Five Successful Rebrands and Why They Worked

The following is a guest post from Gretchen Murphy, a public relations professional interested in the intersection of technology and life sciences. Gretchen is a 2011 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University's PR master's program and can be found on Twitter at @gretchenclare.

Whether it’s a simple logo redesign or a full-scale messaging campaign, consumers can be resistant to change. As evidenced by the Gap’s logo redesign, which lasted just one week, or Dr. Pepper’s “It’s Not for Women” campaign, changes that don’t meet consumer expectations may result in backlash. However, when done well, rebranding can drive sales and customer loyalty. Take a look at how these five companies successfully revitalized their brands, using a combination of emotional and visual techniques that meet evolving consumer demand.

Walmart        

Founded in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 1962, Walmart is a leading global retailer known for its assortment of low-cost merchandise. Walmart’s tagline since the 1980s—“Always low prices. Always.”—reinforced its reputation for selling affordable products. Seeking to attract a wider audience without alienating its loyal customer base, Walmart underwent a comprehensive rebrand in 2007. Walmart changed its tagline to “Save money. Live better.” while simultaneously launching a new logo, branding guide and store design. The new tagline goes beyond “low prices,” by emphasizing the emotional benefits consumers can gain by shopping at Walmart. The updated visual elements, which use bright colors and simple icons, also underscore the brand’s support for delivering an improved shopping experience.

Rebranding tip: Consumer loyalty is about more than price; it’s important to connect with shoppers on an emotional level.

 

CVS Health

CVS made headlines in March 2014 when it became the first pharmacy to stop selling cigarettes. At that time, tobacco accounted for about $2 billion of the company’s annual sales, but CVS said selling these products conflicted with its mission. CVS used this opportunity to bring its four service brands (Pharmacy, MinuteClinic, Caremark and Specialty) under one umbrella, creating a unified brand dedicated to health and wellness. A blog post on the corporate website noted that the new name, CVS Health, “reflects our broader health care commitment and our expertise in driving the innovations needed to shape the future of health.” In addition, CVS Health’s new heart image serves as a powerful visual element that is well understood across geographies, generations and cultures. Backed by a unified brand and consistent "tobacco-free" messaging, CVS Health positioned itself for future growth and success.

Rebranding tip: Don’t underestimate the power of aligning your visual brand with the company’s core mission.

 

Burberry        

Burberry, best known for its iconic black, tan and red patterns, is a luxury fashion brand in the United Kingdom. Despite its legacy as a fashion-forward brand, Burberry experienced a sharp decline in sales in the early 2000s when it became associated with “Chav culture,” a stereotype for lower-class youth known for brash and destructive actions. To turn the brand around, the company settled on a strategy that celebrated both innovation and heritage:

  • Embrace innovation: Burberry leveraged new social media tools and high-profile celebrities like Kate Moss and Emma Watson to re-establish itself as an innovative brand.
  • Celebrate history: Despite using new platforms for engagement—such as live-streaming fashion shows—the content Burberry used was deeply tied to its heritage. For example, a redesigned web site now includes a detailed corporate timeline that seamlessly connects current trends to the company’s past.

Rebranding tip: Learn to leverage your brand’s heritage while using innovative tools to make it relevant to today’s market.

 

Coca-Cola

You’d recognize Coca-Cola’s classic soda bottles and white script anywhere. One of the most famous brands in the world, Coca-Cola has used a variety of ad campaigns, including ads featuring polar bears and Santa Claus, to associate the brand with happiness. Unfortunately, health-conscious consumers have driven a decline in sales, forcing the company to implement a new brand strategy. In 2015, Coca-Cola launched a “One Brand” initiative, giving its four sub-brands (Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life) a unified visual. Moving forward, every can and advertisement will include a “Red Disc,” making it easier for customers to choose a Coca-Cola product, regardless of whether or not it contains calories or caffeine. Check out this two-minute video on Coca-Cola’s brand evolution.

Rebranding tip: Incorporating a signature visual identity can drive a unique, unified brand presence.

 

McDonald’s   

Over the last few years, there has been a noticeable shift in consumer demand for healthy food. According to Nielsen’s Global Health and Wellness Report, consumers are willing to pay more for products that improve health and promote weight loss.

So what does this mean for the world’s largest fast-food hamburger chain? Facing sliding sales, McDonald’s implemented a new brand strategy to focus on nutritious offerings. In 2012, the company added healthier menu items, including salads and fruit, complemented by a commercial series highlighting the local farmers who produce McDonald’s ingredients, “Meet the Farmers.” While these initiatives led to increased market share and improved social reputation, McDonald’s continues to engage in branding activities. In 2014, the company announced an 18-month initiative aimed at improved customer service, additional menu changes and marketing efforts focused on online and social media.

Throughout its transition, McDonald’s has stayed true to its loyal customers by keeping staple menu items—like Big Macs, fries and Egg McMuffins—at the forefront.

Rebranding tip: Even the largest and most-established brands have to search for ways to stay current.