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A Brand-New Look

Rebranding and repackaging go far in catching a customer’s eye.
By Patricia Morris Buckley 

By contemporizing packaging, a producer can gain higer visibility for its product on increasingly crowded shelves. (Illustration courtesy of Tom Kimball)
No one wants to end up as the New Coke of the pet product industry. Yet every so often, an existing product needs to be rebranded or repackaged just to maintain a competitive edge. The secret is to breathe new life into a product’s image without causing an already-established loyal customer base to erode.

Rebranding can be as simple as a new label or logo, or as complex as an entirely new product that requires a different advertising theme and marketing strategy. By contemporizing packaging, a producer can gain higher visibility for its product on increasingly crowded shelves as well as encourage consumers to take a fresh look. Packaging is the first thing the consumer sees and touches, so it alone communicates the product’s message, making the crucial difference between just picking up a box and taking it to the cash register for purchase.

Brad Crawford, owner of Sunlight Feed and Pet Superstore in Bloomsburg, Pa., has seen the same story unfold time and time again—a package design that’s just not selling the product.

“I remember one company that had a box that looked cheap,” he said. “Then they changed it a bit, and it definitely affected sales. I’d say that 90 percent of the time, the consumer goes for the more appealing package. Packaging really is the key to appealing to the customer.”

When that packaging isn’t working or sales start to plateau, it’s time to take a brand inventory and consider changes. That’s what Christina Bush, owner of Christina Said LLP in Carlsbad, Calif., decided when sales of one product didn’t keep up with the company’s other lines.

“That’s when it’s best to scrap what’s not working for you, rethink it and get it back on the shelf,” she said. “If it’s just the simple matter of repackaging, it’s worth the money.”

Here’s a look at four different pet product companies that made varying degrees of rebranding or repackaging choices.

Small Changes
Bush knew she had a brand image problem when sales of her Christina Said. K9 Spritzer were far below her other products. As a graphic designer, she took a hard look at the packaging and saw the problem.

Manufacturers continue to improve products and packaging. Wavemaker LLC took its original floor infrared warmer and now has a version that can mount on a wall or in a kennel.
“It was the only label without an image of a dog and some fruit,” she said, noting that the fruit implies the smell of the product. “People have always loved the smell of the product, but I needed them to pick it up before they could smell it.”

By placing an image of a dog and different types of fruit on the label, she was able to create consistency in the labeling that allowed customers to instantly make the connection with the overall brand. Although she had to invest in expensive dyes for her more upscale labels, she immediately saw an upswing in sales of the spritzer. 

“It was costly, but really worth it,” she said.

Medium Changes
UPG Companion Animal found it had a similar problem with its grooming products, which were segmented from the rest of its brand.

Deirdre Wahlberg, director of marketing for the Long Island, N.Y., company, decided to bring the grooming line under the same umbrella to clarify its position within the overall brand.

“It was basically taking a brand and expanding it to pull in other products,” she said. “This way, it ties products together and makes a cohesive product line that customers trust. To do so, we had to create a brand story. This also allowed us to have an architecture in the brand to follow, so when there’s a new product, we know where it needs to be placed.”

The repackaging initiative paid off for United Pet Group.

“In our first year of shipping the new branding, we’ve seen a significant lift in awareness and an increase in performance at retail,” she said.

Larger Changes

What Retailers Want From Manufacturers

A repackaged or rebranded product is usually a challenge for pet retailers. Here are a few suggestions to make it easier for them:

Advance Notice: John Schubert, co-owner of Mom and Pup’s in Marietta, Ga., said he rarely gets any warning that an established product will look different.

“It immediately makes the old inventory look old,” he said. “People see the difference and they want the newer one.”

Support: When Tropiclean introduced its new packaging, it also supplied retailers with a new counter display that touted the product’s latest features.

Wavemaker provided educational material for retailers on infrared technology, while UPG conducted a soft, two-stage rollout to introduce new labels over a year.

Familiarity: With the recent controversy surrounding dog food, many consumers are eyeing repackaging with suspicion.

“It raises questions in their minds,” Schubert said. “Is this a new formula? How have they changed it?”

