How brands can stand the test of time

The ever-present popularity of products like Twinkies, Green Giant vegetables and M&M’s is more than a successful recipe, marketers and analysts say

In the book “Through the Looking Glass,” the Red Queen gives Alice advice.

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

It’s a passage that Burke Raine, chief marketing officer of Hostess Brands, uses to show his team the importance of keeping the brand relevant. They need to always run as fast as they can — even if they’re not trying to make any progress.

“Consumers notice when things are going stale — packaging, assortment, flavors, configurations, etc.,” he told Food Dive. “Everything around your brand is constantly changing and if you take your foot off the gas, it becomes very obvious to your consumer. With the speed at which new innovation is coming out now, as that accelerates, it allows consumers to know what brands are engaged and which aren’t much more quickly than ever before.”

Credit: Hostess

Of course, Hostess isn’t the only one in the race to stay relevant. While there are new brands appearing on store shelves all the time, there are old staples that continue selling well. Green Giant and Birdseye in vegetables. Campbell in soup. Oscar Meyer in hot dogs. But analysts say these companies don’t stay strong by resting on their laurels. They listen to customers, modify their products and innovate with packaging and marketing & offline shopping preferences and noteworthy demographic differences.

Not only do these efforts keep brands current and interesting to consumers, but they also help companies become good investment opportunities. Green Giant was a recent acquisition of B&G Foods, in large part because of the name recognition of its iconic brand.

Berta De Pablos-Barbier, who leads marketing for Mars Chocolate North America, noted the secret to staying relevant is having a great product and keeping the brand excitement alive.

“Ingredients, packaging and marketing can all bring new excitement  – but it is equally as important to consistently offer the product that consumers have come to love,” she told Food Dive in an email. “M&M’s just celebrated its 75th anniversary, and over the past 75 years, we’ve introduced new flavors, characters, colors and advertising. But what makes M&M’s so iconic is the fact that an M&M in 2017 tastes just as good as it did in 1941.”

How can an old brand continue to learn new tricks?

J.P. Faiella, CEO of Image Unlimited Communications, said rejuvenating a brand should start with knowing the reason it is being revived in the first place.

“Then, [it] moves to a timeline, strategy for roll out and a strong effort between marketing, design, PR and digital,” Faiella told Food Dive in an email. “We’ve been approached by a full gamut of clients. Those who are self-aware that they are due for a brand overhaul and then those that we need to bring it up to them, which is like calling someone’s baby ugly.

“But we are doing our clients a disservice if we don’t address the elephant in the room,” he said — the fact that a brand might be getting stale and losing some of the luster that made it attractive to consumers in the first place.

Manufacturers say they need to be mindful of evolving consumer habits and the pulse of cultural trends to keep brands current.

“Everything around your brand is constantly changing and if you take your foot off the gas, it becomes very obvious to your consumer. “

Burke Raine

Chief marketing officer, Hostess Brands

“If we meet the changing needs of consumers with choice and transparency as well as engage with exciting content in relevant conversation, sales will follow,” De Pablos-Barbier said. “We also ask ourselves, ‘Are people talking about our brands? What are they saying about our brands and how are we connecting with them?’ If you wait for sales to diagnose your brands’ health you’ve arrived too late – it’s about continuous monitoring of the brand foundations.”

That special something that makes a brand unique isn’t just limited to major manufacturers. After 40 years of being known for its tea-infused chocolates and jellies, Davidson’s Organics recently underwent a packaging redesign.

“In our case, we already had quality ingredients. Our redesign was more about reintroducing ourselves as one of the initial key players in the organic tea market, and what makes us different now that we have 40 years under our belt,” Kunall Patel, co-owner of Davidson’s Organics, and director of sales and strategy, told Food Dive. “We aimed to breathe life into our imaging and position ourselves as a quality, knowledgeable and socially and environmentally conscious tea company riding on a third-generation organic tea agricultural story.”

According to business 101, success comes from continued evaluation of the market. Above all else, the market will always show what needs to be updated and when action should be taken.

Keeping a legacy intact

Iconic brands have often seen decades of exceptional brand loyalty. This puts them in a unique position to continue reinventing, but still remain classic and authentic.

Consumers and retailers demand greater choice and variety across a range of formats, calorie counts and price points. However, they usually are unwilling to compromise on a classic taste.

