How do you execute a rebrand without losing customers?

You can't only rely on your existing customers for your future success, but you also can't neglect them, says Natures Menu's James Langan.

by James Langan
Last Updated: 21 May 2019

You’ve got to feel sorry for Weight Watchers.

Earlier this year, the 56-year old brand went through a rather public and damaging mid-life crisis as it tried to change its position in the market.

The brand attempted to jump onto the wellness trend, and rebranded itself as ‘WW’. Unfortunately, the move fell a bit flat. The company revealed that hundreds of thousands of subscribers had quit in recent months, and the chief executive was forced to defend her rebrand after issuing a profit warning for 2019.

This well-intentioned, yet ultimately clumsy gear-shift reminds us of the difficulties of rebranding, and shows how easy it can be to alienate existing customers.

At Natures Menu, we’ve been undertaking a rebrand of our own over the past two years. Working closely with HeyHuman (a behavioural communications agency), we have seen first-hand the work that needs to be done in order to ensure that your core customer base is willing to come on the journey with you.

We knew that a shift was necessary to stay ahead of the competition, and that the risks involved would ultimately be worth the reward. It can be easy to become complacent once you’ve built a loyal customer base, but FMCG is rife with innovation – especially when it comes to start-ups and challenger brands who seem to be entering the market at an unprecedented rate.

Brands like ours have to fight harder than ever before to retain market share, and we knew that we needed to do more to ensure that there was consistency across our product portfolio. Our packaging also needed an overhaul so that we could attract more consumers at point of sale.

However, the problem was that the majority our business was based on loyal customers who were great advocates of our product. We couldn’t do anything that would turn these customers away, and we needed to make sure they would still recognise and have affinity with our brand.

As we learned and as we have seen with the disastrous results from ‘WW’, it’s clear that the best rebrands are often evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Consumers are notoriously resistant to change and will simply go elsewhere if your product changes image.

Brands that want to change tack need to find ways of communicating with their existing consumers ahead of any major (or even minor) rebrand. For us, the most effective channel was social media – through targeted posts and teasers, we were able to get consumers excited about the changes we were making and slowly introduce them to the new look and feel. 

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It’s also vital for brands to work with agencies to gain as much insight into their consumers. Given that 95 per cent of purchasing decisions occur below the surface of conscious, we were particularly attracted to HeyHuman as they were able to offer extensive insight into how our consumers were likely to think and react to any changes which you are planning to introduce.

The agency used its dedicated neuroscience division throughout every stage of the journey to test how our consumers would react to different packaging and logo redesigns. This really helped us to refine our comms in the lead up to the rebrand, and also removed a lot of the anxious uncertainty that comes whenever you make changes to your brand. 

If you’re considering a rebrand, then it’s vital to gain a comprehensive understanding of your existing consumer. You need to know how they act and think better than they do, and then you need to develop an evolutionary campaign that will take them on the journey with you. 

You might be tempted by a dramatic rebrand to pull in new audiences, but it’s no good if it alienates your loyal base.

James Langan is commercial director at Natures Menu

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