Just one week after launching a new logo, clothing retailer Gap reverted to its 20 year old image after an 'outpouring of comments' on its Facebook page against its updated look. Mark Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America, said customers always came first and the next time the retailer looked to evolve its logo, it would 'handle it a different way'
Stuart Bruce, managing director, Wolfstar PR
There's a long history of customers rebelling against a change made by a company. The 'new' Coke, Consignia, the London 2012 logo... and the latest is the Gap logo. What is different today is how much more quickly and effectively your customers and stakeholders can tell you want they think. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs everyone is a critic with a personal publishing platform. Individually they may seem insignificant, cumulatively they matter. A lot.
There are basically two options. You either capitulate quickly and admit you got it wrong, or you stick with your convictions and tough it out by explaining your case. What usually isn't a good idea is a long, slow, lingering death where you suffer criticism for sustained punishment and then finally capitulate. The London 2012 logo is a great example of toughing it out. When launched, it met with a barrage of criticism, but the organisers held firm and today it appears that the public has grown to accept, if not love, it. What London 2012 did quite well was to keep patiently explaining the rationale behind the logo while soaking up the criticism, then waiting for the furore to die down.
Gap is a different case and I'd question how genuine the furore was and ask if this wasn't actually quite helpful to the retailer. The decision to back down or not in the face of consumer criticism is always a complex one. You need to balance short and long-term reputational damage with forecasts of potential lost sales or support, the cost of the investment you've made and the cost of changing back.
Once you've made your decision, it is essential to communicate it in the most honest and open way possible. If you're sticking to your guns then say you understand the criticism (and make sure you do) but then explain why it has to be this way. If you're backing down then don't be afraid to apologise and say why you got it wrong. Above all, be bold.
Fred Burt, managing director, Siegel + Gale
Firstly, I should come clean. Siegel+Gale have been involved in this story http://thunderclapcg.com/siegelgale-prospecting-stunt-good-or-bad/. For the avoidance of doubt, we haven't been working with Gap, but we'd certainly love to.
At the heart of this discussion is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the voice of the consumer. Henry Ford said it best, If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. A strong brand needs to be distinct from the competition, represent something that the experience can deliver on, and also represent something aspirational for the consumer. Consumer input is part, but not the sole governing factor, in brand development.
Secondly, this seemed like a superficial exercise. The logo changed, the experience did not. This missed a key trick, to associate an identity change with a new way of doing business. It would have been good to have seen a new range, new attitude, new position in the market, fresh communications, new store format, which all triggered reconsideration in the minds of their lapsing customer base. This process is not triggered by a new logo alone.
Change is necessary. Great brands innovate and update in order to stay relevant. And I'm talking brands, not logos here: what the brand stands for, the net impression it makes in the minds of its audiences, the idea that drives these audiences to choose it over the alternatives. The Gap needs to evolve, but it needs a much more profound approach to change to achieve it. Crowdsourcing a nice-looking logo will not do it.
But before we write this off as a total disaster let's consider what really may be happening. Gap has garnered a huge amount of PR and has shown that it is listening to its customers. Pizza Hut's carefully orchestrated PR coup with Pasta Hut last year shows that these u-turns can sometimes be planned.
Gideon Wilkinson, co-founder, Endpoint
Rebranding projects can be enormously risky. At least Gap discovered their new visual identity design was receiving an overwhelmingly negative response before they applied the new identity across all branded assets. With the majority of rebranding costs coming from implementation, often 20 to 30 times the creative budget, this could have been a much more expensive rebranding lesson for Gap.
A new visual identity shouldn't be the driving force behind a rebranding exercise, although it normally results in one. You need to invest the time, money and resource into getting the strategy and design right and test the response from customers, employees and shareholders before launch. Implementing a new identity affects all your communications internally and externally and if you are a retailer, will affect all your retail environments. It can be overwhelming when you start to look in detail at all applications of your visual identity. It needs full time management; it needs your organisation aligned and prepared; and it needs relevant funds in place. It always surprises us just how unaware many organisations are when it comes to understanding the full extent of the investment required in rebranding and implementing a new visual identity.
But these costs pale into insignificance when compared to the damage a bad rebranding project can do to stakeholder confidence and reputation, think BA and Consignia.
So, what to do when customers rebel?
1) Firstly prevention is better than cure. There are always dissenters during change, it is human nature. Engage with stakeholders, have a strong rationale, build a powerful story. Don't just swap your logo. Change for change's sake does not go down well, especially during tough economic times. There should be some real tangible differences. The decision to rebrand must be backed by a strategic business plan. A strong and determined leadership need to be confident that any short term pain associated with a controversial rebranding will result in long term gain.
2) Ride it out. Do not ignore, address the negativity, explain the rationale and reasoning behind the rebrand and the new identity.
3) Say sorry and admit your error - as Gap have done - and scrap the new brand. In the past customers could only really rebel against retailers with their feet (and maybe a stern letter to the complaints department). Even in this multi channel, connected, online world in which we live, footfall or lack of it, is still where the financial damage is done.