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GiftCards.com Gets Grilled! – Rebranding Isn’t a Bandage

Since joining the company, Tribino has initiated rebranding of GiftCards.com and sister sites, MyCoupons.com and WRL.com. The effort required to develop new logos, websites, and positioning for a company is not small. Gift Card Girlfriend sits down with Tribino to better understand the pros and cons of making such a move.

GCG: The new GiftCards.com logo has been released and I’ve seen a sneak preview of the new website design, which I love. Was it an easy decision to change things up?

CT: Rebranding can be a tricky game. While it’s necessary to keep brands fresh, updated, and current, changing a brand name, logo, and or positioning can have significant consequences and needs to be thoroughly analyzed and implemented.

GCG: So how do you know when it’s time to rebrand?

CT: There can be numerous signals suggesting a rebranding effort. The reality is we live in an ever faster changing world. Technology, customer tastes, consumer behavior, the competitive environment, your own product/service offering, and other market factors change and it is important that your brand adjusts to the new realities. This doesn’t necessarily mean you always have to change your brand, but you need to carefully keep an eye on the market and your own corporate strategy to make sure your brand is always fresh, aspirational, current, and relevant to today’s consumers.

Carlos Quote

GCG: Then how do you know what to keep and what to toss away? For example, you could just change a logo or keep the logo but change the website. Is it all or nothing?

CT: Often the logo and/or slogan tend to be the earliest victims. But that can mean jumping the gun too soon. When I was running a branding firm in the early 2000’s, Disney Parks & Resorts hired us to consider a rebranding effort. Their first suggestion: “we think we may need a new logo.” You don’t toss any Walt Disney logo without a lot of thought. Our initial reaction was the logo carried a tremendous amount of equity and changing it needed extreme care and consideration to say the least.

After thorough analysis and research, we realized the logo was the least of their problems, in fact, it wasn’t a problem at all. There were corporate behavior issues that needed to be addressed, and were actually all addressed through internal rebranding. We didn’t change anything from a graphic point of view, but made numerous and significant changes from how the business unit needed to behave, and how that would impact the brand – and corporate – behavior and ultimately result in delivering an improved customer experience. A lot of it had to do with regaining that Disney “magic,” that they lost somewhere along the way.

So you can keep or toss a number of things, but what matters is identifying the real problem and not jumping to uneducated conclusions. A new logo could have done more damage than help in this case, while ignoring the real issue. A brand represents an experience, and it is important that the logo, slogan, messaging, product, service, and positioning are all consistent with that experience. In the case of Disney Parks & Resorts, the inconsistency was in the delivery, not in the logo. The delivery needed to be addressed with behavior. The company has regained its “magic” since and results are showing.

GCG: That makes sense. How does the company and the people you work with respond to rebranding? The team or person who created the current graphics, positioning, or behaviors may still be at the company. Are there sensitivities to manage?

CT: Yes, there certainly are sensitivities. A common mistake by some new marketing executives is that they want to make their mark. That can often mean a brand change. This is not wrong per se, but it need not be the answer. The important thing is to put the company’s interest upfront, above any egos or personal agendas. Likewise, if a brand redesign is needed, it is equally important to address it, even if it could hurt some egos. What’s crucial here is internal buy-in.

If you design or develop a brand that is not aligned with the corporate culture, or where the company wants to head, it will surely fail. The brand needs to be embraced by the organization so that the organization can deliver on the brand promise. Apple’s famous “Think different” slogan was both a positioning statement for its customers as it was an inspirational and aspirational goal for its employees. Apple succeeded in inspiring its staff to “think different” and everything they did was different, alternative, ambitious, and often contrary to conventional wisdom. And, most importantly, it resonated with the upcoming market reality.

GCG: What do you hope to achieve when rebranding? What’s the desired outcome?

CT: The objective of any rebranding should be driven by a need to adjust to a new reality. Brands should not be static, they should adapt to the environment. This can be internal or external. Back to Apple, it repositioned itself from a computer company into a digital entertainment company. This addressed two issues, what the market was looking for and what the company was doing to address those needs. The company changed its name from Apple Computers to Apple, because computers were no longer the end-game for them. They envisioned a future where consumers would like a digital hub to manage their music, photos, movies, spreadsheets, etc. This went well beyond computers and into iPods, iPhones, iPads, iPhoto, an iTunes store, an App Store, and eventually physical Apple Stores. The iconic logo didn’t change, though it went through updates, but the company’s strategy went in a whole new direction. And needless to say, it was a highly successful move.

