It’s the No. 1 concern for every better-for-you company we talk to: How do we rebrand without alienating our current fans? This is an existential question — because growth always means adding new consumers to the fold, and in appealing to those new people you risk leaving your early adopters behind.
Marketers mistakenly worry that building an audience is a zero-sum game: for every new customer you lose an old one. But it’s possible to grow and retain. In a marketplace that’s moving at breakneck speed, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you know what you’re doing. If you do your job well as a marketer, you can’t possibly blow this. (Read on for strategies to manage a big brand change with your audience.)
Brand Changes that Consumers Care About
So what kinds of brand changes may be off-putting to your longtime fans? Let’s look at four big ones:
Identity — Particularly for “badge brands” whose logo has become a marker or status symbol for consumers, a change in graphic identity should be done with care. For positive examples, look no further than professional sports, where teams regularly update uniforms and tweak color palettes, and fans flock to team stores to buy the new versions.
Packaging — Any packaging design change other than an evolution, without any preview and explanation, make consumers wonder what else is changing (i.e., ingredients, cost, company ownership).
Formula — This is a big change, and it can be risky for brands that have anchored their positioning on a singular ingredient or flavor profile. Mission-driven brands will have an easier time altering the product itself, so long as the change upholds the larger reason for being. A compelling case study for shifting or expanding formulation is Krave Jerky, which made a logical stretch from meat-based protein snacks to include plant-based products.
Size — Even if your audience isn’t value-conscious, they’ll notice a downsize in packaging, especially if you’re the only player in your category making the change.
Avoid the arrogance of thinking, “Our consumers will figure it out; we don’t need to explain it to them.” The worst-case scenario if you pull major changes on your brand loyalists without communicating to them is that they’ll abandon you for an alternative. You may fear social media backlash, and in fact, some of your fans will call you out for changing a brand they love. That’s actually a golden opportunity, however, because you’ll hear the complaints and be able to respond and make your fans part of the solution. But without a dialog in which you acknowledge their concerns and educate them about why you’re making the change, you’ll lose them forever. The essential ingredient in any brand change is communication.
7 Considerations & Strategies for Brand Change
As you contemplate a brand change that you think may have repercussions with your loyalists, consider these points:
1) Your current consumer may not really be your real target audience. Marketing to your current consumer means you are always looking backward and inward. You probably think, mistakenly, that the customers who buy your product are just like the people leading the brand. Instead, you need research and analysis to identify future consumer needs, habits, and trends. For example, Essentia came to us with the notion that their target audience was primarily athletes and fitness buffs who needed to replenish water lost in workouts. But our research identified a whole new universe of people across all kinds of interests who wanted superior hydration to fuel their work and interests.
2) Change is easier when you’re leading. From a marketer’s perspective, the ideal opportunity to do something big is when you’ve had such consistent and tremendous success that you’re now faced with having to stay ahead. The worst time is when the brand is on life support and you know it.
3) Marketing cannot supplant change when change is necessary. You may fear you can’t do anything meaningfully different from other brands in your space, or do anything your original customers won’t like. That you have to stay in your lane and just work to out-market the competition. But you can’t out-market the competition — especially store brands — because they’re simply copying what you do at a cheaper price point and stealing your thunder.
4) It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate with your audience when you make a change. There are three platforms of the Brand Ecosystem to leverage: in-store (packaging in particular), social media, and your website.
5) Start communicating change with a bug or banner on your existing packaging. The best example of communicating change came from Chobani: They added a “new packaging coming soon” message to the inside of the lid, so it was unmissable to existing consumers.
6) Use social media to build anticipation and excitement before the change. Look at how your loyalists engage with you and tell them through that channel that change is coming. By the time it happens, no one will be surprised; in fact, if you bring them along they will embrace and advocate for the change.
7) Marketers commonly make the mistake of waiting to update the brand’s website until the change is already happening. Instead, make that your first communication platform to share the news, so that if the loyalist sees something about the change they can go to your website and understand why it’s happening.
When brand marketers and executives consider a pivot — a new mark, revised packaging, whatever it may be — they may fear a loss of share that never materializes. When fear overrides opportunity, you’ll swirl in a constant cycle of incremental tweaks instead of making great growth strides. Remember: Your original tribe will never entirely go away — as long as your brand stays true to its core values, the risk of losing your core consumer is small if they see that you’re upholding your brand promise.