Hyatt at McCormick
Attending the Conversion Conference (my Live Blog Notes) and can't sleep. My version of counting sheep is to think about Internet marketing. I woke up thinking about what someone said to me today about re-branding. "We are going through a bit of a re-branding exercise," they said. The problem is you don't ever really "re-brand".
Re-branding implies we are in way more control than we are since brands are organic almost sentient pieces of our tribal cultural. All brands are memes or cultural ideas sticky enough to be passed around. If you create a "meme with legs" capable of being passed around your brand/meme walks around on its own much like a 2 year old. Ever notice how 2 year old experiment with new wobbly legs? They climb up on things using chairs and tables as rails and then, as soon as possible, go randomly mobile. Blink an eye and your toddler is running down the hall for no other reason than that they can (lol).
Brands are culturally much like a two year old. They run out into traffic and seem to have willy nilly patterns because they are blown by the emergent weather of the cultural meme. Brands and memes have core ideas that are less in flux than information on the margins. It takes a mighty shaking to change core ideas. It takes less shaking to impact information on the margin. Think of how snakes shed skin. They molt their outer layer and leave it behind. Memes and brands molt too.
Buildings may seem permanent and impenetrable, but anyone who owns a home knows that is not the case. Buildings, like memes and brand ideas, need constant maintenance. Weather, use and time can crumble concrete and steel. Brands are subject to decay too. Brands decay from the margins in.
Morton Salt's famous logo of the girl with the umbrella proves the brands molt but core remains point. If you can brand salt you can brand anything. In the 1930's when the brand genius at Morton Salt created the girl with the umbrella and the famous, "When it rains it pours," tag the company successfully branded a life sustaining commodity. Morton salt was better, more pure because when it rains their salt continue to pour and that is pure marketing genius. The value of Morton's efforts must be in the billions since they've owned "salt" ever since. Scoff if you like, but nothing and I mean NOTHING is without vicious competition these days. Morton created enough of a power position there haven't been any, "We are better than Morton," ads in a hundred years.
Salt isn't sexy and Morton's 1930's branding is looking long in the tooth, not as relevant now as it was then. Morton has molted several times, but it is easy to see the unchanging core. I used to live near a Morton plant with that distinct logo painted on the roof. Morton knows branding.
My point from this long open is you don't re-band Morton Salt. You molt it on the margin or kill it outright. In Morton's case killing such a well established brand would be goofystupid. If architects know buildings will go through changes then brand architects must expect brands to do the same. My new friend who told me about his re-branding "exercise" doesn't realize there is no such thing. There is molting an existing brand at the margin or killing it outright and no part of it is anywhere near an "exercise".
5 Rebranding Mistakes You Must Avoid
When you, as brand architect, are mucking about inside your brands put on a HazMat suit and proceed with extreme caution. Here are 5 rebranding mistakes to avoid:
- Operate only on the margins, never on core brand values.
- Never attempt to change 2 marginal brand properties at once.
- Brand visuals and language are synced so change one, change them both.
- There is no way to test meme changes.
- Rebranding is disruptive so expect and plan for loss.
Morton Salt could lower the girls skirt and then after acceptance of the first edit change her hair style. These are marginal changes. Morton can't change core values such as that amazing tag. When It Rains It Pours is inviolate. Morton's brand tag can't be touched without destroying the brand. The typeface and color are core values that can't be changed (much) without destroying the brand. If you are under the potentially mistaken impression you can rebrand then be sure to know what is CORE and inviolate and what values are on the margin and so are able to be changed. If you don't know what is core vs. marginal brand values then hire someone who does.
Never 2 Things At Once
Marketing's version of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is you can never really know two brand attributes because the act of observing changes the data. Marketers think we know more than one brand attribute. We think we know and control our brands. Becoming an Internet marketer is humbling. Internet marketing is about creating ripples in a pond, listening to those ripples and asking others to create more of the same. You can see it right? You see how relative and subject to the mob our marketing efforts have become.
In such a relevant and fickle world the best you can hope for is acceptance of single tiny changes on the margin. Attempting to change more than one small marginal brand attribute at a time is crazy. Morton can change the girl's hair not hair and shoes. Bake in the hair change and then go after the shoes. Brand architects who take wrecking balls to their company's history are criminal and don't understand how brands work. You can't change brands to a wrecking ball degree and still have them identifiable as a brand. Once the wrecking ball hits you've KILLED the brand and are really constructing a new one.
Visuals and Language Synced
If you change your tag you change the visual presentation of your brand. You may think NO we just changed the tag. Once a tag is associated with a brand ( a visual logo or mark) the words and image form a painting, a cohesive whole. You can't remove a piece of a painting without changing the painting. Brands are the same. You change any word associated with it and you've changed its visual presentation. Remember the Never 2 Things At Once rule. If you change your tag DO NOT touch the rest of the painting. Changing the tag is going to be disruptive and damaging enough. Give your patient time to recover before attacking the logo's color, font or other visual attributes.
No Testing For Memes
Any branding person who convenes a focus group to test brand changes is a fool. Memes are cultural ideas. You can't test cultural idea formation in a lab other than real life. Any security you perceive from testing is false. Ever heard of New Coke? New Coke was a disaster, but I bet it tested well. New Coke violated my, "only change things on the margin," rule and paid the price ( a huge PR disaster and being forced by Coke's many brand advocates to return to Coke classic). There is no panel you can create that can accurately forecast the weather of branding and meme formation so don't try. Re-branding is a jump out of the plane and hope there is a parachute leap of faith.
Even following Martin's Rebranding Guidelines you should expect PAIN and frustration. Key idea is to remember YOU are not in control. When you begin to change marginal brand values do so lightly and listen for acceptance or rejection. If you attempt re-branding without a strong social presence especially Facebook you are goofystupid.
Facebook because that is where you can HEAR the mob (if you are listening carefully). Change a marginal brand value and then listen for the ripples in your pond. If your changes are built on by the mob immediately capture and claim those changes to amplify them. One way to reduce PAIN associated with rebranding is to do what the mob tells you. Want to turn up the pain? Don't do what the mob tells you (lol).
Rebranding is disruption of the first order so proceed with caution and go slow and listen after each small step. Any "brand expert" who tells you not to worry is not to be trusted as they are about to swing a wrecking ball at your building. Brands MUST molt, so you have to "rebrand" to some extent, but doing so with no sense of proportion or permission is New Coke crazy. Don't be New Coke crazy, proceed carefully and with permission or not at all.
Time to start counting Morton Salt rain drops. Be sure to follow my Conversion Conference Live Blog assuming I can wake up tomorrow.