When people think of managing a brand, they generally get excited about the dramatic and innovative steps of building a new one and knocking down an old one. It’s very much like building or knocking down a physical building. However, few focus on the numerous benefits of renovation, where an old building is modified or refurbished here and there.

Using the metaphor of a bricks-and-mortar building for a brand is useful in many ways. Both of them take a lot of time (years) to build. Equally, both of them can be knocked down in a remarkably short period of time (hours).

The same goes for personal reputation, as many politicians can tell you: a reputation takes years to build, but with one short mishap, it’s all over… and very quickly too. This can happen with brands as well.

When it comes to branding, a great question is: how does one best strengthen a brand? The principle objectives being that the brand has a long life, and will withstand the knocks and bumps that inevitably happen in the turbulent world of today.

In the case of the oils and fats industry, branding falls into three distinct categories:

  • The brand of the industry as a whole
  • The brand of specific companies
  • The brand of specific products, like those on supermarket shelves

The metaphor of a bricks-and-mortar building applies to all three, with a particular emphasis, up to now, being on products. This is partly because the branded product is tangible – you can see, touch it and, if you want to, smell it.

Additionally, companies focus on specific supermarket items because this is where the world of branding has mostly had its focus since the 1950s, when brands became an important part of people’s lives.

That era heralded people asking for Coca Cola rather than Pepsi, and wanting a Big Mac rather than any old hamburger. By stark contrast, a hundred years earlier, a sausage was just a sausage, and a cup of coffee was just that. Whatever branding existed back then was partly the reputation of the company, but mostly it was a personal reputation with the seller.

But the world of branding is catching up with the world of physical buildings. This wasn’t always the case. Buildings were the result of professions with years of training in skills areas such as engineering and architecture, while branding was done more or less on a whim.

Now there is more complexity in branding. There are more experts, and managers and workers are putting far more effort into it. Now, more than at any time in the past, the metaphor of brands being like buildings works well. But there is one big question: do you knock it down or do you renovate?

It’s not an easy question to answer. People generally get more excited about putting up a building, rather than renovating an old one. But the much less dramatic option of renovation is often better for a brand for these main reasons:

1. Cost

Launching a new brand will be expensive if it is to have a reasonable level of visibility. Brand modification – through a flanker brand introducing a bar of soap with a different scent or a detergent powder that is phosphate free – has a cost which is tiny by comparison.

2. Risk

Small changes to an existing brand are low risk. Often they don’t affect the main brand at all. A good example is that of ‘light’ beers. When the Miller brewing company introduced Miller Lite in 1973, sales of the original Miller mostly ticked along just fine.

It often happens that the original brand plus the flanker brand have a combined volume much higher than the original single brand. Within two years, Miller Lite was a hit and the company’s total sales grew from 12.8 million barrels to 24.2 million.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, as experienced with the Pepsi Blue flanker brand launched in 2002. By 2004 the brand was all but finished – oddly enough surviving in Indonesia but not in neighbouring Malaysia. After Pepsi Blue was withdrawn in America, Pepsi enjoyed double-digit growth.

That could well be an affirmation of the old maxim ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’, as news of the ups and downs of Pepsi Blue gave the company quite a lot of free advertising. So, even with a failed flanker, the downside risk can be zero.


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