GCI Article: Recharging Existing Brands

Recharging an existing brand comes with unique opportunities and challenges. We believe that turning the subjective creative process into an objective one, helps brands best achieve their goals. GCI beauty magazine asked us to codify our thoughts on Best Practices for Existing Brands in their July 2013 issue, “Recharging Brands”.  A recap of this article is below.

Change is necessary and inevitable in today’s fast-paced market. In addition to new competition entering the market, existing brands are constantly extending their overall product line and positioning, launching new products to keep up with retailer and consumer demands.

Repositioning an existing brand brings about unique challenges that new and emerging brands do not face. While new brands suffer from the challenge of defining and creating their unique voice on a blank canvas, existing brands never get a second chance to make that first impression. Brands already in existence must acknowledge their current brand perception as they balance the next steps, trying to capture a new audience while holding on to their existing one.

An existing brand also often faces the temptation to treat every problem equally. This mistake can result in the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

How do brands decide what they should use, and what they should lose? The answer is having a process designed to properly define all the objectives before anything new is created.

Today’s most innovative companies are seeking creatives to lead this process so that the resulting creative work gets to the heart of the matter at every level. MSLK’s approach is to begin with exercises to help unify the team’s key stakeholders from the outset.

Research and Discovery
This process begins by unearthing all the brand’s challenges and helping the internal team come to a collective agreement as to which issues are at the center, what issues are mere byproducts, and what are unrelated challenges. There are a variety of exercises we use to unify team perspective including: visual brand audits, stakeholder interviews, as well as brainstorming sessions focusing on idea convergence and hierarchy. The culmination of these exercises is an assessment of common themes. We like to invite teams to our studio to experience these themes tacked up on our walls. This immersive experience brings a new level of clarity, allowing you to stand back and assess.

Another major part of this unifying process comes from listening to customers — their perception provides crucial insights that emerging brands often lack. If ever there was a time to listen to unfiltered customer feedback, it would be now.

MSLK believes that qualitative market research early in the process can help unearth the attributes your customers associate with your brand in their own natural language. There is no sense trying to position your brand as “trendy” when the perception is you are “tried and true.”

Qualitative research can help brands realign themselves with their core strengths and weaknesses. Moving forward, it will be the design and marketing team’s challenge to play up the strengths and innovate in the areas of weakness. It may be possible to evolve and grow in both areas, but customers are usually most resistant to change in the areas they consider to be your strengths. Rarely would we suggest a radical repositioning around the areas that are currently working for a brand.

Creative Briefs
Once the team has come to an agreement and is aligned on the objectives, a succinct Creative Brief should be created to capture this data. We suggest that your design and marketing team work hand-in-hand to create this Brief in order to ensure that the objectives and implied solutions are targeted and actionable. There’s nothing worse than a Creative Brief too vague to ever be translated into compelling visual creative solutions.

If you would like to see multiple design directions explored, your Creative Brief should frame a rationale for each direction. MSLK refers to these as targeted design directions. These targeted directions will allow you to explore the overall feeling of the brand by dialing up different attributes. These attributes might be characteristics such as performance, environmentally friendly, hydrating, etc. They may also describe degrees of evolution from the current brand positioning—from minor to radical. As a rule of thumb, each direction should tackle no more than three attributes.

This targeted approach does not limit the creativity of the team. Rather, creativity thrives within well-defined parameters, so that the innovations produced are most meaningful to your brand.

The final Creative Brief should be reviewed and approved by all Stakeholders before starting any design.

Design Development
This is where dreams are fulfilled, or nightmares begin. However, armed with your Creative Brief, the design development process should be a structured and efficient one, avoiding endless rounds and costly revisions later.

As the decision makers review the designs, they should make sure that the directions answer the stated objectives. In this manner, the inherently subjective nature of reviewing creative solutions can become an objective one.

Let’s say that Concept A’s goal from the Creative Brief was to “focus on performance.” Regardless of whether or not you personally like the design, the solution can be judged on its ability to answer that objective. So often the process becomes bogged down with disagreements over highly personal aspects such as color and typography. Brands should trust their Creative Brief to depersonalize these discussions and provide insights on how details such as color and type might support larger marketing goals.

Assess and Reapply
For teams who rely heavily on customer perception, and have engaged in customer testing up front, now would be a great time to return to your customers with your new design concepts. Your existing brand should be tested alongside the best, new creative solutions, framed with your targeted goals such as, “Does Concept A convey performance to you?” or “Does Concept A convey performance more than our existing brand?”

If you did not engage your customer in feedback prior to design development, now is most certainly NOT the time to start! Good input equals good feedback. You simply cannot ask the customer afterwards if they “like” the directions presented, or if your design directions answer your targeted objectives. If the customer wasn’t involved in the framing of those objectives from the beginning, you may get confusing feedback, especially if the customer inherently disagrees with the stated objectives.

Research to unify key stakeholders and existing customers, combined with targeted creative exploration, allows a brand to evolve with the changing marketplace. Change is inevitable, and taking control of the process with goal-oriented planning helps to ensure a successful outcome.