To upgrade or not to upgrade

To upgrade or not to upgrade


Philip Guiliano

When we work with clients during a rebranding, we often evaluate three different approaches, each with increasing cost and impact: “bronze,” “silver,” and “gold.” But you probably wonder: How often does a client choose just one of these options for all branded assets? Almost never.

And here’s why: During a rebranding implementation, you want to get the most brand impact for the money. You do that by going higher quality/more expensive in some applications, holding firm in others, and—surprisingly—going downscale in specific applications that just don’t matter that much. In the end, our clients combine different approaches which we combine into a single scenario that delivers the right level of cost/impact/quality to achieve their overall commercial and branding objectives.

So the question is this: How do you know when to upgrade or not? What are the criteria for deciding? As an example of these issues, when the University of Vermont Health Network rebranded after a merger of hospitals, it sought to convey its long and proud local presence. So it put extra money into buying Vermont marble bases for its signs. The marble was quarried and finished nearby, conveying the connection of the health system to prideful Vermonters.

On the flip side, almost all healthcare providers we serve have branded clocks placed around their facilities—they put them in lobbies, doctor’s offices, labs, and so on. Branding hundreds of clocks is costly, and it usually has little relation to the achievement of an organization’s brand strategy. It also has little impact on sick patients or their loved ones. We often recommend neutralizing the old clocks with new, unbranded ones, and investing freed up funds into more impactful branded assets which are more central to stakeholder’s brand experience.

So which is the way to go? From BrandActive’s experience, here are a few questions to keep in mind:

  • Is your branded asset customer facing? Think of road signs, interior signage, uniforms, and letterhead. What do customers really see? Spend more where people see more—and where you want to convey something specific about your brand. If you’re rolling out an entirely new signage system, you may choose to go gold, as did the UVM Health Network for hospital signs. You may alternately decide to go bronze for a back-office data center.
  • Will upgrading improve the customer’s brand experience? When it comes to healthcare providers, one perennial challenge is producing signs for way-finding, the signs that help people navigate today’s mall-like health centers and feel positive about the experience. Signs with the right design and materials can say “healthy experience this way”—and make it easy for people to find where they are going rather than adding stress to what may already be an anxious situation.
  • Does your strategy call for changing the perception of the brand? If your strategy is to enter a premium market, for example, you’ll probably want to go upscale with rebrand implementation. In like vein, if you’re phasing out a commodity business and funneling cash to a new one, you may want to take a minimalist approach on the declining business.
  • Are you over- or under-branding? On the one hand, you may be spending more on your brand than you’re getting in return. On the other, you may not be realizing the brand’s potential. Spending on cafeteria trays may yield little return, whereas spending more on fleet graphics may tap an unexploited opportunity. A fleet of trucks can be turned into rolling billboards and can yield huge returns.
  • Can disciplined implementation maintain impact at a reduced cost? Often the biggest return for the dollar comes simply from creating and ensuring consistency in design, materials, colors, and quality of execution – on a national or where appropriate, international scale. Consistency doesn’t cost more—in fact it should cost less—but it has a big impact. Every entrance sign welcomes customers in the same, familiar way.
  • Are you spending from a capital account, which hits the bottom line over a number of fiscal periods, or an operational account, which all hits the P&L in the fiscal in which it is spent? If you’re putting in new signs, you have the ability to capitalize the expenditure. If you’re upgrading, you will need to draw on operational funds and may be constrained by the profit impact in the period the signs are changed. The source of funds for a signage change is an important factor to consider when developing rebranding implementation scenarios.

When it comes time for your next rebranding, your first impulse may be to replace like with like. But you have a rich opportunity to increase brand impact and also lower costs by carefully considering your approach to different branded asset categories. Repeating your current approach is not likely to result in the greatest ROI for rebranding dollars spent. By considering different scenarios, you can choose the right options for each type of branded asset in order to maximize the strength of your brand without needlessly adding cost.

Related Insights