The Pros and Cons of Rebranding

As the process becomes more complicated, companies find out firsthand the consequences of tinkering with recognized logos.

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Thinking of changing your brand image? You’re not alone.


In the past year, dozens of consumer labels across the marketplace have introduced new looks for their corporate identities. Some have been well received — such as JCPenney and Starbucks — while others have not, most notably Gap, which quickly scrapped its revamped logo in response to widespread public criticism.


The process is dangerous ground, especially because branding isn’t as simple as it used to be.


“Consumers are much more involved in social media now, so brands don’t have the same control [over their image],” said Ray Graj, founding partner of Graj & Gustavsen, a brand strategy consulting firm that has worked with Brooks Brothers, Harley Davidson, Jones New York and others. “Consumers own the brand now; executives have become stewards.”


In the best cases, rebranding is the culmination of a long repositioning process that ends with the most visible aspects of the corporate identity: colors, fonts and, most importantly, the logo.


And if done well, the opportunities can be numerous and lucrative. After unveiling a modernized and fashion-centric image last fall, department store Belk Inc. registered a 7.1 percent rise in sales in the fourth quarter, aided also by an improved economy and strong fashion trends.


“When the sales go up, that tells you everything you need to know,” said Jon Pollack, EVP of sales promotion, marketing and e-commerce for Belk, noting that the initial response from customers was largely favorable. “It was 80 percent positive. Folks were intrigued by it. And in the economy we’re in, people were happy to see that a company like ours is investing in our future.”


The economy has been the impetus for many of the recent repositioning efforts. During the recession, executives hunkered down with their business strategies and spent time streamlining and searching out new opportunities. For many footwear retailers and vendors, that resulted in category expansions, product additions, international development and other internal changes.


For instance, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Koolaburra, best known for shearling boots, introduced a warm-weather shoe collection for spring ’10 and added more leather footwear styles last fall. “In 2011, we’re expanding internationally, so we felt it was a good time to rebrand with a new logo and to bring it into modern times,” said marketing director Kenneth Loo, adding that executives aimed to present a unified image on a global scale.


“It’s about modernization and inclusiveness,” he said. “We want to open the door to new customers, and the way you do that is by creating icons and recognizable images. Marketing is about connections. It’s about emotional touch points that people connect to that make them feel something about the brand. The visual representation of the brand comes from that logo.”


Koolaburra unveiled its updated look at the end of last year, and Loo said the response was almost immediate. “[It] really brought people running to the brand, from distributors internationally to new stores, and even the press,” he said.

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