07.08.13

Rebranders Beware! Avoid the Online Pitfalls of Social Bullying.

Upon the dawn of the internet era, it could be said that the already precarious nature of rebranding a company became an even trickier proposition. Though mass consumer culture has always been quite the fickle mistress, the proliferation of social commenting and online communities has only intensified matters for companies. On one hand, blogs and social media function as an invaluable tool for companies to extend their reach and gain relevant customer insight during times of change. On the other, overzealous commenters can immediately pounce and smother a promising rebranding campaign before it ever gets off the ground! 
 
Well, we don't have to peer too far into the past to glimpse a number of companies that have gone down a difficult route. Though many rebranding campaigns have unfortunately fallen victim to the slings and arrows cast out by harsh internet opinion sites, other entities have failed due to inconsistent brand positioning. To best illustrate a form of the latter methodology, you need look no further than multinational oil giant British Petroleum.
 
When BP shifted their logo from a classic-looking shield to an abstract green flower at the turn of the millennium, it was apparent they were attempting to capitalize on the environmentally conscious spirit of the times. Commercials and printed material began boasting the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” to reinforce the company's newfound greenness. BP spent countless millions of dollars in market research and advertising efforts, however, internet commenters and research scientists alike immediately claimed that these resources should have funded the study of renewable clean energy; not the warm and fuzzy ad campaign that didn’t provide any information about how BP was actually paying off this new-found promise.
 
When attempting to shift the public's perception of a company, it's probably best to not pull the wool over their collective eyes. It's imperative the exterior brand of any company reflect that of the interior brand. Essentially, if you're preaching a message to the masses which directly clashes with your corporate mission, initiatives and actions, you'll be sniffed out before you know it. Consumers are savvy and we should give them the credit they deserve! The heads over at BP learned this lesson the hard way after being labeled hypocrites.
 
In an unrelated instance, the Gap rebrand was recently victimized by an influx of outspoken web surfers not necessarily open to the prospect of change. When the popular clothing retailer attempted to update their logo, initial skepticism quickly turned to full-blown outrage. By updating their logotype and accompanying square, the shopping mall mainstay drew the ire of an entire online collective. One unsatisfied shopper went as far as creating a bogus twitter account which was written from the depressed perspective of the former (previously inanimate) Gap logo.
 
Whether or not the updated insignia was actually inferior is up for debate. What is certain, however, is the fact that the rebrand was never truly given an opportunity to flourish. Gap higher-ups quickly changed their logo back to the original, and hasty internet commenters were once again successful at flexing their digital muscles.
 
As previously stated, many blogs and social media platforms can act as an effective barometer regarding consumer feelings and temperament. Unfortunately many folks enjoy taking pot shots at various corporations for the mere sport of it; digital big game hunters, if you will. Even if these internet poachers never had any incipient interest in a prospective company, the weight of their outcry can be oftentimes overestimated. In this day and age, it's important that a business be able to recognize the negative static for what it actually is, and do what’s right for their true supporters and customers. Easier said than done, but effective branding agencies are constantly developing relevant and effective strategies to help stay ahead of the curve and gain proper intel.
 
American Airlines represents a company that actually listened to the customer feedback and complaints which stemmed from these various sites. Corporate heads realized that if they were ever to successfully emerge from bankruptcy, they'd have to make some serious changes. By refreshing their visual brand, the airline attempted to reintroduce their evolving company to both current and prospective customers. Matters did not progress so smoothly, however, as faithful and opinionated internet commenters went straight for the jugular. 
 
Complaining about both the new visual identity and the lack of fundamental change within the company, these critics began to call foul play. Citing their dirty planes, poor customer service and shabby staff conditions, the general public was instantly appalled at American for not first fixing what was broken on the inside. The airline stayed loyal to their strategy though, and knew the outraged customer base would eventually learn to live with the new modernized brand identity. As this was just the first and most visual step in redefining their overall brand image, consumers would be forced to simmer while the company focused on improving the other facets of business. Months later, most chatter has subsided. It’s now become clear that the rebrand might eventually succeed if the new American Airlines is able to truly live-up to their new brand promise.
 
Take note, this content hasn't been conceived of as a way to discourage the prospect of rebranding. Quite the contrary! If you're seriously considering a rebrand, utilize the greater web-based community as an ally, rather than an adversary. Slowly introduce your new brand in phases, and spend time educating the consumer along the way. Most importantly, dig in your heels and stay the course! Don't allow initial bullying efforts and gut reactions to dictate your next move. Instead, focus your energies on ensuring that all future decisions adhere to your entire brand strategy; both visually speaking, and content-wise. A successful shift in image can breathe new life into any stagnant company, and renew consumer interest in a product they may have grown bored with. It’s of great importance that any company align themselves with a branding agency that has their best interests in mind, and can execute upon a brand strategy that will yield a positive outcome.