Rebranding or launching a new brand campaign can be a necessary undertaking in order to revitalize a company’s image and safeguard brand health. However, a rebrand is an extremely time- and cost-intensive process and companies stand to lose significantly if the brand launch fails. Examples of rebranding misfires are fairly common and every December marketing and advertising sites publish lists of the year’s most infamous flops. These failures not only cause credibility damage, but they can cost companies significantly as Gap experienced in 2010 when it lost nearly $100 million when its logo relaunch was met with customer backlash.
With so much at stake, why do some companies miss with branding campaigns and how can these mistakes be avoided? Most often brand failures are due to the new brand or messaging not aligning with customers’ perceptions of the company, as in Gap’s logo relaunch, or due to tone deaf or uncompelling messaging, as in Pepsi’s 2017 ad campaign that tackled police protests. However, companies can improve their odds of a successful rebrand by using pre-launch tests to evaluate how customers will likely perceive the rebrand and provide an important opportunity to adjust messaging before a public launch. Below are the top six most important pre-launch tests:
1. Attitude and Usage Survey
An attitude and usage (A&U) survey measures how audiences view an organization’s brand and products evaluating the link between customer opinions and their usage behaviors. This test is valuable to not only identify how customers relate to an organization’s brand, but also provides research to help organizations “understand [their] market” and identify growth opportunities to engage prospective customers.
Depending on the organization’s business objectives, an A&U can include evaluations of:
- Market sizing: How much of a presence the organization has in its market, how frequently its offerings are being used, etc.
- General category understanding: Who is using which offerings, when and where customers are using the product, and what dissatisfactions customers have with the offering
- Understanding brands: How customers perceive the established brand, which brand choices are driving sales, etc.
- Information for targeting: How customers segmented by attitude, behavior, etc. are being targeted and if the customized messaging is effectively driving performance
By evaluating these areas, organizations can gain a strong understanding of how their brand is performing. Using these insights, organizations can create a survey that is short and focused on the essential questions they wish to ask, sending the survey to a wide variety of consumers to understand how they interact with the brand.
2. Focus Groups
With in-person focus groups, organizations can glimpse key drivers behind customer perception of their brand. Gathering public input prior to a rebrand gives an organization a better sense of how customers will accept it, and can highlight problems or issues that the organization may have missed in its initial evaluation. One of the biggest focus group success stories is Twitter, originally marketed as a platform for sharing podcasts. Beaten to the podcast market by Apple, Twitter decided to rework itself into a social network, beginning by using a focus group to ask Facebook users what they disliked about the Facebook platform. Hearing that the number one complaint of Facebook users was that the news feed was too cluttered, Twitter entered the market positioned as a streamlined platform to more easily share articles, entertainment, and opinions, leading to great success with consumers.
Before assembling a focus group, organizations should ensure that they have a solid idea of their audience so as to choose the right participants. Starting with three groups of 8-10 people provides a good sample size to receive enough information while not getting overwhelmed. The focus group should be run by a moderator who fully understands the organization’s goals and can direct the conversation back to the matter at hand. Finally, organizations should sum up the experience into a report detailing the goal of the focus group, the methodology used to conduct the group, the results of the discussion, and any conclusions drawn.
3. Message Testing
Organizations can test the effectiveness of a new value proposition with message testing. Message testing before a launch helps ensure that the rebranded marketing is on target to effectively engage customers. An organization’s rebranded product can be high quality and in demand and still fail without initial message testing. One example is Coors, who in 1990 wanted to take advantage of the booming bottled water market with its new product, Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water. Made with the same quality water used in their beer and with a sleek design, the company expected a hit—and was met with disappointment when customers immediately assumed the water contained alcohol after seeing “Coors” on the packaging, leading to low sales.
Had Coors tested its messaging, specifically how it incorporated its namesake into its promotions, it could have anticipated the poor reception and adjusted its strategy. Organizations can now learn from this example to implement their own message testing before rollout by asking the following questions:
- Is there a customer need for this proposed product/rebrand? Effective marketing is based on genuine customer need, making it essential that messaging shows prospective customers how the product would fit into their lives.
- Is our messaging focused on the right things? Products may come with many features, making it vital to understand which ones are most valuable to customers and should be highlighted in marketing.
- Does our product name resonate with people? Identify how customers’ perception of the name affects how they view the product and whether it leads to any confusion.
- How will this messaging differentiate us from our competitors? While it is important to be distinguishable from competitors, it is also vital to ensure that the product is in line with the market standard and improves upon competitor strategies.
- Is the messaging consistent with our company? The biggest takeaway for Coors was that customers will associate its prevalent brand with alcohol. If an organization aims to expand into a new market, it must first determine how to best introduce it in a clear and purposeful way.
4. Package Testing
Packaging can be the first time that customers interact visually with a product, making it necessary to initially test the effectiveness of new package designs. Without a clear corporate strategy, new packaging can visually look appealing but fail to entice customers if it does not align with the rebrand’s mission. Packaging alone can notoriously lead to marketing failures, as in the case of Tropicana. In 2009, the company invested $35 million in an advertising campaign promoting its orange juice packaging update. Within a few days, customers across social networks began criticizing the design, leading to a 20% plummet in sales within two months. The company had underestimated customers’ emotional bond with the brand, making their move away from the original packaging a $50 million error.
Before designing the new packaging, organizations should conduct qualitative research specifically on the packaging itself. Focus groups provide a way to explore what consumers in the target market are looking for and expect and can clarify what they like and dislike about competitor packaging. Once these insights are compiled, the organization should conduct a second survey based on the proposed design, allowing consumers to handle mockups of the packaging in person and rate its various factors (appeal, uniqueness, etc.) on a scale.
Will rebranded messaging entice customers to take a decisive action? This is the question persuasion tests aim to answer. The first persuasion test conducted with customers should assess brand attitudes before viewing an advertisement, with a second test to evaluate how the advertisement changed their attitudes and intentions. Essentially, this tests how likely consumers are to “switch” to the product after being persuaded by an advertisement.
Persuasion can often be misinterpreted by marketers as manipulation—using consumers’ emotions against them or deceiving them with false information in order to drive a purchase. In the case of Volkswagen, customers were led to believe that their cars had lower emissions when in reality they were fitted with “defeat devices” that changed the performance of the emissions during testing to improve results. The engines emitted nitrogen oxide, ultimately polluting 40 times above what is allowed in the United States and breaking customer trust. To avoid manipulation tactics during persuasion tests, advertisements should show mutual benefit to both parties, ensure that consumers feel they have the right to choose whether or not to purchase, and do not promote a mindset that consumers should adopt.
Branding recall tests assess customers’ ability to remember key brand messages without prompting from advertisements. If consumers can easily recognize a brand out of a list of competitors, it is a solid indication that the organization’s marketing efforts have been effective in building a strong brand presence. Surveys can effectively test customer recall of a brand; for example, a soda company could anonymously ask respondents to name the soft drinks they are most familiar with, providing an open-response box for consumers to list their answers. With this information, the company can see if their products top the list or were even noted by respondents, providing insight into their brand’s awareness.
The key to promoting brand recall is to build a consistent tone and message through which advertisements are immediately recognizable. Coca-Cola has promoted a good-time, Americana tone in its advertising for years, making their advertisements immediately recognizable. With consistent messaging that hooks consumers, organizations can pave the way for easier brand recall long after their advertisements have been viewed.