Change is inevitable. It is a universal constant, and yet on balance, change is very difficult for individuals and brands. We’ve seen a classic example of that this week as the clothing retailer Gap attempted to update its brand image with a new logo.The short story – the new logo was almost universally hated, and after an avalanche of social media-fueled outcry, Gap attempted to solicit customer suggestions before ultimately giving up and retreating back to the logo that has defined them for the past 20 years. There are a few things I believe we can learn from this debacle: 1. In the era of real-time customer engagement, rebranding in isolation is dead. To be fair, we do not know the exact process Gap and its team used to develop and test their new logo. However, the company’s CEO’s comments after the initial maelstrom erupted indicates that they didn’t engage their community of customers and fans in their development process:
“Now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we’ve decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap.”
This is a remarkable statement. A brand — above all else — is a dialogue with customers. It represents (hopefully) everything you as a company are, have been, and wish to be in relation to your customers, and the logo is the visual symbol of that relationship. In this case, it is also the symbol of an enormous disconnect between the marketing arm of the Gap – which clearly understands the importance of customer engagement (vis-a-vis their successful social media efforts) — and the primary decision-makers at the company, who clearly do not understand that they were already in a dialogue with their customers. The fact that the CEO would view engagement as a crisis response vs. a necessity during brand development is a reflection of a serious disconnect, and something all of us should hope to avoid in our dealings with our community of customers.2. Throwing the door open to community input haphazardly weakens your brand. Now I am not arguing that people will stop buying clothes at the Gap because of the logo debacle. However, the overall brand equity that Gap built up over the decades took a hit when they quickly and shoddily asked for customer logo suggestions in an attempt to mitigate the damage. It was not perceived as genuine, nor was it perceived as credible. Gap basically confirmed this in short order when it ended reverted back to the old logo and closed down the suggestions – all in the course of a week. Had they planned a deliberate customer-input strategy from the beginning, I think they could have realized an enormously-successful campaign. Absent that, they appeared amateurish and reactionary. 3. Test, Test, and Test. This is true of global conglomerates, and it is also true (and made much easier via social media) for smaller businesses. Had Gap tested their logo redesign “in the wild,” this situation would have been avoided or at least anticipated. Now I am sure that some limited testing must have occurred, but clearly some fundamental error crept into the process. These days, it is not necessary to guess on identities, products, entire business-lines. We can access Facebook, Google, Email, and other technologies to quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively gather feedback. And once that feedback is in hand – don’t delude yourself – listen to it and act on it. In the end, Gap will survive – they have a long history of successfully producing and selling things people want to buy. However, their efforts at redefining themselves have taken a major hit – and those efforts may do more to define them than a new logo ever could.