Breathing new life into a brand is a complex exercise in which knowing what to change is as important as knowing what to leave alone. Mike Teasdale considers the strategic landscape.

In brand management (as in life) it’s easy to slip from knowing your shit to knowing you’re shit. When that happens, here are some top tips on injecting a new lease of life into an existing brand.

Be candid about your chances

Not every brand can or should be revitalized.

VMLY&R’s BrandAsset Valuator database shows that if your brand is well known and well regarded and seen as different then its chances of being revitalized are greater than those brands which do not enjoy all those qualities. That’s why brands like Old Spice, KFC, AT&T, Lego, Apple, Marvel, Volkswagen can be revitalized more easily than brands like Kodak, Nokia, Woolworths.

Even with all those qualities, the best option might be to not revitalize. If you’re managing a portfolio of brands it makes sense to focus your efforts on the higher growth and higher potential brands.

But if you can revitalize a brand and you want to, then be honest with yourself about the scale of the challenge. That means you need to do a bit of classic Planning. You need to understand where you are right now, why you are there, where you want to be, and how you intend to get there.

Specify your success metrics

Once you know what your key problem is, you can set about confronting it head on and that means you are on the way to knowing what your success metrics should be.

Back in the early 2000’s I worked on the merger of AT&T Wireless and Cingular in the USA. This was AT&T’s attempt to revitalize its rather tired wireless offering. The merger was a huge success and catapulted AT&T Wireless to #1. I had the good fortune to work with a client CMO who was ruthless about understanding how we would know whether the merger had been a success. Huge amounts of data crunching went on until we agreed three metrics that would tell us the answer. How we achieved them is the subject of an Effie Gold Award from 2006.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

Even the most knackered brand will have distinctive assets that can be salvaged and re-used. Anything sensory, audio or visual, can trigger brand name association and make it easier for consumers to identify your brand in advertising or in store. So, review all your assets and decide what can be evolved or re-purposed.

In 2015, the sparkling orange juice drink Orangina relaunched in the UK by returning to its historic visual and experiential equities – the orange-like glass bottle shape and texture, and 'shake to wake' ritual. These equities were reflected in all its new graphic design, including its PET and can formats.

Re-discover your truth

Remember that most brands are famous for one thing, and one thing only. So, forget all your PowerPoint strategy slides about pillars and messages and channels and audiences. Instead, focus on finding and exploiting a single-minded truth.

In doing so, you will discover the basis of your relevance. When BA began a revitalization program back in 2011, they went back to what was written on their planes, on their uniforms and on their caps… To Fly, To Serve. This was used to motivate first staff and then customers.

Focus on your consumers not your process

Consumer ‘needs’ are always more important than brand ‘wants’. And consumers only see your brand, so don’t get fixated on your process. Being good at managing internal audiences and getting approval is not as important as having core consumers excited.

Finding something your consumers care about and finding a role in delivering that in an authentic and credible way is the challenge. Think how Mountain Dew revitalized itself in the 1990’s with its focus on young male interest in extreme sports.

Invest for success

No matter how good your revitalization plan is, if you don’t support it then it won’t be a success.

And I don’t just mean marketing support. Make sure you attend to all the unglamorous aspects of brand management when doing your revitalization. Back office systems and customer service training will ensure the wheels do not fall off your shiny revitalized brand as soon as its revealed. And make sure all colleagues are on board with the newly revitalized brand.

Be your brand champion!

Analysis of winners of IPA Effectiveness Awards shows that one of the key requirements for a successful brand relaunch is for there to be a brand champion inside the company, someone who is prepared to challenge assumptions, argue for change, and have the courage to take risks.

This champion is often someone new to the brand, someone who can use the benefit of fresh eyes to see all the implicit assumptions being made and the ones that need to be overturned.

Are you that person for your brand? Can you be brave and kill your sacred cows?