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BRAND EVOLUTION: When to Refine vs. Reinvent

AntiqueGoldPIN“I’ve been thinking of incorporating gold.”  That’s all she said. I was sipping on my Diet Coke and paused, “Really.” I said, not in a not-so-surprised tone. As I got to know Petra throughout her time as my brand client, I knew she was not talking about a little gold ribbon. She was talking about an adaptation of Bella Boudoir. She was talking about making her brand irresistible. I knew at this point a ribbon was just going to be the beginning of our latest discussions.

TBOB New-CokePIN

(Image Credit: Time Magazine Cover)


But first, I’d like to tell a little tale about branding changes.

Coca Cola is one of the most iconic brands in the world. If you happen to drink soda, you know that it’s highly addictive. Almost beloved. Essential. (For the record, I feel this way about Starbucks, but that’s a whole other post about self-control.)

At one point in the late 1980s, Coca Cola noticed Pepsi was making some headway, along with some other soft drinks, taking some of their market share. Coca Cola, still dominating the market globally, but slipping financially, didn’t just want to lead the cola wars. They wanted to own the globe. So, thinking that a fresh new change for change’s sake would make the difference, they took a risk and introduced an entirely new brand—New Coke.

It was a makeover of a longstanding successful product and a brand new identity for their cult following. The “New Coke” logo—and flavor—hit the market. Guess what? Everyone hated it. 1,500 calls a day poured into their hotlines in protest. Consumers began hoarding cans of coke in their basement. People literally took it to the streets, and demanded to have their old Coke back. They reverted back. It all happened in a course of 79 days and has been called by some as the biggest branding blunder in the marketing world.

Fixing what wasn’t broken

Why did this happen? Yes, they took an intelligent risk, but they took it too far. They strayed too far from their loyal following and their brand heritage. They were fixing what wasn’t broken, rather than adapting it with facets to make it even more irresistible. They didn’t need to touch the product, the label or anything like that. People fell in love with that decades before. They needed to change how they were interacting with their loyal following.

If this Brand Evolution story is a fable of sorts, the brand lesson here is that success is never solved simply by the aesthetics, simply for change’s sake. While most of our more drastic brand changes won’t make national headlines, it can impact our success if not done right. Success is always based on some strategic decisions—a targeted game plan based on business facts.

Positive changes can move your business forward

Packaging aesthetics are not strategic decisions. Changing a ribbon on your package will not change your business (more on that in a bit). But you know what will change your business? Making positive changes where things have room to grow. Consider:

  • Shifts in customer service policies
  • New product lines (unlike New Coke!) or price offerings
  • Marketing incentives
  • Marketing partnerships
  • Incentive/Referral programs

Your aesthetics are born from these business changes and represent a bigger picture. If you’ve felt you’re already successful with your established brand, you can take baby steps from your strong brand heritage, but don’t abandon it. No amount of creative, financial or personal success should be your stopping point for your brand. But still you’ll always need to adapt and get ready to present new challenges to yourself to grow and change. Your brand heritage, built from a strong foundation, can adapt with subtle elements of change. Gold ribbons that represent bigger actions of change.

If you’re new to the business, or have not felt successful by your own terms just yet, you can take a much larger leap to rebrand strategically. You can practically start over and people will celebrate it. In other words, you’ll be the wonderful “New Coke” before they even knew Coke Classic actually existed. And they’ll love it just the same.

Gold ribbon as a metaphor for the gold standard

BizCards004PINWhich brings me back to Petra. Yes, the conversation started that day with a search for a perfect gold ribbon. But with a solid understanding that branding is a 360-degree job, Petra was not going to simply run the “ribbons and bows playbook.” What she was describing to me was a need to evolve along with her changing business model. A gold ribbon was simply a metaphor that she was attempting to create her new gold standard. Here’s how…

A thought about price increases led her to thinking about presentation of her business. The idea that a light-optimized, differentiated studio could change her art form and also how she shoots and sells. (Did you know that she’s moving her studio?  Shh.  It’s a secret.) Gold-edged business cards and ribbons are simply fondant on this delicious brandcake. (Yay for gold!). BizCards012PIN

Brand evolution is an important part of your business success. It means that you are paying attention to the business facts, results and lessons and then adjusting accordingly with your business operations. For Petra, this meant price increases as well as a personal need for creative change. She would not allow herself to get complacent in her (though quite celebrated) way of presenting Bella Boudoir. She was not reinventing. She was creating an irresistible brand.

That’s made this a very enjoyable ride with her. We’ll be looking at her website, new studio/set design and more. Stay tuned! Go for the gold, Petra.

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