Over the years, major brands who have made big shifts have often returned to their original versions when consumer backlash occurs. The textbook case of this was Coca-Cola’s new formula in the 1980s. “New Coke,” as it was called, spurred consumer outcry. Months later, the company went back to the traditional formulation, called “Coca-Cola Classic,” but continued to sell the new one as “Coke II.”

“If your brand is successful, make sure you don’t change it too much. …Capitalize on what makes your business great and stay true to who you are. “

Jen Gray,

Senior vice president of marketing and creative services, HelloWorld

Savvy brands have learned from Coke about how to make changes without offending customers. Nestle, for instance, has removed artificial colors and flavors from its chocolate candy brands. Kraft did the same with its iconic Mac & Cheese and General Mills’ Trix cereal was changed to feature ingredients like fruit and vegetable juices and spice extracts such as turmeric and paprika.

Under its new ownership, Hostess has started to experiment with making some adjustments to some of its snacks, such as utilizing more whole grains and reformulating for cleaner labels. The company has also made a big investment in upgrading the quality of its chocolate coating on a lot of its products, using a higher-quality oil that delivers a better taste. It’s also revamped some iconic brands with new products, such as Deep Fried Twinkies, Hostess Sweet Shop brownies and Suzy Qs.

“It comes down to what are the new relevant benefits that your consumers are seeking,” Raine said. “You need to show that you get who they are and that you can communicate with them effectively.”

The way to keep iconic brands current is through cultural integration, choice and transparency, and innovations that are true to the brand DNA, noted De Pablos-Barbier.

“Looking back at the last few years of innovation for M&M’s, we introduced both M&M’s Pretzel and M&M’s Crispy, both under 200 calories per serving,” she said. “We know that consumers love to try new treats and we will continue to innovate around seasons, flavors, lighter options to satisfy the most diverse consumer appetites.”  

For M&M’s 75th anniversary, the company leveraged five pillars to keep the iconic brand fresh and exciting: variation through innovation, choice, iconic characters, fan participation and culturally relevant campaigns.

“M&M’s are fun and colorful not only for the consumer, but for our Mars Chocolate innovation teams, who love to play with new colors and flavors across seasons and years,” De Pablos-Barbier said. “This spring, to keep up the momentum of our 75th anniversary, we’re introducing M&M’s Caramel.”

Marketing and packaging

Jen Gray, senior vice president of marketing and creative services for digital and social marketing agency HelloWorld, said the process and timing behind reinvigorating a brand depends on why it is being done. Is it because of sales declining, competitors popping up, to create relevancy in the market, or to be viewed as an innovator?

“If your brand is successful, make sure you don’t change it too much,”  she told Food Dive. “There’s such a nostalgia trend going on right now and so many new brands popping up in the market. Capitalize on what makes your business great and stay true to who you are. But, to be relevant, don’t be afraid to experiment and look for new channels and methods to get your brand story in the market.”

Packaging is an important component of reviving a brand. It can paint the image that positions a product in target audience members’ minds. And in order to successfully re-introduce a brand, solid marketing is needed to reach the right channels.

For Davidson’s redesign, the company focused on specifically updating graphics and imagery first, and then incorporated the Davidson’s legacy in the content and recognizable logo.

“We also updated background graphics and effects to add a bit more color and personality to each tea category. We maintained the recognizable cup and saucer logo, while also updating each cup and saucer to align with a simpler, more clean-cut image,” Patel said. “We learned that it’s important to keep things familiar, but to also keep them surprising.”

Patel noted that Davidson’s regularly evaluates the market, but based on his experience, packaging should change at least once every five years.

“In our case, we noticed a clear shift in package design trends, and we looked to our customers to help us determine what changes needed to be made,” he said. “Through surveys and focus groups, we were able to develop an understanding of what the Davidson’s brand lacked in terms of packaging and how we should go about making those necessary changes.”

Companies should be evaluating market packaging trends to understand what consumers want. Are they looking for a clean label in terms of content and graphics, or are they looking for information and facts superseding imagery? It’s important to strike the right balance. A packaging shift can be long and expensive, and if it doesn’t hit with consumers, it could spell disaster for a brand.

“No company would ever spend the time, man hours and the tremendous money it takes for a brand evolution or reboot unless they were seeing loss of market share or projected one,” Faiella said. “A healthy and self-aware brand evolves based on the needs, likes and dislikes of their consumers.”


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