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Reinventing for Relevance

July 31, 2020


Reinventing for Relevance

As we move into the second half of a challenging year and look forward to the busy fourth quarter, lots of us are thinking about relevancy.

 In fact, a lot of us have already had to think long and hard about this idea—what makes our brands relevant? How do we stay relevant, especially in a landscape that’s changing so fast? Consumer desires and needs have shifted rapidly in the past few months. They’re still changing as our world continues to turn.

 It’s all too easy to start looking out of touch or “outdated.” We might already feel consumers have abandoned our brands, and we’re looking to recapture a spark.

 This where Marketers like to start talking about reinventing our brands. We don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel here, but that doesn’t mean we’re never due for a little makeover. So how do we reinvent for relevance, without melting our brands down and starting over?

 It starts with knowing our higher purpose.

Journey to the Core of Your Brand

If we’re not already familiar with our higher purposes, then it’s time to do a little soul-digging. The essence of our brands will strategically steer us in the right direction.

 That core is also what we don’t want to abandon when we reinvent the brand. If we take the proverbial wrecking ball to our brand, we don’t want to damage the foundation. Save the foundation, then build on top of that firm footing.

 You might ask, “What if the foundation is no good?” It might seem surprising, but that’s rarely the case. A brand’s foundation might have a few cracks in it, but most often, it’s not actually the foundation that’s gone bad. In a lot of cases, Marketers think their brand has gone “off,” but that core purpose is as fresh and solid as it’s ever been.

 In these cases, we’ve usually been distracted by something else—we’re not actually looking at the core of the brand. When we get right down to it, we’ll often find out that our essence is still resonating with our customers.

A Master Class in Reinvention

Let’s look at an example: Old Spice. This brand has been around since the Depression era. Early efforts used a nautical theme, with naval ships on packaging and marketing materials.

 It’s easy to see how this would resonate with men in the 1940s and 1950s, even into the mid-20th century. Many men were veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and other conflicts. The 1960s and 1970s saw backlash against militarism. Younger men were less likely to identify with sailors and the Navy. There was also a shift in products, from aftershave to fragrances and soaps.

 By the early 2010s, Old Spice wasn’t exactly a “trendy” brand. Many associated the brand with their parents or even their grandparents. It even has the word “old” in the name!

 The brand didn’t have a problem with its products (although it's introduced new products since the early aughts). And it most definitely doesn’t have an issue with its essence. The problem was the brand’s image with consumers.

What Is the Essence of Old Spice?

Old Spice has always been a brand built around masculinity. The early connection with sailors and the Navy showcase this. Sailors have a reputation as “manly men,” courageous and willing to put up with harsh conditions. There’s a certain nobility and bravery to it—think about the captain or his crew willing to go down with the ship.

 The nautical theme has shifted out of favor over the last 70 years, though. The Navy has been less important in recent global conflicts. Warfare itself relies on increasingly technological means like drones, and less on people. And that’s in line with shifting attitudes—younger people today are less likely to sign up for the armed forces.

 But that doesn’t mean men don’t want to feel, well, like “real men.” Old Spice’s foundation is still good. What they needed was a new image, a new way of communicating with their audience.

The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

One thing Old Spice tapped into when they launched their iconic “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign in 2010 was the fact that women buy most men’s grooming products. The ad campaign targeted female buyers—and both men and women’s ideas about masculinity.

 The ad featured Isiah Mustafa entreating women to buy their partners Old Spice. If they bought Old Spice, the ad promised, men could capture some of the masculinity Mustafa exuded as he strutted around in a towel.

 The ad appeals to men in that it suggests that, by using Old Spice, they can smell like (and become) real men. Old Spice is a tried-and-true scent that’s been around since the Greatest Generation. It’s the mark of what the brand defined as a true man and has been for decades. It’s a fragrance that many people associate with men—new-fangled body sprays notwithstanding.

 In fact, Old Spice’s ad messaging suggests that the teen boys who had been choking high school hallways with copious amounts of body sprays since 2000 or so, needed to graduate or grow up. By adopting Old Spice, they could finally stop being “boys” and become “men.” Bonus: women would most definitely appreciate their now grown-up and masculine partners, who could shower them in diamonds or build them a custom kitchen (and then bake a cake in that kitchen). Women would finally have the partners they deserve, and men would be more attractive!

 It’s important to note here that this isn't new for Old Spice! The brand had already reinvented itself along similar lines in the 1970s and '80s, using the “Mark of a Man” campaign.

 The essence of this brand remained true, while the communication of the benefit shifted to ensure the brand remained relevant. It helps men feel (and smell) their absolute best. When they use Old Spice, they can be confident in who they are, and that’s attractive.

Capitalizing on Success

“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign was a huge hit for Old Spice. It struck all the right notes with consumers—it was engaging, it was humorous, and it was convincing. People shared and watched online, and they engaged with the brand.

 Old Spice took its essence, its core—its higher purpose—and repackaged it for a new generation. In later campaigns, it booked stars like Terry Crews and sponsored NASCAR drivers. It also introduced new products, including shower gels. Its Red Line is meant to protect the hardest working of men.

 By staying true to its values, building on the foundation of the brand, Old Spice was able to revitalize its brand for the 21st century man. What’s more is that the brand can continue doing this. As long as they stay in touch with their core values, they can continue to reinvent their image and their message, even as consumer values shift.

 Who knows what the ideal man of the 2030s or 2050 will look like? Chances are that Old Spice will be able to speak to him the same way the brand has been able to connect with men in every era from the 1940s on.

Reinvent Your Image, Not the Wheel

The takeaway here should be clear for us as Marketers. From time to time, we’re going to need to reinvent our image or revamp our messaging. That only makes sense. Customers’ values change, and what resonates with one generation isn’t going to reach the next. (C’mon—how many of us avoided what our parents liked because it was “uncool” or “for old people”?)

 What we shouldn’t do is dump the core of our brand, knock out the foundation and trying to rebuild from the ground up. We don’t need to go that far. As Old Spice proves, there’s usually nothing wrong with the core of our brand. We can still talk to a “man’s man,” even if 2020’s version of a man’s man is radically different than 1940’s version.

 So, as we begin to look forward to the new normal, 2021, and the rest of the decade, we should focus on our brand image, our messaging—and building on our solid foundations. In that way, we can keep our brands fresh and relevant, while delivering what our customers look to us for.

 The secret to a successful reinvention is always located in the essence of our brands. And it all starts with the why!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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