February 27, 2015

When you know it’s time to rebrand.

When you know it’s time to rebrand.

When brands start gasping for their final breaths, one has to wonder what went wrong. Here are some warning signs that it’s time to retire your brand and start a new one.

Age is definitely not a bad thing for brands; consumers prefer trusted brands that have withstood the test of time. However, the reason for the trust must be examined before the brand continues on with the same identity indefinitely. Do consumers appreciate your dedication to quality, family ownership, and sustainable practices? Or, do they remember you from a series of commercials from the 1980s with a talking orangutan? If it’s the latter, it’s time to finally put your quickly fossilizing brand to rest. Here are a few other ways to know if your brand has passed on.

When your dedicated founder/brand ambassador literally dies — or worse.

Yes, when a brand’s credibility hinges on an iconic founder who’s shuffled off to that big Entrepreneur’s Expo in the sky, it is definitely time to consider rebranding. Of course, in the case of death, this doesn’t mean that the founder/ambassador’s image has to be completely excised from the brand; it just has to be reimagined. You can retire your brand icon, rather than bury him completely

Take Colonel Sanders. The white-haired dude on the KFC logo was an actual person (Harland Sanders), who did commercials and everything. When the founder and icon passed away in the 1980s, the brand retained the Colonel’s image and original folksiness, though it stopped showing airing commercials with the man.

If your company founder was a treasured part of the industry landscape, you’ll want to continue to honor his/her memory in some way — through an icon or a product line name — just not by pretending it’s just business as usual, and your founder just isn’t as perky as he used to be.

Unfortunately, not all founders have the sense to exit in a wholesome and respectful manner. Sometimes they drag their reputations and the reputations of their organizations into the grave with them. If this is the case, rebranding might not be sufficient; you will have to perform a complete brand association exorcism.

When your brand represents something that is no longer culturally valid.

In the 1950s, gender politics weren’t quite the hot-button issue they are today. An advertisement in 1953 could legitimately have said (we’re not making this up) “This Chef Does Everything But Cook — That’s What Wives Are For!” Ha ha! Don’t women love it when you get them appliances for their birthdays? The real gift is the ability to better serve their men, after all.

It’s funny how so many of those advertisements were almost violently offensive, and yet still managed to be cloaked by a veneer of charm. As much as we might enjoy the nostalgic escapades of the “Mad Men” ethos, some brands have to be scrubbed clean of their sexist, racist, and overall offensive company postures if they want to flourish in the 21st century.

When your brand can no longer offer what consumers expect.

Occasionally, food ingredients go out of fashion. Sometimes we discover that certain fats pose a greater risk to cardiovascular health than we previously thought. Once in a while, Soylent Green is people. When this happens, a brand whose identity hinged on the popularity or purity of its materials discovers that those materials are no longer appreciated or even legal, then the brand must regroup. And don’t despair — sometimes products that were once roundly shunned come back to fashion in a big way — look at lard. And it only took 100 years.

Yes, your brand might have died a slow and agonizing death, but that doesn’t mean that the circle of life won’t move on! Also, in the marketing world, if not the actual world, there is such a thing as brand reincarnation. So, once you’ve identified the cause of your brand’s death, you can proceed with your Dr. Frankenstein-like procedures of harvesting the valuable portions of your old brand identity, and refashioning a newer and better one. It’s time to begin anew, even though your orangutan commercial will live on YouTube forever. Sorry — that can’t be helped.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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