On re-branding

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Tiffany & Co doesn't need to worry about re-branding.
Why should you?
Photo copyright © 2005 olivier blanchard

Before I begin, here is a cool little primer on re-branding that you probably should read. (Just don't forget to come back.)

Okay, now that you've read it, here's the skinny: Re-branding isn't really something you want to mess with. Yes, there's money in it for creatives and consultants and marketing firms. Yes, it's becoming more and more popular these days. And yes, it's easy. (Don't let anyone tell you it isn't. Any hack can put together a new logo, redesign your company's image and put together a whole new marketing strategy for you inside of a week.) But... just because it's all of these things - and growing in popularity about as fast as our deficit - doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Likewise, if you're a marketing firm, just because a misguided company is willing to pay you handsomely to spearhead a project that won't help them much in the end doesn't mean that you should take it on.

(Or as the often wise Mr. Frank Roth would say, "just because the teet is full doesn't mean you have to drink from it.")

Ah so.

Anyway. Welcome to the latest little fad. The next big empty promise. The next billion-dollar bubble. Yep, re-branding is going to be big.

Give it another six to eight months, and you won't be able to throw a stone without hitting an ad agency or marketing firm that preaches the benefits of updating or tweaking your brand. They'll make a good argument for renewed relevance and a dozen other cool buzzwords that'll make a lot of sense to you, especially if you've been hit by hard times.

Re-branding... Well, you know... it's your money. Live and learn, as they say. If after all these years, you still think that spending the equivalent of a third-world country's GNP to change your logo and tagline will pull your sales out of the gutter, be my guest. Throw money at it. Pat yourselves on the back. You'll get a few miles out of the whole thing, I'm sure.

When the numbers finally come in though, don't be surprised if your ROI isn't exactly what you had hoped for.

Spending obscene amounts of cash to change only the appearance or message of your business without actually doing anything to improve the business itself is kind of like putting a new coat of paint on a car that, instead, is desperately in need of a tuneup.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Your brand is not your logo. It isn't your mark. It isn't your tagline. Your brand is a little bit more complex than that. Changing it takes more than a few well-chosen words and the better part of a graphic designer's morning. (But more on that in a bit.)

Before we go on with this discussion, I want to establish what a brand really is at its core Without a logo. Without a website. Without a tagline. Without ads. Case in point: Chez Fifine.

(Okay, go pour yourself a cup of tea/coffee, because this one's going to take a few minutes.)

years ago, there was a restaurant in St. Tropez called Chez Fifine. It was in the old quarter, about a five-minute walk from the waterfront, where all of the cool, fancy restaurants shared some of the most valuable business-friendly real-estate in europe. But if you didn't know it was there, you might walk right past its five or six tables and miss it altogether.

First: Fifine didn't have a cool logo above her door.

Second: Fifine never spent one cent... err, centime on any advertising.

Third: Fifine didn't have a website or email or a blog... or even an answering machine.

As I recall, she even refused to be listed in the famous Guide Michelin, which... is pretty-much unheard of in the restaurant world. (She would have gotten five stars, hands down, but she refused to be rated. She wanted her customers to decide whether they liked her food or not. They didn't need a food critic to tell them.)

The point is that all Fifine had was a sliver of a two-story building in a narrow street, literally in the shadow of dozens upon dozens of very hip, well-financed and easily accessible restaurants that attracted millions of dollars in revenue every week. Fifine's kitchen was smaller than most master bathrooms in modern American homes. She didn't have a dishwasher. She didn't have a big commercial oven. She didn't have a chef. Fifine just had herself, her kitchen, her old building, and a narrow stretch of sidewalk she managed to fit five or six tables on.

For over thirty-five years, Fifine never had an empty table.

She never once had an unhappy customer.

Ages before WOM became a buzzword, Fifine built her restaurant's legend on word-of-mouth alone. Wealthy vacationers from all over Europe made an annual pilgrimage to her table and forked over some serious coin for the privilege.

What was so special about Fifine? Everything. Nothing. It's one of those "you have to experience it for yourself" deals.

I guess you could start with the fact that her fish and vegetables were bought every morning at the local market. Except maybe for butter, nothing ever spent the night in her fridge. Ever. The vegetables came from local farms. The fish came from the bay of St. Tropez. When she first opened her kitchen to customers, her husband, who was a fisherman, took care of catching what she needed. When he died, his friends took over the job. Yep, Fifine had the freshest food in all the kingdom, and if you didn't know that going in, it soon became obvious when you took your first bite... which brings us to the second really special thing about Fifine's kitchen: In a country that prides itself on the quality and flavor of its dishes, surrounded by some of the best restaurants in all of France, Fifine's cooking knew no equal.

Take Maxim's. Take La Tour D'Argent. Strip away the pretentious dining rooms and snooty Maitres d'Hotel. Take away the prestigious namesakes. The world-famous addresses. The decades spent at the very top of every culinary guide's list of the world's top 10 dining palaces. Take it all away except for the quality of the food, and Fifine would give their seven-figure master chefs a run for their money.

But you see, Fifine didn't turn her dishes into elaborate productions. There was no caviar or foie gras on her appetizer menu. You wouldn't find any rare wines in her cellar. She made fish soup. She made steamed fish and vegetable dishes. She made garlic butter sauces. That's it. None of it sounds all that fantastic, does it?

Maybe not. But once you sat at her table, once she limped out to explain the menu in her thick Varois accent, once the sauce cooking on her stove reached out to you through her tiny kitchen's open window, you felt like you had found a home away from home.

