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Retail Rebranding: Iceberg Ahead

Friday, October 29th, 2010

This is part 1 of 10 in a series by Craig Carl, SVP Creative Director, The Integer Group Dallas

Imagine this: your agency or design firm develops your new brand identity from a “clean slate”. They ignore the fact that you have hundreds of locations that are anything but clean. The operations guy who keeps grumbling about the variables across 483 stores is perceived as a road bump on the way to a bright new brand. The CFO who warns of hidden costs is considered a troll attempting to tax your creative bridge to the future.

But rebranding moves your business forward. It’s a logical and necessary process that will reintroduce your brand to the customer. So the agency produces a 3D rendering of the flagship store decked out in the new color palette, all contained within the brand guidelines. The budget is allocated. The Board and senior executives sign on, a campaign is developed, signs are designed and, with appropriate fanfare, the decision to rebrand is announced to the public.

But like an iceberg, it’s what you don’t see that will sink you. Grandfathered-in signage variances, community and developer restrictions, existing structural considerations and the millions of dollars worth of stuff you are not throwing out can sink the new brand even before it’s launched.

For example, when the late Circuit City approved their rebranding plan in 2000, senior management fell in love with the new circular logo. This was after months of debate on the overuse of red and the reduction in size of the “Circuit” within the typographic lock-up. Focus groups were held, renderings were commissioned and estimates were generated. In final approval stages it was pointed out that their current logo was a horizontal rectangle; the new design would incur substantial unexpected costs to implement in over 600 stores. Additionally, the new logo was too small to cover the space previously occupied by the old signage. Disregarding this information took less than 30 minutes. The cost implications lasted for years.

Later that year, a huge, lighted, dimensional sign was finally bolted into place on the first store. With reluctance, senior management admitted that the new logo looked unimpressive on the store’s dark-red fireplug facade. In fact, the only thing making the sign work was the lighting, which unfortunately was a huge budgetary black hole. Further, the store’s unique, 45 degree angle facade necessitated two signs, rather than one. And adding insult to injury, on shared directory signs the new Circuit City logo came across as a red dot, lost in a sea of other store names.

In the end, the cost of rebranding a single store was much higher than expected and effectively slowed, for years, the national rollout of the chain’s new storefronts. When it comes to rebranding, even the eleven billion dollar company starts feeling the drain when every problem is multiplied by 600 locations.

Oversight of the rebranding process requires skill beyond creative or financial acumen and has more similarities to city planning than to traditional design. Like a city planner the brand leader must evaluate the impact each decision makes across time, employees, architectural restrictions and budget. To a city planner the boulevards may look beautiful, but design of the sewer system is of equal importance. The long-term impact of how every element interacts is the genius or downfall of every play.

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