18 November 2020, 08:39 AM
  • What's in a brand? Mike Duckworth, founding director of Nutcessity, finds out
Rebranding - why bother?

Such as the shock and displeasure experienced when stepping into an early morning ice-cold shower, it all happens quite dramatically and without warning. New branding hits you unannounced - in a trade catalogue, on LinkedIn or on-shelf, submerged into the background when FIFO is correctly adhered to. A product you’ve come to understand, realise, love - is stripped apart, cut open and torched into something entirely new and ‘forward-thinking’.

As a former University Business student, former health shop supervisor and current brand owner, I’m totally absorbed by food and drink packaging. I will critique and scrutinize branding whenever I go food shopping, to the understandable displeasure of my partner. So why do you see a brand ‘refresh’ as often as you boil the kettle? What’s the point?

When I started my company Nutcessity in 2016 on a shoestring, I printed basic labels off at home and wrote the nut butter flavour name on each one (never try this at home, patience swiftly evaporates). I reached out to Laura Elliott, founder of Bristol-based Drawesome Illustration, to help me create some sort of ‘brand’ that I would tweak, iteratively, with her over the next couple of years, to what it is today. Most people comment on my labels positively, saying they love the branding and could see it sat on Waitrose’s shelves easily. I even overheard a customer in a health food shop say to her partner that “they are trying to make it look like they’re a small brand, but really, I bet they’re massive”, which I naturally found quite amusing.

The famous case I studied at A-Level was that of PepsiCo, who hired American agency Arnell in 2009 to reinvigorate Tropicana’s packaging. Their new design was pulled from supermarket shelves after just one month and $20m in lost sales, as the outrage of shoppers persuaded Pepsi to revert to the original design. As it happens, Arnell switched the Pepsi logo in 2006 as to what it is today, citing the Golden Ratio and the Mona Lisa as inspirations behind the design that critics called ‘pretentious’ and ‘ridiculous’ (1).

To the modern day, and healthy nutrition brand Pulsin’, who chose to invest heavily in a brand refresh in 2007, only for the sales uptake to be not quite as expected. Co-founder Nick Bildner told me, “The 2017 designs were beautiful and had great stand out on-shelf, but customers didn’t know what was inside the packs. Key messaging was written inside roundels, packs were cluttered, and communication was poor. We learned that the most important aspect of branding is good pack communication. The new packaging, designed by Buddy Creative, specifically and obviously communicates customer need states (i.e. keto, fibre, protein, kids). We’ve already seen an uplift in sales because of this rebrand”. Nick’s case highlights the relevance of brands prioritising customer ‘need states’ on pack, ahead of aesthetics.

Mike Stevens, co-founder of sugar-free confectionery brand Peppersmith, says he was ‘proud’ to become a client of Hoxton-based B&B Studio back in 2009, and believes that their branding not only provides a clear message, but is emotive and attractive too. ‘B&B helped Peppersmith on the journey from initially being a great looking pack to becoming a brand with a voice. Agencies like B&B who can both do a great job on the creative whilst helping you establish your brand across the different types of contact points are worth their weight in gold. Beware the best agencies are not cheap, but if they help you get it right, they are great value’.

Last month, LEVEL Studio unveiled their new branding for Stroud Brewery, crowdfund supported indie icons of organic beers. Their founder, Greg Pilley, says that “LEVEL Studio’s knowledge has been invaluable in uncovering and communicating our brand values”. Lansdown based LEVEL said, “our job was to develop an exciting, honest and credible visual identity that isn’t the traditional ‘organic’ look and feel”. Only time will tell as to whether customers buy into the packaging change or not, a risk brands such as Stroud Brewery, or Pulsin’ / Peppersmith before them, are willing to take.

I’m convinced a lot of other food and beverage business owners have the same decision to make that I had earlier this year; to stick, or to twist? Their branding is neat, looks decent, attracts custom. But could it do more for them and what are they willing to invest? Over the next couple of months, if you follow us @nutcessity, you’ll see that we did take the plunge, having begun working with Buddy Creative in April 2020. After all, like you, we’re in the business of taking risk and we will always choose freedom over routine – no imitations accepted. Have a very happy Christmas.

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