GCG: So let’s talk about GiftCards.com. The company recently adjusted the logo from a plain brand name to a brand expression, displaying a smiling “G” in it. Why?

CT: This is not a simple graphic change. The gift card market is a massive $100 billion plus industry. And the concept is going nowhere any time soon. But the medium – i.e. the plastic – is likely to change. What is not going to change is the happiness in gifting. Gifting is almost exclusively reserved for happy occasions. A gift brings a smile, or two. To the giver and to the receiver. Regardless of the medium – plastic gift card, e-gift card, or a next generation gift card – the act of giving and receiving will always bring a smile. Anticipating our own innovation and where the market is heading, we want to make sure the brand stays relevant moving forward with a value that is true to the brand, true to the category, and likely to stay relevant for an extended period of time. The company founder and CEO sketched up the idea of this smiling “G” on a napkin one evening over pizzas with teammates. The icon communicates with simplicity and effectiveness what the company does: bring smiles to gift givers and receivers. The napkin is framed and hanging on the company lobby, which serves as a reminder to all employees of what our goal is: make people smile.

GCG: Does it mean the old brand was bad? Or do all brands have a shelf life?

CT: Good brands should not have a limited shelf life. But brand expressions do, even the most powerful ones like Coca Cola, Starbucks, Google, or IBM. This is not a bad thing. The world changes, and brands should stay relevant with the changing times. What’s important is that they stay true to their values. You don’t try to become something you’re not or can’t be. You either become relevant with what you are, or you reinvent yourself to become relevant if you can. Easier said than done, but not impossible.

GCG: Can you give some examples?

CT: Up to the 80’s, Guinness was a beer for the few Irish pub fans that would show marital loyalty to their brew. But rarely anyone outside that community was willing to even give a try to what was perceived as a dense, filling, and heavy dark alcoholic beverage. In the 90’s Guinness saw an opportunity to leverage the micro-brew trend that was popping out new artisanal brews from Boston to the Bay area. It took its “vices” and turned them into “virtues” that would resonate with the new reality. It stayed true to its product and brand, but made them relevant. Guinness promoted its richness, its foamy head, its pouring ritual, as the ultimate expressions of a hand-crafted beer. But the story didn’t end there. And many companies make the mistake of thinking a rebranding or repositioning effort ends in a new logo or ad campaign. Guinness invested in R&D to develop a nitrogen capsule that would deliver on the pouring, foamy head experience beyond the pub and into a can in consumers’ refrigerators. This opened doors to mass retail and within two years the brand went from $200 million to $600 million in US sales.

There are brands whose entire product offering may become obsolete with the times, and they have the toughest time readjusting. Take a brand like Playboy, once an aspirational and iconic symbol of jet-setting executives that would take pride in their three-Martini lunches, flirtatious air travel experiences, and man-centric behaviors. How outdated has that gotten so many decades ago? Not to mention politically incorrect. How do you run a magazine based on outdated cultural codes or sexist symbolisms that are not only irrelevant today, but worse yet, potentially offensive? You don’t. You reinvent yourself if you can. Playboy had played with Clubs and Casinos at some point. Even in today’s environment of political correctness, we see new super premium casinos popping up in Vegas like there’s no tomorrow. The brand would have been better served by dropping its magazine pinups and partnering with Hotel/Casino operators to leverage its brand in a growing, relevant, and lucrative business that fits its hedonistic brand values and is relevant to a segment of today’s consumers.

A good example of a successful reinvention, however old, is IBM. In a market saturated by intelligent business machine clones, IBM had one thing none of its competitors had – business credibility. Remember the comfort that you couldn’t go wrong going with IBM? It launched a division of technology-driven business solutions, true to its brand, relevant to business customers, and highly scalable, that would eventually become its core business.

You don’t need to look at the most current examples for inspiration. Brand repositioning and reinvention is an old discipline, even as few have mastered the art of successful execution to this date.

GCG: Carlos, that’s excellent and some great examples of adapting a brand to the changing times. You know I’m a fan of gift cards, so I look forward to seeing and being a part of the next generation of GiftCards.com. So one last question that I ask everybody I interview: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

CT: I’ve been lucky enough to receive many memorable gifts in my life. But if I have to pick one, it was a special T-shirt my then 4-year old daughter got me a couple of years ago. It wasn’t just a plain white T, it was a designed T-shirt, which showed some thought went into it. But what made it so special was that it was the first time my little daughter had actually told her mom she wanted to pick a birthday present for me and selected it herself.

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