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Brand Makeovers: 3 Lessons in Reinvention

Target, Apple and Jack in the Box reinvented their brands through damage control, brand differentiation and broadening appeal. Put their strategies to use for your business.

Brands are like beauty queens: Even the most illustrious need makeovers from time to time.

Big names overhaul their brands to boost sales by getting back in touch with their original identity, or forging a new and improved one. Not so long ago, Target competed directly with other discount big-box stores. Today, it has a distinct image, affluent customers and powerful market share. Apple was once pigeonholed as appealing to only artists and designers--now the consumers of iTunes, iPods and iBooks crisscross age, income and professional demographics. Following a fatal E. coli outbreak, fast-food chain Jack in the Box's sales slipped faster than a greasy hamburger wrapper down a garbage chute. Since the brand's makeover more than a decade ago, revenue has soared.

Brand makeovers needn't be only in response to dire circumstances. In fact, successful companies of all sizes should revamp their image periodically, says Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates and author of BrandDigital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed in the Digital World.

"You need a brand makeover when the marketplace tells you so directly: Sales are slowing and market share is shrinking," Adamson says. "But it's often too late to change things when they are really off. You have to catch it just at the tipping point when things are going great, but the increases are diminishing and momentum is giving out."

Entrepreneurs can learn from the big guys who successfully overcame such challenges.

Apple: Broaden Appeal
Apple may get credit for bringing the personal computer to the masses, but for many years, its high prices and hodgepodge of software and operating systems meant the brand was accessible to few outside the design world. A hip clientele, to be sure, but a limited one. Easy-to-use and affordable PCs, meanwhile, were accessible to the masses.

Apple's brand makeover resulted in broadening its potential market share, Adamson says. "Apple got back to its core DNA, which wasn't about a piece of technology or a piece of software. It was about ease and elegance of use. Ease of use became the lens through which they put everything."

In 1998, Apple introduced the iMac, an all-in-one computer packaged in a slick design unlike one the market had ever seen, garnering loads of press and sales of 800,000 units in five months. Three years later, Apple introduced the iPod, followed by its retail stores and iTunes. The blockbuster product solidified Apple's new easy-to-use mantra.

"iTunes was the hero product," Adamson says. "They took the simplest idea: 'Easily take music where I want,' and made it accessible. Look at the iPod--no one needs to read the instructions. It is totally intuitive."

This ease of use is translated to the packaging (open the box, the iBook is ready to go), shopping experience (no competing brands to confuse the shopper) and customer service ("Apple owns the problem," Adamson says. "The software people are not blaming the hardware people.").

Target: Differentiate
Just a few years ago Target competed directly with other discount big-box stores Wal-Mart and Kmart. All were low-cost--and low-style.

Target has been enormously successful at differentiating itself from its competitors by revamping its brand into one of high-quality, fashion-forward products, while maintaining its low prices, according to Alina Wheeler, marketing consultant and author of Designing Brand Identity.

"Ten years ago people thought design had to cost a lot and lived only in Europe," Wheeler says. "Target used the democratization of style to differentiate its brand. Every touch point in the shopper's experience reflects that difference."

Today, Target features products by celebrity designers such as Michael Graves, Liz Lang and Isaac Mizrahi. The brand's high style doesn't stop at clothes and housewares. The wide aisles, clean displays, cherry-red signature color throughout the stores and marketing materials speak to the brand's design consciousness. The food courts are home to another fashion-forward brand, Starbucks, and the cosmetics department is anchored by a house brand by celebrity makeup artist Sonia Kashuk--solidifying the brand's department store feel.

Jack in the Box: Damage Control
Six months after food poisoning killed four Jack in the Box diners and sickened hundreds, sales were down 40 percent. Two years later, a makeover saved the company, whose revenue has tripled since 1995.

Patrick Adams, managing director at Secret Weapon Marketing, the Santa Monica, Calif., firm that created the advertising campaign credited with much of the makeover's success, says the comeback strategy was threefold: fess up, fix the problem, come back with a new image.

"They went way beyond the rules in place to prove they were serious about fixing the problem," Adams says.

Immediately after the outbreak, Jack in the Box held press conferences and was responsive to reporters' questions about investigations into the contaminated food. Then, the company implemented a complex food safety program designed by NASA--an effort that helped earn the chain a health safety award from the state of California.

Jack in the Box began to thrive once Secret Weapon Marketing came in 18 months after the catastrophe and suggested advertising efforts be geared toward the largest target consumer group: young men, who make up the bulk of fast-food sales. The resulting, irreverent ads featuring a cheeky, "slightly pissed off" clown "broke all conventions of fast-food advertising," Adams says. The target demographic loved them.

Emma Johnson writes the MSN Money multimedia series "Launch your Life" which explores personal finance topics for people in their 20s and 30s.

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