Many catalog managers have an idea of what they want their brand to be, only to learn through trial and error that what they want it to be may not be what it is.
Likewise, in an effort to deliver something exciting to a catalog client, many creative agencies suggest remaking a brand to become more appealing to a different audience (e.g., younger, hipper, wealthier).
Certainly, there may be legitimate reasons to redo your brand, but understand that it’s a difficult and complex process requiring thought and expertise to execute. Making an abrupt change and unveiling a new creative or merchandising concept could devastate your sales.
If response is suffering on the acquisition side, carefully evaluate your current offerings, branding efforts or creative concepts. And if response from your housefile is suffering, or average order values are declining, you may need to refocus your brand, merchandise or creative efforts. But rather than do a wholesale re-branding effort, you simply may need to bring your catalog back to its roots.
However, if the problem is more severe, and you think it demands a total brand makeover—or even retirement of the brand all together—take a few steps back and study the situation. What are your current customers’ perceptions and expectations of your brand? Can you deliver them?
Customer Surveys Can Help
A good first step in answering that question is to survey your current customers and let them help you define your current key brand elements. Listening to what they think you are is more helpful than simply stating what you want to be. If you do find a disconnect, decide if you want to change your view on the brand or try to the change customers’ views.
When conducting customer surveys, try to get them to reveal their perceptions of your brand, of what you stand for in their minds. One effective way to do this is to give them words—say, 20 to 30—to choose from in a survey. Then ask them to select seven to nine words that most represent what your company is to them. Include words you hope they’ll choose, as well as words you hope they won’t. Use several words that mean something similar, as this could help you understand subtle nuances in the perceptions.
Also do this exercise with employees, managers and even your board of directors. Compare the results with those of your customers. You may find gaps that could help shed light on any disconnects between what you want your brand to be and what it actually is in people’s minds.
Use the Results
Once you know how your customers perceive your brand, you can evaluate how you’re executing creative and merchandising efforts. Look for ways to strengthen these elements in your product and your creative.
For example, if you discover that one of your key brand elements is trust, it may be beneficial to use testimonials throughout your catalog that emphasize ways in which customers have trusted your company and been rewarded for it. If one of the key elements is product trend, include a lot of new items in each mailing.
Accentuating your key elements will reinforce your brand to current customers and also may help make a stronger statement to new customers who relate well to your brand.
But what if the results of this survey demonstrate that your current customers don’t reflect where you want to take your brand? Discern if you should change your expectations of the brand. After all, changing customers’ perceptions is a difficult and costly chore. But if results are dismal, such a task may be necessary.
Keep the Old, Build the New
One way to achieve long-term change and ensure continued growth is to keep the old while building something new. Make enhancements to your old brand and milk the profits out of your existing housefile. This may help fund the new branding effort.
You also may find that using what you’ve learned about your old brand will breathe some life back into it, and even could improve your prospecting results in the short-term.
As mentioned above, building an entirely new brand or doing a wholesale remake is expensive and time-consuming. You have to develop ideas, test them, make changes and re-test. Following are some things to watch out for during a brand-makeover process:
• Stay focused: Don’t lose all focus on the old brand and minimize your efforts with it to the point that it declines even faster. Remember, you’re using the old venture to fund the new—if there aren’t profits from the old brand, there may not be a new one. Keep your top staff involved in the old effort and be sure all of management’s energy isn’t poured strictly into the new effort.
• Manage the overlap. If your new or remade brand is significantly different from your old one, be careful managing the overlap of customers, especially if your company name or other ties continue to link the brands to the same company. You could inadvertently turn off your old customers who encounter the new effort and decide the company has changed so dramatically that it isn’t for them anymore. Likewise, your new target audience could run into your old brand and have a tarnished view of the new one. When a total redo of the brand is necessary, create a new brand name, or at least create a sub-brand that’s clearly differentiated.
Your brand is an incredibly valuable asset—perhaps as valuable as your database. So manage it wisely, and take great care when making changes to it.
Phil Minix is the managing director of catalogs for Reiman Publications. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.