign that could not be missed. The hoardings across the Hindi heartland, the TVCs on GECs screamed and newspapers had ads with words of reassurance. That it were the same journalists, the attitude still is the same, it’s just a mere name change – that from June 1, 2012, Star News would be ABP News. If we go a little back there are more such examples like that of Hero Honda becoming Hero Motocorp, or the SUV from Mahindra-Renault stable Logan becoming Verito (Mahindra). These are examples where there has been change of guard, after the partnerships haven’t worked, or stakes have been bought or ownership has totally changed hands. As in case of a little older example – Hutch becoming Vodafone.

Rebranding is often inappropriately associated with a change in logo or a new name or a new design. While these are the tools of rebranding, largely it is the change or shift or evolution of a philosophy and attitude.

Nitin Pai, Vice President, Marketing – Tata Elxsi, puts it in better words, as he says, “Rebranding initiative for any organisation is very strategic in nature and not tactical. It is done to position your company in case of corporate branding from a long term perspective. It’s done in order to take care of one’s suppliers / vendors, customers, employees, stakeholders and the entire universe who get affected by the rebranding changes.”

In most of the above cases, brands have gone aboard, as in case of ABP News reassuring consumers that their philosophy is the same. It is just a mere name change. Vodafone, is another example, where it assured consumers, as it retained the pug as its mascot that the values of the old company remain the same and its just a mere name and logo change. Ashwini Deshpande, Founder Director & Head of Communication Design Practice at Elephant Strategy + Design, says, “What needs to change depends entirely on where the shoe is biting. There are many brands that have kept the same attitude over generations, but changed the look & feel and many others have changed even the attitude for staying relevant to the intended audience.”

The evolution
While much of the rebranding exercises are immediate, some are evolutionary in nature. Take for example the ‘Rise’ initiative from the Mahindra Group. The roughly about Rs 60,000 crore Indian company is no more just confined to Indian shores. It, today has a global footprint; and has forayed beyond automobiles. Hence the corporate brand concept of ‘Rise’ was distilled.

The new corporate branding exercise, spreads over a period of three years with investments of upt o Rs 120 crore.

To further strengthen its corporate rebranding effort, Mahindra took the movement marketing path and hence was born – Spark the Rise, a multimedia campaign, which calls for action to empower people and bring about a change. Mahindra would play the role of an enabler in this change.  The thought? Persuasion through advertising is passé. Conversation with consumers is in. And brands have to become a part of their lives. Instead of selling brand communication brands are trying to encompass consumer culture in their positioning and create channels of deep-rooted engagement with them.

Employees as stake holders
The evolutionary rebranding exercise came in from conversations with employees, executives, customers, and the general public in seven different countries over a period of one and a half years. So what took Mahindra so long to chalk out its corporate rebranding strategy? According to Pai, “For any organisation, its employees are the key asset. They are the brand ambassadors as well as the manifestation of a brand.”

It is ideal to involve as many internal stake-holders as possible in defining or articulating the brand. Also, the new identity must be launched internally first. Deshpande, says, “Everyone who represents the brand must understand the brand articulation, the reasons for new definitions, new look, new order. This way, they become ambassadors of change. If all the touch-points of the brand are pre-identified, it becomes easier to draw lists like ‘must change’, ‘should change’ & ‘will eventually change’ of various applications of the brand.

The involvement level of participation of employees in a rebranding exercise, at the same time depends on the kind of industry they are associated. For instance, Pai says, “in a B2C kind of company, the most important stakeholders are the consumers. Whereas, in a B2B company which is essentially a knowledge driven economy, the employees are of prime importance. Therefore they should be very much aware of the rebranding initiatives undertaken within an organisation. Thus, active internal / external communication should be done informing employees and stakeholders about all the rebranding initiatives.”

Meanwhile there is a brand – Blackberry – that has evolved over the years subtly. The rebranding here is not ‘in the face’. There is no logo change, no renaming. Yet it has evolved from just being a   tool of communication for the CEOs to bring in a larger fold of audience – the youth, a segment that no one can ignore. ‘We are the Blackberry Boys campaign’ was an announcement of its rethinking of its philosophy. But lately, it’s gone a step ahead – reaching out to people in smaller towns.

BlackBerry recently launched a new Curve 9220, which has features such as longest battery for a curve model (seven hours of talktime), BBM only key; and for the first time ever in a BlackBerry handset an in-built FM was introduced. These features were derived after BlackBerry’s research in Tier I & II cities and emerging towns. Also, the brand has been building its distribution in these towns over the last 18 months and has expanded its distribution by adding 100 such towns and cities like Jalandhar, Ajmer, Jaipur, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nasik, Lucknow, Patna,  Jamshedpur, Silliguri, and the  others.

