Reinventing a brand makes for a great case study. Don’t we all want the power to change a brand’s fortunes? But this exciting prospect comes with great responsibility. It’s a classic risk-return trade-off. Get it right, fame. Get it wrong, infamy.
So before setting out on that course, a word of caution: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Brands that reinvent themselves because they have to, are significantly more likely to get it right. With a tangible business problem to solve, the stakes are high and there’s no room for half-measures. Though seven years old, the comeback story of Old Spice is still a great example of ‘do-or-die’ done right.
Once you’ve committed to the course: brace yourself.
The relationship between agency and client must be rock solid. Partnership is a terrible cliché in our industry but that is the only way it’ll work. There has to be a shared agenda and total trust. That trust leads to courage and that’s exactly what this challenge requires.
Even the best brands need a makeover from time to time. Having worked with Carlsberg through its current reinvention at Fold7, a few other principles are top of my mind.
1. Keep it real
The first and the most important principle. When a brand feels out of step, when it hasn’t kept up with the times, it’s tempting to just make it cool. We’ve seen it in our own industry as agencies try to re-brand to shake off a pale, stale, male legacy. It hardly ever works when it doesn’t come from a truth.
Consumers demand ‘authenticity’ from brands and they will call out bullshit when they see it. But being honest doesn’t mean being unflattering. Sometimes it’s about remembering what made the brand special in the first place. Burberry bringing back the trench was the start of their road to recovery.
I saw Elizabeth Fagan, the managing director of Boots, speak recently on the topic of brands with purpose. She talked about digging into the brand archives, looking for the brand’s future story in the history books. Turned out, the vision established in 1849 was as inspiring today as it was back then.
Reinvention isn’t just about keeping up with the times. It’s about finding a story, falling in love with it and making it your forte.
2. Live the change
Reinvention can’t simply be told, it has to be lived. When you’ve got a new narrative it’s tempting to spend all your energy telling people about it. But it only becomes real when a brand changes its behaviour, changes the company it keeps and the commitment it makes.
McDonald’s desire to be loved manifested in a better understanding of what their customers wanted and in 2004 they wanted healthier options. The introduction of salads to the menu was the impetus for the brand’s financial recovery in the UK.
For Carlsberg, we’ve gone back to its Danish roots. It’s more than a provenance story; it’s a philosophy and a way of life. Living Danishly is a commitment to quality and to making time for the things that matter to us. It means investing in a Danish philosopher, in the form of Mads Mikkelsen (above), who suggests adopting a better way of life. It means choosing a "not always on" social strategy, as Danes believe in work/life balance.
Reinvention has to be felt to be real. It has to seep into our everyday lives to stick.
3. Build momentum
If you’re going to invest to reinvent make sure it has staying power. This can’t be a flash in the pan. Much like with politicians, flip-flopping is irritating at best and unforgiveable at worst.
Create something that makes an impact but even more importantly, is something worth committing to. Carlsberg’s new idea "The Danish way" gave us both campaign flexibility but it also held us to a strict set of brand behaviours. We now live by four Danish principles: balance (making time for what really matters), craft (appreciating things that are well-made), good taste (preferring elegant, simple style) and progressive (believing that open-mindedness leads to positive change). That informs how we show up and the company we keep.
4. Stand for something
A brand with a point of view has more to say and more to engage people with. Create something that people will want to keep playing with and a world that draws them in. That’s the magic that sits on top of your truth and makes people put their hardened cynicism aside for a few minutes and smile.
5. Don’t be short-termist
And finally, reinvent for the long-term. Brands can only be agile when they build off a consistent baseline. When done right, it can give them a new lease on life. But this isn’t about living forever in beta, it’s about having a real reason to reinvent, finding a truth and committing to it.
Yelena Gaufman is Fold7’s strategy partner