A case study on re-branding of the Starbucks brand provides a concrete example of how a company can go about reducing undesirable consumer responses to changes to one of their favorite brands. While Starbucks implemented a successful rebranding initiative, the market research and the change management expertise behind the rebranding was kept behind closed doors.
It is a common strategy taken by companies. If they do reveal their market research findings and their strategic deliberations that led to the change configuration they finally decided to use, popular opinions and critiques will abound. Everyone in the business will have an idea about what Starbucks could have done differently or should have done better.
Applying Change Management Research to Brands
Just like any organization about to embark on a change, marketers, advertisers, and brand managers must develop a compelling vision and then communicate it effectively to consumers. Preparation for the rebranding includes ensuring that the vision for the brand changes is heard about often, both internally and externally. The marketing messages need to convey the benefits of the vision powerfully. Daily reminders of the vision that everyone is working toward go a long way toward keeping it top-of-mind for the brand managers themselves, but this approach is also effective with consumers.
Facilitating a re-branding effort requires the identification and removal of obstacles, particularly those anticipated with regard to consumer acceptance of the change. Without effective preparation, it may be difficult or impossible to make forward progress with implementation of the change vision. The challenge for the brand management team is to anticipate and understand those barriers.
Structures, processes, and people who function as barriers to the effective implementation of the re-branding initiative require the attention of leaders and the brand management team. When obstacles are removed for people, an empowering dynamic is often experienced, and this can carry the planned changes for the brand forward to an impressive degree.
Creating short-term wins is important for fighting the change initiative fatigue that plagues people who have been working on change for some time. As with any large effort, creating smaller buckets of work and focus support a more sustained effort and enable employees to be rewarded more often for their work and support.
The process of building the change that is wanted requires maintaining the effort so that each phase or stage can be used as a platform or scaffolding for achieving the next stage. What this means for leadership is to plan for a sustained effort and to mete out the charges to move forward in meaningful sequences rather than all at once, which is overwhelming to staff and will quickly lead to burn out.
The Pivotal Relationship Between Business Culture and Branding
Any change effort is strengthened by anchoring the changes in the culture of the organization. The change must become central to the organization in the same way that the vision was during the change effort. Organizational culture is a primary determiner of what is accomplished by employees and management, so it is important the values that support the vision are present in the daily work. Starbucks is good at making their culture transparent. The Starbucks rebranding initiative was very much a statement about the Starbucks culture and how the company risks both horizontal and vertical integration in an effort to optimize services to customers.
A Worse Case Scenario Can Move the Re-branding Forward
A recommendation for imparting a sense of urgency is used to clearly identify how not making the proposed changes threatens the organization. This can be accomplished by developing and communicating various scenarios that show what can happen if the change is not implemented. Starbucks would only have to point out the challenges faced by Tully's and other coffee brewers and distributors to illustrate the all too common outcomes of not re-branding.
A recommendation for building a change coalition is to identify the true leaders in the organization and not be influenced by titles and status, but rather look for people who are capable of influencing others. Then ensure that the change agents selected work effectively as members of a larger team. Indeed, Starbucks engaged customers in the articulation of their rebranding efforts.