If getting to market with a natural product is difficult, then rebranding your products is the next greatest challenge. No small feat, rebranding can either help or hurt your natural business. How do you ensure it does the former and not the latter?
For PROBAR—an independent natural foods maker of meal replacement, protein and snack bars—the answer boiled down to staying true to the company's mission.
When the brand launched in 2002 it was a pioneer in the whole-food, natural meal replacement bar category previously dominated by the likes of PowerBar. PROBAR was among the first to create convenient, healthy plant-based food products, as well as the first energy bar company to become Non-GMO Project Verified.
But for all its firsts, last year PROBAR realized it had a problem. Over its 11-year history, multiple product launches and one major rebrand, PROBAR's consumers all asked the same question when handed a product sample: "What is it?"
"The hallmark question of the entire rebrand was 'What is it?'" said PROBAR President Jules Lambert. "Having consumers ask the question over and over… you know you have a larger problem than just having a great product to purvey."
Last year, the company reallocated a large portion of its budget to rebrand three product lines, as well as launch a new protein bar line. After six months, the new simplified brand identity is hitting shelves in January with a consistent logo and colorful packaging to stand out on shelf.
Call it a proactive move: The company was up 70 percent in the Outdoor category and moved from No. 11 to No. 5 nationally in the bar category in natural foods in 2012.
Tips for a successful rebranding
Embarking on your own rebrand? Tread carefully. "The relaunch of a rebrand for an entire company is probably the single largest undertaking both financially as well as just maintaining the integrity of the entire brand," said Lambert, PROBAR's president.
Here are 12 tips and lessons learned:
1. Before you start, get clear
"Be very focused and clear on specifically what it is you want to accomplish," said Jeff Coleman, PROBAR CEO. "If you go to an architect and say 'Give me a plan for a house,' that process is going to be a lot longer than if you say 'Give me a three-bedroom with two baths in a ranch style.' No different in this design process." You may not know the color or end result of the design, but being specific will help you save time and money up front.
2. The rebrand must solve a problem
Rebranding is an opportunity to turn identity crises into sales opportunities. For example, PROBAR's Superfood Slam, Fruition and Halo products all featured different logo colors and different packaging. The company knew its product was great, and so did consumers, but shoppers had a hard time finding and identifying with the brand. The new packaging is cohesive and stands out on shelf.
3. Rebranding includes much more than packaging
While you may start with rebranding packaging, know that any design changes you make should carry over to the rest of your business. It's a substantial investment when you add up a new website design, business cards, media kit, banners, shelf talkers and more. "We're finding new stuff every day that needs to be changed, like our trade show booth and sponsorship tent," said Marketing Director Luke Sword.
If using a design agency, ask them to create a style sheet and brand guidelines so that other teams, such as website designers, can quickly match the new brand's design criteria.
4. Keep the rebrand true to your company mission
A rebrand that veers off-vision may repel your loyal customer base. "Know your mission, what your purpose is in the rebrand and be very diligent in maintaining it as it applies to your company mission," advised Lambert.
5. Involve your executive team and stakeholders
Ensure the right team is on board with the rebrand. For PROBAR, this involved the entire executive suite of five people plus two marketers.
6. Conduct impromptu focus groups by watching how people buy your product
When rebranding, consider how the new look will affect consumer behavior, said Sword. While researching in a store, Sword noticed a woman who stood for a minute in the nutrition bar aisle, then went straight to PROBAR and grabbed four flavors. When asked about her decision she said, "I buy those every week, but it's so hard to find them." Hence, PROBAR's new stand-out color scheme.
7. Ask consumers what they want from your brand on Facebook
Use your social media outlets to elicit consumer input on the flavors and packaging they'd like to see. Consider posting image prototypes of your new packaging to see which resonate with customers. "Part of the fun of having a business like this is interacting with consumers who become brand advocates," said Lambert.
8. Mitigate losses with strict inventory management
To keep costs down, "the best thing we found during the process that could be streamlined is managing your inventory to a T," said Sword. That means keeping a tight count on old packaging quantities so you can run out through the sales process prior to introducing new packaging.
The sell down process is just that: a process. Don't throw away old product just because the packaging on the shelf is one day older than the new packaging. Offer promotions to retailers to speed it along.
9. Pick a launch date and work backwards at least 6 to 12 months
A rebrand has many moving parts, including juggling speed to market while selling off old packaging. Smaller companies tend not to think all the way through the process, said Coleman. After design, you have to work with certifying agencies for approval, order the new packaging, and work with retailers and distributors to discontinue or move old product off the shelf.
10. Use sales data to determine what products to drop or introduce during the rebrand
PROBAR is a very data-driven company that relies on sales numbers to determine which product flavors to retire. At the same time, a rebrand is a good opportunity to launch a new product (in this case, PROBAR's protein bar CORE and BOLT, an organic superfruit energy chew) to reenergize your product mix.
11. Commit to quick feedback turnaround with design teams
PROBAR committed to giving immediate feedback to its design agency. This shortened the design process, saved money and allowed the company to complete its rebrand in six months.
12. Don't design in a vacuum
Sometimes, individual boxes and designs are gorgeous, but the context of shelf placement can change the look entirely. "We had a beautifully designed box and package before, but we never looked at what our boxes and products would look like on the shelf next to everybody else's products," said Coleman. Visit retailers, take photos of your products on the shelf and send to your designer or design agency.