Brand Transformation

Apr 01, 2008 9:30 PM  By

In some ways, brands are just like people. They get stuck. They have habits that are hard to break. They don’t always see their blind spots, and they lose touch with their core essence. They forget that customers matter. They resist change. They become irrelevant.

And there are no quick fixes in the brand repositioning process. But transformation is exhilarating and intense. It is not for the faint of heart, and requires courage, vision, risk, passion, stick-to-itiveness, collaboration and patience from the company’s leaders.

What follows are glimpses into conversations with brand leaders I’ve had the honor to work with. Each was at an important crossroad and chose to do the difficult, transforming work of change.

The work was a bit different with each company. Some required new brand aesthetics, while others sought closer ties to their original heritage and mission. Some needed to turn up the volume on their brands’ richness and depth. New products and creative were the order of the day for others. All needed clarity in their messaging. They needed to do less so they could make a bigger impact in their respective marketplaces.

OREGON CATHOLIC PRESS underwent a name change as a result of its branding work. Customers often called it OCP, so that became the new brand nomenclature. For more than 80 years, OCP has been a self-supporting, nonprofit music publisher targeting Catholic churches worldwide via a Website, catalogs, and trade shows. I spoke with publisher John Limb and Erin Nieves, director, customer services division, whose department led and executed the brand transformation.

What inspired the need for this process?

Nieves: In our strategic planning process, we started asking ourselves who and what are we called to be. We looked at our roots and how we want to assert ourselves as a Catholic music publisher. The branding work reaffirmed our core identity and helped us streamline our actions.

How long was the process?

Nieves: About two years — and it’s ongoing. These have not been easy conversations: We had a lot of sacred cows to slaughter.

What aspects of the brand were touched by this process?

Limb: The focus that the branding work gave us touched all areas of the company. It helped us say no to things that really were good but not necessarily core to our mission.

Nieves: Yes, we were not very good at that before. Now we are much more aware of what isn’t ours to do. And we have other departments bringing up branding in our meetings!

What was the hardest part of this process?

Limb: No doubt, it was convincing our employees that this work had value. We had a lot of pushback at first, employees feeling as though this was a bit of marketing smoke and mirrors. We had to get the employees to buy in to this as a deeper underlying process that affected the entire company. And, indeed, they bought in, but it took awhile. Erin and her team did an excellent job not only of internal communication, but of true teaching and mentoring throughout the organization.

Nieves: We conducted “open houses” where we unveiled our new creative strategy, including the new name, logo and tagline, and set up our convention booths inside our building so all the employees could gain a sense of “wow!” and get educated about the process. We gave all the employees — and our composers — fleece vests with the new logo so that they all could “put on” the new identity and feel ownership of the new look and feel.

The easiest?

Nieves: Well, it wasn’t easy, but it sure was fun to re-energize and reinvigorate our creative. The logo, tagline and name change became outward symbols of what was happening within the organization.

Limb: I was very happy with how quickly our external influencers like composers and authors bought in. They were thrilled with what we were doing and it seemed to re-energize them too.

The most surprising?

Nieves: We want our customers to fall in love with us — but internally our passion for the brand has been reignited as well. I was surprised by how the branding work really spoke to who we were.

Limb: I’ve been surprised by how much our competitors have taken notice. We definitely are distinguished as leaders and innovators in our industry.

The best?

Limb: We are laser clear on our core competencies and that clarity has a huge benefit way beyond this brand outcome. We gained consistency. Prior to this process, we had a lot of looks and slogans and catchphrases. We now get a lot more bang for our buck with clear and concise messaging. And, of course, the results: We’ve exceeded our plan.

Nieves: Yes, for the first time in five years we’ve increased our number of customers and our sales.

WOLFERMAN’S specializes in high end breakfast products, and is best known for gourmet English muffins. The company sells to consumers and businesses via the Web and a catalog. Laura Brady, general manager of Wolferman’s for the past four years, has been instrumental in re-energizing the brand, which was acquired by Harry & David in January. Brady recently celebrated double-digit sales and profit growth with her team. Here are her thoughts on brand re-energizing.

What inspired the need for rebranding?


Brady: Our merchandising was staid and sales and profitability reflected that. We needed a jumpstart and we needed to do a better job of meeting the needs of customers while finding ways to grow our house list. We could risk alienating our core customers, but we had to find a way to be more relevant in the marketplace and bring in new customers.

How long was the process?


Brady: We started this about three-and-a-half years ago. We’re always looking at ways to improve our position as breakfast experts. At one time we had meats, candies and nonfood gifts in our line. We actually had to do some brand narrowing and focus on simply breakfast with an emphasis on muffins.

What aspects of the brand were touched by this process?


Brady: We re-energized our merchandising based on better response to evolving marketplace trends. We needed to appeal to all the gift recipients and therefore had to broaden our design selections. It is clear based on sales that we have done a better job of meeting our customers’ needs in this regard.

With the new product, we also had to look at refreshing our creative layouts so the food and gifts would pop off the page. We wanted a more up-close look at our core product — muffins — while making the catalog overall easier to shop from for our customers. We then needed to synch this new strategy with our Website look and feel. At the same time, from a marketing perspective, we tested the new merchandise and other new offers to new lists.

What was the hardest part of this process?


Brady: It was hard to get everyone to embrace the changes. For example, we had a tried-and- true creative template that worked. It was a challenge — and a risk — to know how far to push the envelope to do something new and different.

The best?


Brady: It’s very rewarding to look now and see how each small step contributed to our top line double digit growth. It’s wonderful to see how the employees have been energized by taking something known and making it better. The improved results in sales and profits reinforces that we did the right thing for the customer.

SAINT MARY’S PRESS, a Catholic publisher of Bibles for teens, is both a b-to-b marketer to educators and a direct-to-consumer merchant targeting Catholic teens. It markets through a Website, direct mail and trade shows. John Vitek, president, describes rebranding the company a few years ago.

What inspired the need for rebranding?


Vitek: The belief that we had something important to offer a particular niche in the market, and the desire to help prospective customers find us quickly and easily and then develop an affinity for our products.

How long did it take?


Vitek: We set a five-year plan, but in truth it is a process that requires attentiveness every day for as long as you hope to be a leader in the field. Cultivating brand integrity and creativity is a never ending process.

What aspects of the brand were touched by this process?


Vitek: We started out thinking brand management was solely the work of marketing. We quickly understood that it is the ability to integrate every aspect of the organization and its people that makes up exceptional branding. Without staff who are enthusiastic ambassadors, the brand will not achieve greatness.

What was the hardest part of this process?


Vitek: Getting everyone to realize how important they are to the brand.

The easiest?


Vitek: There is nothing easy about building and managing a brand, but it is easy to get excited about coming to work each day for people who are in love with the brand.

The most surprising?


Vitek: I knew we were making progress internally with brand management when I overheard our account collections rep say, “It’s important that I’m calm, patient and understanding with our customers because to them I represent the company and what we stand for.”

The best?


Vitek: When brand management becomes fully integrated and empowered in the organization, creativity and possibility thinking become the norm. New product ideas or customer care strategies emerge from all areas — not just what has historically been thought of as the “product development” staff.


Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a branding and merchandising consultancy.