The brand seems to have been working on expansion in Tier II and emerging towns for quite some time. And BBM seems to be its best bait to lure the small town youth, like it did with its big town counterparts too! Blackberry has made BBM service more pocket friendly for youth with its Rs 5 per day plan. It has also been working on its other data plans.
Reworking on its pricing strategy too, the brand has slashed prices of its key devices. While the price of entry-level model – Curve 8520 – was reduced by over 18 per cent to Rs 8,999 from Rs 10,990, the price of Torch 9860 has been reduced by over 26 per cent to Rs 21,990 from Rs 29,990 earlier.

On the other hand is Kaya Skin Clinic, a brand that has done an entire overhauling, in an effort to shed its ‘clinic’ image. And with it came a new positioning: ‘When I look into the mirror, I love what I see’. “It’s not just a mere cosmetic change of a logo redesign or repositioning. We have redesigned our clinics too with chairs, uniform and the like,” says Suvodeep Das, Head, Marketing, Kaya.

As a part of a consumer research, last year, Kaya got some interesting feedback. While all agreed that Kaya was “gold standard” as far as skincare is considered, and that when they had any skin related problem, Kaya was on top of mind. Yet there was a set of consumers who did not think of Kaya because they associated it with a “solution” for a skin problem. “We needed to change that as we wanted to attract a larger segment of audience,” says Das.

Kaya realised that it was a nine-year-old brand, and consumer needs had changed since then. That was a time when there were only three to four premium brands in the skincare market. “Now there are 3X or 4X… India has become richer and younger… Kids born during the initial liberalisation phase are in their 20s today… we need to be in a position to target and attract them as well. That’s why we went for rebranding,” says Das.

Speaking in the context of change of audience, KV Sridhar, National Creative Director, Leo Burnett, says, “The mantra of rebranding involves reinventing yourself to rededicate and make yourself relevant to a different set of people and consumers. In today’s world superficial rebranding will not work. Just by changing graphics and logo you cannot rebrand yourself. In this age of social media and conversations just by wearing designer clothes you cannot become progressive,” he says.

Course correction
While Kaya found that its audience had changed, at times brands go in for a change, as they misunderstood the market. A simple logo change or design change can infuriate the loyalists. Examples like of GAP and Tropicana are talked in detail in her write-up by Deshpande of Elephant Strategy + Design. Sometimes, the audience rejects the product altogether, say for example – Musst Stix, Musst Chips and Monaco Smartchips, all from the Parle Products’ stable.

According to experts, the products failed because there was no product differentiation in the category. Musst Stix was an imitation of Kurkure. Consumers seek a difference in taste and Parle Products failed at that. The storyboard of the ad commercials for the products showed the company comparing it with other products in the market and offering 50 per cent extra on each pack. Meanwhile, Monaco Smartchips was positioned as a healthy snack, with Aamir Khan featuring in its TVCs. The product met the same fate like its predecessors. While some blame the ads that there was too much focus on Aamir Khan and the product went into the background, others think that the ad was too preachy.

Taking a corrective measure, Parle Products relaunched its two brands – Musst Chips and Musst Stix last year. Musst Chips morphed into called Parle Wafers and Musst Stix became Full Toss. The brand also decided to use its Parle logo in the name, so that consumers have an affinity towards the  product.

The company also admits that consumers were averse to the brand name ‘Musst’ as it sounded derogatory. “The word Musst (sounded like the Hindi word – mast) in these cases was not accepted in the market. According to our research, our target group didn’t want to be seen with Musst Chips or Musst Stix,” B Krishnarao, Group Product Manager at Parle Products had told Pitch, in one of an interviews earlier.

Consumers: The real brand managers
In all the above cases, all brands are wooing the end consumer, be it Star News reassuring the consumer or Kaya overhauling itself to embrace the new consumers or be it Parle Products accepting that it misunderstood the target audience. In words of Pai of Tata Elxsi, “As far as our experience goes, we strongly feel that rebranding takes into confidence its key customers. Therefore, customer insights play a key role as they can be used to validate and make necessary changes in the rebranding exercise.”

He suggests initiatives like conducting dipstick surveys etc. from customers to understand their sentiments better.

Therefore, any rebranding exercise must be undertaken keeping the customer in mind.

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