How Much Change is Too Much?

Too Much Change?

Change can be a good thing—but it matters how you do it. And when.

Tropicana recently made news when it changed its logo from the old straw-in-an-orange to a big glass of juice—and loyal customers nearly beat them to a pulp.

So they pulled a New Coke and switched back. It had apparently been too much too fast.

They might have learned something from Betty Crocker. She gets a new face every six years or so, reflecting the changing perception of the American homemaker—over a dozen so far in the company’s 88-year history. But she always keeps her red and white outfit and basic brown bob.

If she suddenly sported a tankini and shades, the company might pick up a man or two but alienate their core constituency. She just wouldn’t be Betty Crocker anymore.Brawny Paper Towel Guy changed only once, in 1976. Still a lumberjack, still standing in a forest, but he’s lost the 1976 moustache because focus groups of women told the company it looked dated. Classic is good. Dated is bad.

Think as well of the new Volkswagen Beetle—an amped-up version of the original, not a complete redo. Same with Colonel Sanders and Aunt Jemima.

But Mr. Clean—well, Mr. Clean hasn’t changed in 52 years.

Some say that Tropicana lost the chance to appeal to a new generation of customers by clinging to a few old loyalists. But it really shouldn’t be an either/or choice. Ideally you want to evolve your brand identity instead of changing it too dramatically. That way you can keep loyal customers on board even as you freshen your image for the new ones.

All of that assumes your brand is strong to begin with—that you actually HAVE loyal customers who would hate to see you change too much. That’s not always the case. Philip Morris became Altria, ValuJet became AirTran, and Andersen Consulting became Accenture, all in wise response to an unbleachable stain on their previous names.

But what about timing? Is now, in the midst of a recession, a good time for change—or a terrible one?

The answer depends again on the current state of your brand identity. If your name or logo evoke reckless abandon—Crapshoot Savings and Loan, let’s say—you might want to consider something a tad more, you know… stable. But if you have a reasonably solid brand, product line and customer base, you should spend your time and dollars right now reassuring your customers you are solid, reliable, and trustworthy.

Leave a Reply