Expired branding image

5 warning signs your brand is stale

Thought Leadership on Branding/Growth Strategies presented by Catalpha Advertising & Design.

The movie “13 going on 30” was on cable the other day. (I love the “Thriller” scene.) The competition between two magazines that results in one having to reinvent itself is the backdrop for the drama between Jena, Matt and Lucy. When the staff is told that corporate “… dropped the R word” Lucy exclaims what most at the conference table are thinking, “Richard, redesign is a death sentence.”

That statement is one possibility. Redesigning could be the final step to failure. But there are some people who feel rebranding is a necessity and a brand must continually evolve to remain relevant. I don’t agree with the simplicity of that statement because there are heroes out there that haven’t redesigned their logo in decades and remain successful. It is true that at some point in time every business owner will consider rebranding, some more frequently than others.

The fact is that a brand doesn’t fail overnight. It’s not a vegetable or dairy product with an expiration date. Brands need to stay fresh. This means staying relevant to your audience and the trends that influence their purchasing behaviors. Does that mean redesigning your logo? No. In many cases it isn’t necessary.

Recognizing there is a problem is the first step in correcting the problem. The sooner it is realized and acted upon the better it is for the financial health of the company and the brand. Rebranding for the wrong reason can be a “death sentence”. Keeping a finger on the business pulse is key to making the right decision.

Why you shouldn’t mess with your brand

When managed well a brand can become more valuable than the product or services you sell. Kleenex was first a product. Marketing made it a brand name that consumers adopted as a name for every paper tissue sold for wiping your nose.

Do you remember the debacle of Tropicana’s package redesign? The first image that comes to my mind when I think of Tropicana is the iconic orange stuck with a striped straw. Having a visual message as simple and strong as that is very unique. It’s what every company aims for in a brand icon yet is not possible for all. Researching the story I could not find any hard facts or consumer signals that should have driven this rebrand.

Here is the before and after.

rebranding examples

The revision was extensive including “reducing” the name and eliminating the iconic orange. Now consider the impact of that change. The new package was on the shelves for only 7 weeks before it was pulled because the sales dropped drastically. The cost to the company was $33 million in sales. Considering changing your visual and/or message is extremely serious when you realize the possible financial impact of those actions. (Read more about this story, “4 Reasons Redesign Goes Wrong” http://blog.catalpha.com/4-reasons-package-rebranding-goes-wrong)

Is it time to rebrand?

So rebranding can be a mistake. But, I want to be clear there are instances where it is necessary. It could have saved some of these brands that have disappeared: Circuit City, Kodak, Atari, and Radio Shack. Thinking about these names you can understand that it isn’t always the logo that needs to be revamped. Branding is bigger than the symbol. The demise of Radio Shack could not be stopped with updated graphics. Like Kodak and Circuit City, Radio Shack’s failure stems from symptoms that signal brand staleness.

rebranding example

There are 5 key indicators that clearly signal a change is needed. You should be monitoring these anyway because they are essential in creating your marketing plan and message. As the protector of your brand whether you own the company or were given the responsibility of managing it, these signals will also be first indicators of whether a serious reinvention is needed. Knowing what to do or not do will decide if your brand thrives or dies.


  1. Your brand is not growing though the market has grown… you should be feeling anxious.
  1. Marketing campaigns are failing. You aren’t seeing improvements in sales figures when you increase spend on the channels that have your demographic. Hmmm – is it the budget or your message doesn’t connect with the audience?
  1. Competitors are promoting a message that you never considered or you discounted as irrelevant.
  1. Wholesale buyers say your look is old.
  1. Your target market doesn’t know your brand exists.

The reasons for your business being stagnant while the market is growing could be attributed to your investment in marketing or your brand impression. It could also be a combination: not spending enough on marketing and the message is off. Or, your look is out dated.

Following basic marketing practices, you need to keep up with the trends in your market and the audience triggers. Your brand message needs to evolve as trends change. This may or may not include the changing graphic treatment, though graphic refresh is typically the first action many agencies will advise that you do. Don’t jump on that bandwagon without fully evaluating your circumstances. If you have funding to conduct consumer research you can get additional information that can help in deciding what to do. Even with limited funding or no funding you can ask for feedback every time you have customer interaction. Ask callers to participate in a survey at the end of the call or email a link to web form survey. Keep it short and simple. And don’t lead them to the answer you want to hear.

Your budget is adequate or higher than your competitors and you are still not maintaining or growing is a strong signal that your brand is stale. That is true if you are sure that you’re spending those marketing dollars in the right place. I work with a lot of small companies who can’t compete nationally but they are very successful in their local markets because they know how to reach their customers and trigger a response.

I also know many companies that refuse to change what they are doing because it has always worked for them for the past 10, 20 or more years. They won’t change their budget, won’t adapt digital marketing and adamantly insist “service” is the only thing that is needed to build their business. That philosophy catches up with them and the fix will include change of mindset, rebranding, revamping their marketing message and embracing the new marketing world.

Many companies use a tag line to connect their customers to their image and instill understanding of their product or service. Wendy’s classic line is still remembered today: “Where’s the beef?” Coke has used songs for an emotional connection with their loyal drinker. They aren’t just slogans and theme songs. They are a part of a brand foundation and create emotional bonds with your customer for a lasting impression. Each generation can recite slogans and talk about that brand. A slogan can be the refresh that is needed to revitalize and spark new life into a slowing brand without touching the graphic.

There is no doubt you have a brand problem if buyers from major channel stores tell you to rebrand or lose shelf space. They are driven by irrefutable facts: how fast products move off the shelves. They are doing you a favor as long as it isn’t specifically dictating how your brand must look. Your vision and market analysis should be the main influences of the redesign. Even your internal decisions must be cautiously weighted by the “target consumers” tastes because you need to appeal to their needs, triggers and trends not the brand owner. Designing for a 60+ year old demographic is different than targeting a 40 year old. There is never one narrow definition of a customer for any product or company and you must draft your brand to appeal to that larger audience definition.

The worst reasons to change your look:

  • Your competitors have updated their logo.
  • There is a new President, marketing director or new advertising agency.

Mimicking is flattering. Your competitors can provide great signals to improve your marketing but changing because they have is as bad as changing because you are bored with your look and message. Trying something new is exciting in your personal life but is not good practice for the health of a business. Making significant changes because someone new in your organization was given authority needs to be supported by valid facts that indicate a revising the logo and marketing direction is the only way to save the business.

Stay focused to your core audience by knowing

  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What is your USP (unique selling position)?
  • Who is your best customer?
  • What makes you unique (a competitor cannot replicate)?
  • What does your business stand for?
  • What sets you apart?

In summary, branding encompasses more than the icon that is in your website banner or on your packages. It is the image created by all the ways you touch consumers. Being aware of your competition and consumer trends is key to maintaining a branded impression and marketing message that build market share.

If you are considering rebranding do so because facts irrefutably show it is a necessity.

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