Super Bowl LIV, RIP Mr. Peanut: How to Pivot Your Brand Flawlessly

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Did you hear that Mr. Peanut died during Super Bowl LIV? Yes, Planters offed its 104-year-old monocled advertising logo and mascot and brought him back to life as much younger and cuter, modernized #BabyNut during the game.

AP photo

The rebrand is the latest in a series of companies that have attempted to pivot iconic brands while retaining recognition and existing customers. We have seen it work well, such as when Dunkin Donuts rebranded to just Dunkin, and also fail badly, such as Coca Cola’s introduction of New Coke in the 1980’s.

A great amount of risk is involved when a company decides to alter its image in any way. Even when a rebrand is an attempt to distance a brand from a crisis or bad press, brands must skillfully avoid potential loss of brand recognition or alienation from their existing audience.

Rebranding is a tremendous financial investment and a great amount of work, from the strategy itself through the tactical execution. So how do big brands pivot their image successfully? Let’s look at what smart marketers in businesses of all sizes can learn from powerful brands’ successes and failures:

1. Know how your customers FEEL about your brand

Contrary to what some marketers think, a rebrand is not a “one and done” process. 77% of customers make a buying decision based on brand name alone. Remember that customers have a connection and a relationship with your brand. Back in the 80’s Coca-Cola did all the research work to launch New Coke, conducting focus groups and testing with the majority of respondents saying they would be open to a new flavor. What Coke didn’t anticipate was the connection that mainstream Americans (and the entire world) had with the brand. They made the mistake of asking the wrong questions. They explored whether the public would be open to a new flavor, but did not dive deep into Coke-lovers’ emotional connections with the original brand. With the introduction of New Coke, consumers were not just a little upset, but passionately angry about the rapid disappearance of the hundred-year-old Classic Coke formula. Just 77 days later, Coca-Cola pulled New Coke and created rebrand disaster history.

In regard to Mr. Peanut, AB testing could be helpful. If Planters knew their number one customers were aging Baby Boomers and the market was beginning to shrink, they might pivot and test concepts geared towards a new generation. They would evaluate a younger audiences’ engagement metrics and perception of the current brand and test out the potential qualities of their new “Baby Nut” mascot. Would it be all right if their new mascot were young? Should they keep the monocle? What are their preferences about names, e.g. Baby Nut or Nut Baby?

Proactive brand managers will also look inward and review all of their existing intelligence, including content metrics, to guide their process and decisions. Honing in on insights, detailed granular data and engagement metrics such as time spent, content consumption rates, actions, multi-page sessions, personalized page views and personalized content, etc. can help form a view of what resonates with customers.

OneSpot Engagement map for a CPG customer

Takeaway: Don’t overlook research, planning and discovery. With the right customer intelligence, you can gain insights to make sure you understand the connection and feeling that customers have for your brand and make better forward-looking decisions.

2. Mindfully Roll-Out New Branding

Most people do not like change. In fact one study found that humans are hard-wired to resist it. Our brains see change as a potential threat and we immediately go into fight or flight mode. Brand managers need to tread lightly so as to not awaken these natural urges of discomfort (and potential outrage) when it comes to identity changes. The key to getting customers to accept something new without creating confusion is to do it mindfully. Remember the old adage that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. It is vital that your customers still know who you are and are able to identify your brand throughout the change period.

Case in point, in 2018, Dunkin Donuts needed to refresh its brand to reflect that coffee now accounted for 60% of its sales. The company wanted consumers to identify them as a not only a doughnut shop but also a beverage and on-the-go brand. The first thing they did was remove the coffee cup from the logo and drop the word ‘Donut’ while keeping the logo’s familiar bubble font and pink and orange PMS colors from the 1970s.

The business model stayed the same during the transition. Dunkin’ still offered donuts and coffee, but slowly introduced a more simplified menu and more coffee products. Management of customer perception and continued reassurance was key to their beating revenue goals following the change.

Not every brand has the luxury of playing a slow game. Sometimes a brand will opt to change everything overnight. If you must change your brand completely, continue to remind your customers through all your resources: email, website, social media, signage, phone greetings etc., who you are and why the new brand still reflects who you were.

Wise marketing teams will monitor the efficacy of the change in real-time, leveraging unique content to respond to customer perceptions. The smartest marketing leaders will invest in their technology stack, utilize tools powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize content delivery and effectiveness.

Takeaway: Keep some semblance of your old image to help your audience and customers more easily adjust to the change, while analyzing data to refine strategic focus.

3. Over-Communicate Consistently

In 2004, smaller wireless company Cingular acquired America’s largest wireless company, AT&T, later absorbing Cingular into the more well-known brand. When it happened, Cingular and AT&T customers were bombarded with communication about the change. The company spent $2.3 billion on bill inserts, promotional materials, ads on semi-trucks and buses, TV commercials and even a clever experiential marketing campaign where skydivers formed the new logo in the sky. From employee shirts to changes in signage, the announcement was hard to miss.

You don’t need to spend millions to communicate change. Learn from the big brands and start your communication plan internally with staff, then move beyond to internal stakeholders and finally, the public.

Once you have launched your new brand, the most important thing is to hold fast to defending and protecting your new image. Make sure you and all stakeholders promote the change wherever possible. People will want to use old logos, alter your color choices and use your previous brand’s name or image, but continuity is the key. Conduct an asset audit to create a punch list to make sure all collateral is updated and old content is retired when you roll out your new brand.

Takeaway: Communication is possible even on a smaller budget, just make sure that your changes are communicated consistently – and often – to increase recognition of the new brand across the board.

Rebranding is risky, time-consuming and expensive. With any brand image alteration, smart brand managers will pull content performance insights to prove ROI. Whether a visitor is engaging with your brand for the first time or the fifth, OneSpot’s Individualization Platform delivers the most relevant piece of content to 100% of your site visitors and email subscribers deepening your brand’s relationship with consumers Click here for a closer look at how individualization technology works to create one-to-one content experiences for customers.