Rebranding Case Studies – Finding a fresh corporate identity

If your brand slips, then your premium goes and earnings tumble. Get rebranding right however and you can scale your ambition to dizzy heights.

In this article we explore some successful rebranding case studies and the processes and motivations behind them.

James Knight found that the face he was presenting to the world was no longer fitting. His idea of a virtual law firm, where lawyers operate in satellites from a slimmed-down, centralised office, was growing rapidly. However, the name, Lawyers Direct, was causing confusion.

‘It was becoming a weight around our neck. Our work is commercial, but we became associated with [Claims Direct, which specialises in] personal injury,’ explains Knight. ‘People assumed we were working on the basis of no win, no fee.’

Knight decided he had to bite the bullet and go for a fresh approach. First, he thought about the firm’s unusual position: ‘We wanted to show that we were different, while being as good as any conventional set-up.’

A shortlist of six names was drawn up and he chose Keystone. He liked it because it was a small but integral part of holding an arch together. ‘It is a strong, hard name, which is consistent with our place in the legal market,’ Knight says.

Not so long ago, there may have been an association with the bumbling silent comedies of the Keystone Cops, but times change. Knight continues: ‘The positives far outweigh any connotations with a black and white movie. We are as different as you can get.’

Knight has spent £45,000 on design and materials following the name change. ‘We place a heavy emphasis on presentations. At a glance, clients can see that we are serious. It’s neat and tidy. It makes a complete departure from the usual legal style,’ he comments.

See also: Can you re-brand your way out of trouble?

Finding a fresh corporate identity

The danger in reworking a brand lies in giving too much emphasis to the logo or strapline, says Wally Olins, chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants and the creative veteran behind brands such as Orange. Instead, you should treat your brand as encompassing the whole personality of your organisation.

‘It is partly about your product or service, but the brand also exists through your communications – and the way people talk about it. If you put all these together, that is what makes the brand,’ Olins counsels.

At Orange, instead of price and technology, Olins’ team focused on emotional perceptions of the mobile. He says: ‘It is connecting, personal and makes your life more optimistic. We did something that was completely different from what anyone else was doing. It worked because the client was incredibly brave.’

Certainly, a visionary streak is needed if an entirely new brand is to take hold. Ten years ago, Antony Buck was growing tired of fixing other people’s brands. As a brand consultant, he wanted to create one on his own terms with business partner Robert Calcraft. ‘We wanted to go beyond the brand having little to do with the product, which we find quite cynical,’ he remarks. ‘There is a lot of hiding stuff from consumers. Without starting a charity, we took the idealistic view that we wanted to launch a brand that was good.’

See also: Keys to creating an attractive brand to seduce your customers – One of the most important aspects of creating a successful business is making sure you build the right brand. We take a look at the steps you need to make your brand attractive to customers.

The trouble for Buck and Calcraft was that they had no idea where they were going to start. They looked at chocolate, restaurants and hairdressers but found the answer when Buck’s wife was expecting the couple’s first child. Her skincare products were starting to make her spotty. In trying to find something his wife could use, Buck asked himself why he could not find modern, effective skincare without chemicals. ‘It was one of those lucky moments. If we had been in the industry, we would have known the long, technical answers as to why we couldn’t do it,’ he says.

Drawing on an old piece of research, they named themselves Ren, which is Swedish for clean. Buck continues: ‘We remembered that although skincare brands are generally urban New York or posh French, loads of women talked about their ideal being Scandinavian and outdoors.’

Buck and Calcraft spent two years defining the brand clearly and then another four years making sure the product was as good as it could be. About a year ago, they reached a point where they thought the Ren range had been properly developed.

They are now thinking of themselves as a sales company and looking to push turnover up from £7 million. ‘We have taken our time and said “no” to a lot of people. You have to do it in the right order,’ Buck says.

The brand premium

Once a brand like Ren catches on, you can start to charge a premium. At the bottom end, says Stuart Whitwell of Intangible Business, a consultancy that values, develops and sells brands, you can charge three per cent more at retail, which translates into six per cent at wholesale or 12 per cent on leaving the factory. Below these figures, don’t bother, he says. You’re a commodity.

At the top end, you are looking at 15 per cent at retail, 30 per cent at wholesale and 60 per cent at the factory. Whitwell notes: ‘Great brands generate huge amounts of cash and cover up all sorts of problems that are inherent in the operation of a business.’

In cases like Laura Ashley and Marks & Spencer, which both lost a vast amount of value for shareholders, the brand was never damaged beyond repair. ‘The positioning was still there, but the product wasn’t being delivered in a way that people could access,’ says Whitwell.

The first step for an investor who wants to work out whether a brand still has some potential or whether it has been flogged to death is to map out the physical and emotional territory it occupies, says Ed Hebblethwaite, group planning director at Loewy, specialists in brand communications: ‘If you are going to re-energise a brand, then you have to go back to the point at which it was great. Everyone loses their way from time to time. How can you adapt to make yourself more relevant to the here and now? Is there another group of customers you can hit with the same product or message?’

For growing enterprises, rebranding can be particularly challenging. Initially, they might have had a clear point of difference, but, as Hebblethwaite notes: ‘The trouble comes when it is widely copied and eroded. What does the brand now stand for? It becomes less tangible. Any difference has to be built into the emotional perception of the brand.’

H&T Pawnbrokers is just completing the first phase of improving the clarity of its message and is taking the age-old business of forwarding cash against personal valuables onto the high street. So far, it has built a chain of 93 outlets.

To accelerate its growth into a national chain of 200 outlets, it has to find ways to retain its existing customers for longer and engage a new audience. ‘We don’t want anyone to be nervous about what they might encounter,’ says Steve Fenerty, H&T’s commercial director.

After talking to lapsed customers, it emerged that it wasn’t always clear what H&T was offering. As well as a range of financial products, it sells £10 million worth of jewellery each year. So it is redesigning its new stores to improve lines of sight and to simplify its message, allowing customers to see what is going on.

So far, the revamp appears to be paying off. Fenerty says: ‘It takes time to build the pawnbroking book. Once you are there, it’s solid and stable. If you can bring the breakeven forward, you can expand faster.’

After spending £35,000 on initial research and £15,000 on the design for the stores, Fenerty is now thinking about the second phase of cleaning up H&T’s look and changing its logo.

Explosive growth

The scope for turning round the fortunes of a sleepy brand is diminishing, argues John Robson, a brand strategy consultant at Sparkler, who has advised the BBC, Microsoft, Tesco and Nokia among others: ‘The natural evolution of brands is quickening. They don’t have the time to hang around and be average performers. They either succeed or they die. You see brands rocketing, like Gü or Green & Black’s, which weren’t there a few years ago. The world is being populated by brands with the possibility of creating explosive growth.’

One key is distribution, he thinks. You have to find unconventional routes to market and build partnerships. Robson says: ‘You have to set a new scale of ambition.’

Then think about the role of technology in how you deliver the brand to your audience, he adds: ‘The more specific your offer, the easier it is to break through in a world where broadcast media is hard to access.’

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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