When manufacturers help retailers with new packaging, everyone—manufacturers, retailers and customers—wins.

For 15 years, the Tropiclean line had the same bottle, cap and label. So when the company decided to give the product an updated overhaul, it began with consulting a market research group, and that partnership led to some radical changes in packaging, said Derrik Kassebaum, director of sales for the St. Louis company.

“The market research firm suggested a new bottle with an hourglass design,” he said. “The research showed that women are buying the product, but our bottles were too big for their hands and they had a hard time squeezing it.”

During this process, Tropiclean decided to be one of the few companies going green with its packaging, which is now made of a highly biodegradable corn material that still has a long shelf life. 

“It was an additional expense, but customers are demanding environmentally safe products,” he said. “So this really makes us stand out from the competition.”

A Complete Redo
A year after Wavemaker LLC launched a floor infrared dog warmer, the Berkeley, Calif., company decided to revamp the product with a new emitter and the ability to mount it on a wall or in a recovery kennel. The changes are a direct reaction to customer comments.

“For us, it’s almost like starting over,” said Lisa Tarver, co-owner. “At times, we were pulling our hair out.”

Totally revamping meant the company had a clearer idea of its goal, a more flexible product for customers and the ability to correct a few original choices, such as moving the manufacturing closer to have greater control over the process.

“We learned a tremendous amount about the ins and outs of manufacturing,” she said.

Lessons Learned
Keep package size consistent: “Keep the footprint the same,” advised Kassebaum. “Even a package 1⁄8 inch wider can pick up 1 inch on the shelf. Keeping it the same means the new packaging doesn’t affect the retailer as much.”

Budget carefully: Wahlberg suggested a budget that can be recouped within a year and let that decide how many changes to make.

“Having a budget keeps you focused on the end objective,” Kassebaum said.

Use a third party: Having an outside firm can provide a fresh perspective.

“We never would have thought of our new shape without the research,” Kassebaum said.

Keep retailers in the loop: “It doesn’t help us when we get a new shipment and open it to find out it’s all different looking,” said John Schubert, co-owner of Mom and Pup’s in Marietta, Ga.

Don’t be afraid to take risks: “If you know your customers, don’t let anyone talk you out of it,” Bush said. “You need to trust your own intuition and knowledge.” <HOME>


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A Brand-New Look

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My company specializes in brand consultation and development, marketing, and design for pet-related businesses. I still have challenges when trying to educate my clients about the importance of their brand. Many seem to view a new logo, or packaging redesign as a "rebrand" and can't understand why it's necessary, or how to justify the costs. This article should have been more focused on repackaging or updating identity graphics, instead of using the term "rebranding".

The article clearly states, ". . . This way, it ties products together and makes a cohesive product line that customers trust. To do so, we had to create a brand story. This also allowed us to have an architecture in the brand to follow, so when there’s a new product, we know where it needs to be placed.”

The key word is "trust". A brand is not about the logo, the colors, the packaging, etc. Those elements are important and necessary communication tools, but the brand is the culmination of cohesive communications; plus the customer's perception. That perception is formed from the brand story, the brand experience (i.e.: customer service, product performance, etc.) and the levels of trust and satisfaction the customer is left with. No amount of money spent on identity graphics, web, print, packaging, etc. can "make" a brand.

One of my recent clients is a pet service provider. The company hired my firm to "re-brand" their company. After spending over 12 months and a considerable amount of money, the client felt that the rebranding project wasn't working as desired. A new logo, all new print communications, a new website, advertising that utilized the new identity, new "branded" apparel for the staff, and signage couldn't overcome the fact that the company lacked a solid business plan, leadership. and customer service.

I demonstrated to the management that their brand equity was weakened in their market by conducting a small customer service survey. The survey results indicated that there were virtually no referrals (no word-of-mouth advertising), and that most respondents were unhappy with the poor customer service, including many scheduling problems, and subsequent lack of follow-up communications.

Hopefully, your writers will research and address true branding in future articles, as opposed to adopting new identity graphics or package designs.
Chris, Chagrin Falls, OH
Posted: 7/14/2009 5:01:46 PM
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