Rebranding Mantra

Rebranding Mantra

When Hindustan Lever changed its name to Hindustan Unilever (HUL), it was just realigning with its parent’s rebranding strategies. The new name provides the optimum balance between maintaining the heritage of the company while absorbing the benefits of aligning with the globally recognised Unilever.  For UTI Bank, the rebranding story was a tad different. Making a clean break from its UTI heritage, Axis was the name chosen to represent its new global identity. The advertising campaign that followed used the concept of twins to symbolise a connect between old and new.  “There are many reasons for re-branding – an external event may have changed the position of the product in the market place, the company may have recently merged with another company or most commonly, the company simply needs a fresh change of clothes to stay in line with the competition,” says Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO of Brandcomm, a company that specialises in branding advisory services. Popular consumer brands are constantly evolving their marketing strategies in an attempt to endear customers through the attitude and personality of their brand. Be it HUL or Axis bank, the fact remains that rebranding as a marketing strategy has its advantages.

 “The company needs to substantiate it with reasons and what this change means to the consumer.”  Manish Sinha

Keep the heritage, lose the baggage

The most successful rebranding exercises have looked beyond the superficial. The concept goes farther than a change in colour schemes or switching brand ambassadors but has more to do with retaining  the core values. In simple terms, a brand has to be constantly updated so that it does not get outdated. At the same time, it is foolhardy to separate the brand from its heritage, in the name of modernisation.  Ashish Potdar, senior vice-president (marketing) at MarketGate Consulting feels: “The target group for whom a rebranding exercise is taken up may be internal ( employees/ stakeholder ) or  external ( customers / consumers / financial investors). Extensive research needs to be done by a company before zeroing in on the strategies to be employed for rebranding.” Before rebranding, a company has to assess how it is perceived vis-à-vis its peers and then decide on what to retain, discard and transform.

Just a tagline about the change is not enough. Potdar feels, “The company needs to substantiate it with reasons and what this change means to the consumer.”  Manish Sinha of the Futures Group, who was part of the team at Ogilvy and Mather(O&M) till very recently, reminisces how he nearly conducted 30 separate interviews with internal vertical heads and important stakeholders of Larsen and Toubro (L&T) before its rebranding exercise. “A company should align with its nomenclature and internal values before deciding the media spends on a rebranding exercise,” explains Sinha. L&T aspired to integrate its engineering strength with its entry into newer avenues like software and technology development. And O&M devised an innovative tagline ‘It’s all about Imagineering’ that conveyed an amalgam of what best the company stood for and what better it will do in the future.

Another company known for its brand heritage is Godrej—an engineering and consumer products brand, with an uninspiring font in its logo for more than a century. Rather than completely changing the image of the brand—and thus, alienating their loyal customer base built over time, Godrej decided to change its logo by incorporating vibrant colours of green, blue and ruby. “Iconic brands do not change easily as the logo is a deep symbol of the trust in the brand ,” opines Potdar. A decade ago , such a change would be viewed as sacrilegious considering the fears of dissociation with the age-old consumer base, which had embraced the brand. But, Godrej revamped its brand strategy based on the findings of its global brand valuation consultants, Interbrand. Their brand equity study revealed that while a large number of consumers thought of Godrej as a trusted and reliable brand, it was not perceived to be in sync with the young.  And demographically the Indian consumer is getting younger — by 2010, half of the country’s population will be below the age of 25. And if the Godrej brand were to touch the lives of nearly 400 million consumers everyday (more than 30 per cent of the population), it had to reach out to the youth.  Although the success of its rebranding cannot be quantified completely, Godrej on its part is aiming at a powerful link between brand investment and business results.

Win some, lose some

Success or failure of a rebranding exercise is surely hard to measure. However, in the case of State Bank of India (SBI) the evidence of its performance in the year 2009 suggests that the exercise yielded desired returns! Banking on change in its ownership and with a better focus on customer service, the bank introduced an advertising campaign that epitomised India while reaching out to the young consumer. And in the calendar year 2009, SBI topped the list of banks on performance and revenue generation. “SBI’s rebranding efforts worked because of its ability to communicate to the young  through words and deed,” says Sinha.

The case of Dabur is also similar. It was until recently perceived as senior citizen’s brand especially due to its Chyawanprash offering. The company woke up to its competitor, Himani’s aggressive attempts when the latter roped in youth icon Shah Rukh Khan as its brand ambassador. Dabur quickly spruced itself up with better packaging and slicker advertising to target the youth. The old banyan tree logo was replaced by a colourful, ‘younger’ tree with the tagline ‘celebrate life’. Dabur also roped in Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the youth ambassador for Dabur Chyawanprash to work along with its existing brand ambassador, Amitabh Bachchan. The commercials successfully drove the point that healthy living is not age centric but an ageless concept, something which companies like Baidyanath or Hamdard have failed to establish.

But sometimes even repeated attempts by some companies to rebrand fall flat. Videocon International is finding it hard to target the premium end of the market as it is perceived as a value product. “Superior technology cannot be country specific and consumers saw through their Indian MNC branding as superficial, one that accompanied no product change,”adds Sinha. He opines that Videocon needs to bring out a totally new brand to promote its premium-end product range. Something similar to what Parle did with its Saint Juice range.

Rebranding has to tell a powerful story – beyond just change in the look and feel of the logo.  It is rediscovering that single unifying principle that aligns the organisation with its customers.  While each company chooses its own modus operandi when it comes to rebranding, the end objective remains the same, bring in more customers and retain their loyalty.