As your business and the market changes, so should your brand. But should the design strategy be subtle or significant, evolutionary or revolutionary?
By Michel Nugawela
It’s not uncommon to find major homegrown brands in Sri Lanka either undernourished or underexploited but after a period of neglect, they need to be reexamined and refreshed from the ground up.
When brands need to change – and evolving styles, trends, technologies, business models and new product offers eventually push all brands to change –
design plays a key role if and when it is linked to a strategy that consolidates or increases share in existing markets, or advances the brand into new segments and categories. But when, how and to what extent are we talking about?
In any transition from as-is to should-be, there are two degrees of change for marketers to consider. In the first approach – what we refer to as an evolutionary strategy – brands keep pace with shifts in the market, but do so within a context that consumers clearly recognize. However, when a revolutionary strategy is required, every aspect of the brand is up for scrutiny and possible positional change.
When done right, giving new vitality to a brand – be it evolutionary or revolutionary – can successfully differentiate it, modernize it, signal a new direction to the market, or shift consumer perception in a positive way.
Evolutionary design, as the word implies, is made up of smaller incremental changes that do not fundamentally alter the character of a brand. These changes can range from functional to cosmetic, subtle to significant, but the overall message is one of continuity. In insets 1 and 2, I have shown two before-and-after examples of evolutionary design: while the degree of change varies (Mabroc’s shift is subtle while Aitken Spence’s is significant) there was no repositioning of either brand, based on a shift in business direction or a new product or service offering.
Over the years, Aitken Spence had seen its identity splinter, as disparate logos and names were used by different business sectors and individual companies – a frequent outgrowth of organically evolving businesses. The new Aitken Spence logo and master brand strategy is highly efficient: it maximizes awareness by focusing on a single brand image, enabling growth today and building elasticity that can drive expansion tomorrow.
Businesses that compete in different geographical markets also make widespread use of evolutionary design – the newly refreshed Mabroc logo bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor by retaining the shapes, symbols and colours that have driven consumer familiarity and recognition in the CIS and East European markets. Take that away and customers and consumers (who were also not conversant in English) would have had a hard time recognizing the brand and sales could have been impacted – perhaps drastically.
An evolutionary design response is also important to consider when consumers don’t make weighty decisions on low-involvement routine buys (soft drinks, biscuits, and tea, for example) and settle into habitual purchases. When consumers select a brand because it is familiar – what we more commonly refer to as a “comfort zone” – they are reassured that the product will deliver the same taste, flavour and experience that they have come to habitually rely upon. Here, radical repositionings (or revolutionary design responses with the brand suddenly appearing in a new and unrecognizable form) disrupt their habitual buying behaviour and reactivate the consumers’ purchase decision mechanism – a dangerous situation that can lead to reassessment and exploration of alternative competitor offers. In inset 3, I have demonstrated another example of an evolutionary design response – in this case, Elephant House’s carefully managed transition to its new contoured bottle – which successfully addressed consumer familiarity while concurrently evolving the brand to a more contemporary position. At focus group discussions, the migration achieved a 100 percent approval rating with consumers perceiving and personifying the old-to-new shift in evolutionary language that in itself is highly revealing – from “grandfather to grandson” and “mother to daughter”.
Revolutionary design requires more time and cost investment, and is usually the approach when companies are trying to reach new audiences or signal a change in their brand or business strategy. Revolutionary design overthrows the old order and introduces new ways of perceiving and engaging with brands – either through extensions aimed at radically new segments that advance the brand into new high-growth categories and markets, or through mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs or reorganizations. In such cases, it becomes necessary to shift and build new customer and consumer perceptions about brands – through new products, services, capabilities, and long-term growth prospects.
When Hayleys wanted to signal its new position to the market following the acquisition of Mabroc Teas and a reorganization to its portfolio (which included Kelani Valley Plantations and Talawakelle Tea Estates), global market research revealed the rapid growth of fruit & herbal and health & wellness teas in value sales, pointing the way to a master brand logo that broadened market perceptions of the Mabroc brand and its offering through the combined capabilities of its sister companies.
A second example, shown in inset 4, is the decision by Carson Cumberbatch’s oil palm business – Goodhope PLC – to diversify beyond its traditional focus on plantations to encompass the total product lifecycle from growing to refining, merchandising, and distributing palm oil. This once again required a revolutionary design approach through a positioning strategy that defined the value proposition of the business as it integrated vertically, as well as a new logo and global brand architecture strategy to communicate the link between the parent company and its new acquired businesses moving forward.
As I mentioned earlier, revolutionary design also becomes necessary as a company matures and needs to penetrate and appeal to new (and usually younger) consumer segments. Here, Elephant House’s corporate rebranding strategically repositioned the brand to support its investments in, and adaptations to, a product mix that was better geared to meet more current demands – especially in the higher-margin impulse segment targeted at younger consumers. Managing any brand revitalization means staying true to existing consumers (after all, intentionally alienating your core market isn’t exactly a shrewd business strategy) while also marketing to the more youthful demographic that fuels the future growth of the brand. Shown in inset 5, Elephant House’s master brand strategy strongly brought back the Elephant House name into the identity while relegating the old (but much revered) elephant icon to the role of the Ceylon Cold Stores parent endorser.
Finally, a revolutionary approach is also most typically associated with a catastrophic event or customer crisis for a brand – such as Golden Key – at which point even changing the name may be on the cards. Brands that fall into this category are unwise to stay the course with their tarnished names and identities: they will always run at sub-optimal performance with more customers staying away (out of sheer fear) than patronizing their services.
Which way to go, what degree of change?
When a brand is properly revitalized – through consumer and market research, as well as a strategy and positioning that builds a compelling point of difference which in turn justifies a price premium – an updated and strategically relevant logo or identity becomes a rallying point to customers and consumers. With an evolutionary approach, it can signal a fresher way of perceiving an existing brand or entirely new offering as the business evolves organically to own new ground, or, through a revolutionary approach, herald radical shifts based on newly-acquired capabilities and market dynamics.
(The writer is one of Sri Lanka’s leading brand consultants and can be contacted at: www.michelnugawela.com /lk.linkedin.com/in/ michelnugawela)