As my husband Dan and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary in June, I thought of the odd American pop culture events that occurred the weekend we got married.
The Friday night preceding our wedding, former football star OJ Simpson led the L.A. police on a low-speed highway chase in a white Ford Bronco. Thirty-five miles per hour and yet the chase went on for 60 miles.
As we were watching the New York Knicks struggle in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets, the television network suddenly switched to follow the chase. We listened to the basketball game on the radio until the last five minutes, when a network executive must have figured out that some people might prefer to watch the game and switched back.
That same night, the U.S. began hosting World Cup Soccer for the first time. At the opening ceremonies in Chicago, host Oprah Winfrey fell off the stage and Diana Ross pulled a penalty kick wide, causing the goal posts to collapse.
Despite these oddities, our wedding went smoothly on that Sunday. On Monday we left for a two-week honeymoon in Greece.
And when we returned, Federal Express as we knew it was gone.
Every company truck, plane, package and envelope from the former Federal Express now said FedEx.
It was weird, but easy to understand. The verb “to fedex” had been in our business lexicon for a few years by then.
What a quick transformation the company pulled off. They timed it to happen overnight on June 24, 1994.
In one fell swoop, they revitalized their brand and propelled it light years forward.
Why would they do that though? The company was growing and business was good.
The company’s overnight transformation turned out to be the culmination of two years of research and rebranding work. The impetus for the work was that the company’s audience and offerings had grown. The company needed to evolve their brand to encompass the breadth of what they did and to be relevant to new audiences.
When Federal Express launched in 1973, nationwide overnight delivery seemed like a pipedream. The concept was so farfetched that Xerox shipped empty boxes for two weeks before entrusting them with document-filled ones.
The initial job of the Federal Express brand was to represent speed and reliability. Hence the tagline “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Creative approaches to emphasizing their speed resulted in entertaining commercials starring fast talker John Moschitta.
By the early 1990s, with their reliability and speed established, Federal Express was going global.
While the word ‘federal’ had given the company credibility as a nationwide alternative to the post office in 1973, it was now conjuring images of the federales in Latin America. (Federales are the Mexican federal police and also a faction that fought in the Argentine Civil War in the 1800s). It was also hard for people in other parts of the world to pronounce.
Executing the transformation overnight emphasized the company’s speed and won them extensive press coverage (equivalent to millions of dollars in advertising).
Smartly planned, the rebranding also saved them money.
Most brand revitalization efforts are not this stark. And few are undertaken from a position of market strength, as FedEx’s was.
Brand revitalization is the act of updating a brand to catch it up to its evolved image.
How do brands evolve?
Brand evolution is the sum of many little changes over time. Changes occur as the brand’s audiences get to know and use it. They develop perceptions about what it is worth to them, how it fits into their lives, what it means to them. Audiences include both internal (employees, management) and external (customers, vendors, distributors) groups.
As companies grow and add new target audiences, management needs to understand these perceptions and factor them into the brand along with their vision for the company.
Many brands in adolescence don’t know about brand evolution and continue to use the same messages that they started with while their audience has begun to perceive the brand differently. Old brand messages fail to connect with the audience – it’s not how they know it anymore. And business begins to decline.
Brand revitalizations run the spectrum from tweaks to major transformation and can encompass updates to one, two, or more of the elements below.
- Audience(s) – target markets, partners, even employee populations.
- Offerings – products and services, as well as geographic reach.
- Attributes – how audiences perceive the brand combined with management’s aspirations for it.
- Visual identity – A visual depiction of what the brand represents, a.k.a. a logo.
The deeper the company digs into the list, the more major the revitalization will be.
Companies that just change their logo and don’t engage in the strategic work of brand revitalization don’t boost business. The revitalization needs to be purposeful to work, not just cosmetic.