I was at a discussion panel on Branding last night (yeah. I have an exciting social life).

Four seasoned experts were in attendance, sharing their views on branding, process and messaging. — the Creative Director from a well-respected packaging firm, the Creative Director of a web marketing company, the owner a local brewery and the local General Manager of a large multinational ad agency.

There was free beer, snacks and lots of twenty-somethings with smiling and enthusiastic faces. All good. (thanks Steel + Oak Brewing)

The opinions expressed were right on the money (I thought) until a student asked about rebranding. She asked if rebranding equals failure and one after the other, the panelists seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t help a failing brand. “A new logo on a failing brand won’t help” said one. And another said something similar.

There was a big pause and the moderator was just about to chime in and wrap things up. But I had to share my differing opinion.

Branding in the true sense of the word is always MORE than a logo.

A rebrand is required when you become aware that your product is missing the mark somehow. It could be that consumers’ preferences have shifted or that the product category is changing. Or it could be, as one of the panel said, that your client never had much consumer research to begin with and time has proven them to be headed in the wrong direction. Time will do that. Show your mis-steps.

tazo_02_comparison_inmanTake the case of Tazo Tea.

Steven Smith founded Tazo Tea back in 1994 after selling his stake in his previous tea company, Stash. A lifelong tea connoisseur, Smith would travel regularly to India in search of new varieties and flavours. When in 1998, Starbucks launched their own tea brand called Tiazi, Smith issued a cease and desist order citing the similarities to their own brand name. This prompted the coffee giant to make an offer to buy the brand which they did in 1998 and retooled Tazo to more closely align with their own aesthetic.

Smith had infused the brand with mystery and imagination and positioned Tazo as the Reincarnation of Tea.” even going so far as to list “the mumbled chantings of a certified tea shaman” as the last ingredients on the label.

Starbucks legal team felt the shaman line might set them up for litigation and promptly removed it along with all of Tazo’s original “new age ethos” making the brand fresher and lighter than it had previously been.

Their rebrand was not so much a case of Tazo’s failure as it was a realization that the new age messaging and packaging would only get them so far and would not have the universal appeal of a cleaner look.

tazo_05_packaging_instagramWhile I greatly prefer the aesthetic and quirkiness of the original brand, it’s hard to argue with the marketing expertise of Starbucks.

Fans of the original Tazo can find a similar aesthetic in Steven’s subsequent tea brand, “Steven Smith Teamaker” that he founded with his wife, Kim.

Steve Smith, like Howard Schultz of Starbucks, rejuvenated the tea category and because of his vision we now have tea stores like David’s Tea and Teavana (another Starbucks enterprise) sprouting up nationwide.

Sadly, Steven Smith passed away in 2015 from cancer. The world may never know what else he had brewing.

Wondering whether your brand is performing as well as it could? Or worried that change will be problem? Get in touch. We’d love to chat with you about improvements.