Resolution: Let go of a sacred cow

April 14, 2017By Behind the Shelf Blog, Brand Marketing, Resolutions

by Angela Pinkstaff, director of business development, for the Resolutions blog series

Before I joined HRG, I worked for two rapidly growing CPG manufacturers.  Although they created and marketed very different products, the two companies both suffered from the same challenge: their founders couldn’t let go of a sacred cow.

Sacred cows, or untouchable packaging elements, brand messages, and marketing initiatives, serve a fundamental purpose: they root the brand in a place and time, defining and solidifying what it will communicate to consumers, and how.  As the foundation of its identity, they are often deemed too intrinsic to a brand’s success or recognition to be updated, and in a sea of confusion at shelf, that consistency can be valuable – until it isn’t.

I’ve encountered countless examples where a company believed one specific aspect of their branding was too vital to risk updating, even after all other elements had evolved significantly, and even when buyers began to decline adding the products to their sets because they seemed dated. One brand’s founder resisted slight enhancements to the logo’s font, which hadn’t been touched in ten years; the other held out on changing 1990s packaging for one of the brand families while the rest of the lines were redesigned several times over a 20-year span.

The reason for both of their holdouts? Nostalgia.

As entrepreneurs, they felt so personally connected to the details that they couldn’t take rational stock of the feedback being offered. And, as a result, those sacred cows, once the flagships of their brands, became eyesores. Worse, with new products entering the market at breakneck speed, competitors’ packaging only reinforced the disparity between fresh ideas and yesterday’s story.

I’m not suggesting that every original element of a brand’s heritage be ruthlessly overhauled every three years. But I do advise that manufacturers devote time every 12 months to take creative and intellectual stock of their brands, by asking a few key questions:

  • What is the definition of my brand?
  • What does that definition require my brand to be — or become?
  • Do my sacred cows still serve their purpose of defining my brand?
  • What can I live with?
  • What can’t I live without?
  • What happens if we don’t change?

Letting go of a sacred cow could be as simple as updating messaging to reflect current consumer desires, or applying a modern palette to existing colors. It just might make all the difference to your brand.