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Best Practices for Recharging Existing Brands

By: Sheri L. Koetting
Posted: July 10, 2013, from the July 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Change is necessary and inevitable in today’s fast-paced market. In addition to new competition entering the market, existing beauty brands are constantly extending their overall product lines and positioning, launching new products to keep up with retailer and consumer demands.

Repositioning an existing brand brings about unique challenges that new and emerging brands do not face. While new brands suffer from the challenge of defining and creating their unique voice on a blank canvas, existing brands never get a second chance to make that first impression. Brands already in existence must acknowledge the established perception of the brand as they balance the next steps, trying to capture a new audience while holding on to their existing one.

In addition, an existing brand often faces the temptation to treat every problem equally. This mistake can result in the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” How do brands decide what they should use versus what they should lose? The answer is having a process designed to properly define all the objectives before anything new is created.

Today’s most innovative companies and brands are seeking creatives to lead this process so that the resulting creative work gets to the heart of the matter at every level. MSLK’s approach is to begin with exercises to help unify the team’s key stakeholders from the outset.

Research and Discovery

This process begins by unearthing all the brand’s challenges and helping the internal team come to a collective agreement as to which issues are at the center, what issues are byproducts and what are unrelated challenges. There are a variety of exercises MSLK uses to unify team perspective, including visual brand audits, stakeholder interviews, and brainstorming sessions focusing on idea convergence and hierarchy. The culmination of these exercises is an assessment of common themes. MSLK likes to invite teams to its studio to experience these themes tacked up on office walls. This immersive experience brings a new level of clarity, allowing you to stand back and assess.

Another major part of this unifying process comes from listening to customers—their perception provides crucial insights that emerging brands often lack. If ever there was a time to listen to unfiltered customer feedback, it would be now.

MSLK believes qualitative market research early in the process can help unearth the attributes your customers associate about your brand in their own natural language. For example, there is no sense trying to position your brand as “trendy” when the perception is that brand is “tried and true.”

Qualitative research can help beauty brands realign themselves with their core strengths and weaknesses. Moving forward, it will be the design and marketing team’s challenge to play up the strengths and innovate in the areas of weakness. It may be possible to evolve and grow in both areas, but customers are usually most resistant to change in the areas they consider to be your strengths. Rarely would we suggest a radical repositioning around the areas that are currently working for a brand.

Creative Briefs

Once the team has come to an agreement and is aligned on the objectives, a succinct creative brief should be created to capture this data. Your design and marketing team work hand-in-hand to create this brief in order to ensure that the objectives and implied solutions are targeted and actionable. There’s nothing worse than a creative brief too vague to ever be translated into compelling, visual, creative solutions.

If you would like to see multiple design directions explored, your brief should frame a rationale for each direction. MSLK refers to these as “targeted design directions.” These targeted directions will allow you to explore the overall feeling of the brand by dialing up different attributes. These attributes might be characteristics such as “performance,” “environmentally friendly,” “hydrating” and so on. They may also describe degrees of evolution from the current brand positioning, from minor to radical. As a rule of thumb, each direction should tackle no more than three attributes.

This targeted approach does not limit the creativity of the team. Rather, creativity thrives within well-defined parameters, so that the innovations produced are most meaningful to your brand.

The final creative brief should then be reviewed and approved by all of the stakeholders before moving forward and starting with any design.

Design Development

This is where dreams are fulfilled ... or nightmares begin. However, armed with your creative brief, the design development process should be a structured and efficient one, avoiding endless rounds and costly revisions later.

As the decision-makers review the designs, they should make sure the directions answer the stated objectives. In this manner, the inherently subjective nature of reviewing creative solutions can become an objective one.