I kid you not. French, American, German, Japanese, it didn't matter.

And once you took your first bite, that little old lady had you hooked for life. You would never forget her name. You would never forget the sound of her voice. The way she wore her scarf on her head. The way she smiled when she asked you how you liked your dinner and you gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up. You would never forget how absolutely amazing everything tasted. Most intriguing of all, even without an exact address, you would always be able to find your way back.

Chez Fifine was a temple of culinary perfection, of unquestionable authenticity... and of unapologetic simplicity.

If Fifine had a brand, she never knew it. And walking by her restaurant, you wouldn't know it either. No awning. No logo. No sign. Nothing to even indicate that there was a restaurant there, except for a few old tables and chairs. But man, did Fifine have a brand, in the purest sense of the term. Her brand lived in every little detail of your experience as one of her guests: The food. The street. The building itself. The stories she would share with you once the cooking was done. Fifine herself. It was a million little things.

A brand isn't a logo. A brand isn't a mark or a tagline. It isn't a color. It isn't a T-shirt.

A brand isn't what you say. It's what you do.

Your brand is your company's soul. It shapes the design of every single product you put out, of every single thing you do as a company, from the type of flooring in your main office to the way you answer the phone. Your brand flows outward from your core.

Remember the whole ripple and pond thing.

Your logo, your tagline, your advertising, your packaging, your press releases, your website, your POP displays, all of these things are extensions of that core.

The folks at Brains On fire prefer to use the term identity. More firms should do the same.

Brand. Identity. Essence. Soul. Promise. Raison d'Etre. Once you understand that all of these terms are interchangeable, you're already half-way there.

So. Re-branding, you say?

I think that what you really mean is regrouping.

Think about your core competencies.

Think about what you are truly passionate about.

Think about what led you to start a company to begin with. Why are you here? Why are you in business? These are the first questions you have to ask yourselves before going in for a facelift.

Making a change isn't about doing something cool and creative just for the sake of doing something cool and creative. It is about doing something relevant. It is about reconnecting with who you are as a company. As a brand. As a company of talented, passionate people. That means understanding what you stand for. What your value is to the world that your customers live in.

In French, we call it a "retour aux sources".

A return to your source.

For the change to work, it has to come from the inside. Superficial changes don't work on their own.

You don't fix a car with a new coat of paint.

A few years ago, Burger King changed its logo. Wanna guess how much it cost them to do it? Wanna take a stab at how many digits ended up at the bottom of the bill for the ad campaign that came with the new identity? In the end, did anyone care? Did Burger King gain market share? Have the BK execs learned anything from that little endeavor?

Greenville's own baseball team just suffered a lousy rebranding too. New logo. New name. New "identity". Bleh. Why?

No, really, why? Okay, I know: New ownership. New team. New stadium. I get that. But instead of tying the team's identity to the community, to its future fans, to the people who will eventually come to call it their own, why did whomever came up with the Greenville Drive's identity choose instead to cater to the area's growing economic ties to the automotive industry? (The official story is that there is no connection whatsoever. Yeah. Uhuh.) Why did the logo have to be so ugly? Greenville's history has a lot more to do with textiles than cars. The Greenville Weavers might have been a little bit cooler, but whatever.

This is what happens when you don't understand the connection between brand and identity and raison d'etre.

Any hack came put together a new logo for you. A new tagline. A new gimmick.

Any hack can cash your check.

On the other hand, not everyone can actually help you find your way again. The kind of insight and wisdom that it takes to do this - and to do it right - is kind of rare. Think Tom Peters. Think Tom Asacker. Think John Moore and Kathy Sierra. Check out my blogroll and you'll find a fairly decent who's who of people who fall into that exclusive little group of talented brand strategists.

The problem is that we can't help everyone. There aren't enough of us. Someday maybe, but not yet. And for every one of us, there are easily dozens of outfits ready to deliver the next subservient chicken and Greenville Drive to an unexpecting client.

So look... For your own sake, before you start forking-over good money to a marketing firm that promises to deliver what seems to be an attractive re-branding package or ad campaign, give one of us a call. Shoot a couple of us an email. It really doesn't matter who you pick as long as you get a second opinion. A third opinion, even. With the money you're about to spend, you really owe it to yourself.

You owe it to your customers too.

And you know what? It may very well be that your logo needs to be tweaked a little. The design of your stores may have to change. A new tagline might be in order. A new advertising campaign may indeed be right for you. Every company is different. Every situation calls for its own remedy. The possibilities are endless, but you have to do the real work first. The core work.

The creative interpretation of your brand's message is something that grows out of this process. If you're lucky enough to have serious talent on your team, that process might only last a few days. If you're less lucky...Well, I guess you'll end up with, um... a new logo.

Maybe a new tagline or something.

An advertising gimmick.

Woohoo! Money well spent.

Okay. So, seriously. If an old fisherman's wife and her ratty kitchen can give the best restaurants in the world a run for their money - and do it without a logo, without PR, without advertising - surely, given your resources and your budget, you can do a whole lot better than you've been doing. Don't you think?

So... tell me again... What exactly do you think re-branding will do for you?


2 Responses to “On re-branding”

  1. Anonymous Jonathan Dampier 

    Well said.

    The bottom line is your brand is what happens when a customer interacts with your cashiers, or clerks, or receptionists, etc.

    Companies do not put enough focus on their employees' role in the brand.

    But if you're employees don't live the brand, all the expensive branding advice won't get you very far.

  2. Blogger Olivier Blanchard 


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