Last December, we posted on our blog the discussion of brand harmony. For those who aren’t familiar, brand harmony is the idea of ensuring that all experiences consumers have with a brand blend to tell a complete and harmonious story. Brand harmony shows through different aspects of a brand from consistent names, logos, and visual identity, to messages. We have shown how matching brand perception with product perception can increase consumer satisfaction and brand equity, as well as discussed how we at HCD help our clients achieve brand harmony. To continue this important dialogue, in this blog we will discuss some branding mistakes that companies have made in the past, how those mistakes affected them, and what we can learn from them moving forward.
The story of Coke, New Coke, and Pepsi is probably the most classic branding tale failure in history. Coca-Cola is such an instantly iconic and recognizable brand with its signature red color. However, back in the late 90s, Coke almost destroyed their brand image by including New Coke (Smartt, The Newsletter Pro). It all stemmed from a challenge by Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s biggest rival, revealing that customers preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi over Coke. In response to this, Coca-Cola developed a new formula that beat Pepsi in flavor, named it New Coke, and completely got rid of the traditional Coke. Their customers were obviously upset with this move, and sales were extremely low. Everything, from the signature taste of the beverage to the shape of the can, was gone, and the new Coke just did not match with how customers perceived Coca-Cola. Eventually, Coke had to bring back their old formula and renamed it Coca-Cola Classic. This painful story from Coke should be a reminder for any brand when they try to make some drastic adjustments – keep what is signature to your brand and how your customers remember you. It is what creates a sense of trust and loyalty for the brand.
Similarly, Gap also failed in their logo redesign by straying too far from what made them different in the first place (Cook, 2017). In 2010, Gap wanted a radical design shift to transition the brand’s image of “classic, American design” to “modern, sexy, cool.” Unfortunately, customers did not take this change positively, and less than a week later, Gap had to go back to its original logo. One reason was because customers did not associate the new logo and its new image with the Gap that they knew and loved. More importantly, the new logo came in isolation, with no actual change to the products offered at Gap; the clothing offered was not modern, sexy, nor cool like they advertised. This discrepancy in brand products and brand message was enough for Gap customers to go against this shift. Again, the lesson here is to not let big and abrupt changes alienate your loyal customers. They know you and love you for your harmonious brand image and products – don’t let a new product or feature of your brand destroy an established perception that customers have with you.
Brand extension is a marketing strategy in which a brand markets a new product (often in a new product category) with a well-developed product from the same brand. It sounds like a great idea to increase sales, but it doesn’t always go well. In 1982, Colgate launched Kitchen Entrees, a line of frozen food products, trying to capture the growing market for ready-to-eat meals (Rosenbaum, 2017). Colgate is a well-known, top selling brand for toothpaste – that is what their customers know them for. Before this food extension, Colgate succeeded in selling dental rinse, an extension for dental care products, together with their famous toothpaste. However, the food extension idea just didn’t seem to make sense. Who would easily make the connection of frozen meals with toothpaste? The product obviously failed miserably. When you build and position your brand around dental care products, you cannot introduce a new food product line and expect your customers to fall in love with it. There is no connection between your brand image and this new product.
Another (funny) example where a product did not align with a brand image is when Disney released Hannah Montana-branded cherries in 2009 (Cook, 2017). Even the biggest fans of the show back then had to question this move by Disney. There was no connection between cherries and Hannah Montana or the Disney brand. When you attach your brand name to something, it is important that it reflects your brand’s values and image and creates a consistent image for your customers.
I want to end this blog on a high note by showing an example of how brand harmony can indeed create a positive experience for customers. In 2002, when Shira Goodman took over as Staples CMO, she decided to come up with a new position for the brand given the current approach of offering the widest ranges at the lowest prices was no longer working (Ritson, 2015). After months of research, in 2013, Staples moved the focus from price and range to easiness – they wanted to make buying office supplies easy. They created a new logo with “that was easy” under the logo and an Easy Button as their symbol. Additionally, they launched a series of ads in which Staples rescued customers from the complicated array of office products. Most importantly, Staples took an initiative to redesign their stores. They realized that all the most popular products were at the back of the store, which was standard for retail practice (remember when you run into a gas station to grab a quick drink while waiting for your tank to fill up, the refrigerators are always in the back of store – they do this to encourage you to grab a candy bar or a bag of chips as well). Staples understood that this was not easy for their customers and was completely opposite of how they were trying to reposition themselves. As a result, they decided to move all the best-selling products to the front of the store to make the Staples experience easier for customers, as promised. This was done at the cost of losing money from ancillary sales, but it helped Staples remain a market leader in office products even to this day.
None of the new logo or ads would have mattered if Staples stores were kept the same. Customers would quickly realize the disconnection between what was promised by the brand and what they experienced; thus, resulting in frustration for Staples customers and backfiring for the company. Brand harmony is a long process to achieve and maintain that may require some up-front costs to brands, but we would argue that it is always worth it in the end.
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Cook, K. (2017, March 20). 6 branding mistakes undermining your company’s image. Retrieved from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/branding-mistakes
Ritson, M. (2015, February 12). The best brands are disruptively consistent. Retrieved from https://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2015/02/the-best-brands-are-disruptively-consistent.html#.XSTNfOhKjct
Rosenbaum, A. (2017. February 17). What were they thinking #6? Colgate kitchen entrees. Retrieved from http://that401ksite.com/2017/02/17/what-were-they-thinking-6-colgate-kitchen-entrees/
Smartt, D. 3 embarrassing branding mistakes. Retrieved from https://www.thenewsletterpro.com/embarrassing-branding-mistakes/