As the calendar turns to January 1, many of us think about retooling ourselves in someway – getting in better shape by losing weight, eating a healthier diet, or reexamining how our work life, or some aspect of our personal lives, might not be exactly where we want it to be. Are we delivering on our personal promises to live the life we want? It’s a good time to ask the same questions about the brand or brands you manage to see if your brand’s current positioning needs to be reassessed and revised to best resonate with your consumers to drive growth.

When we think about brand repositioning, we are thinking about the core strategy that directs all the activities of the brand, starting with your brand’s consumer target, and the brand’s overarching promise. What is the brand’s reason for being? How will it deliver that in a unique way, and where will the brand play? What categories and products and/or services will deliver on the promise for your brand’s target consumers? This will impact where and how your brand reaches its consumers in media and other touchpoints, and will likely impact how the brand shows up – the way it looks via its logo, colors, tag line, and overall look and feel.

A few common triggers can arise that might suggest you need to look at repositioning your brand:

• Significant shifts in the competitive/overall landscape: Change seems to be the one constant in most categories these days, with DTC brands creating more consumer choices than ever before and becoming formidable competitors to brands traditionally retail-focused. In fact, DTC brands grew from $36 billion in 2016 to $129 billion in 2021, and are projected to reach $213B by 2024. Increasingly competitive categories can create Red Oceans where it can be difficult for brands to differentiate, making it hard for consumers to see meaningful differences between brands, and where cost can become a primary way to compete vs. meaningful innovation that creates new markets and new demand.

• Loss of market share with no sign of improvement: Your brand does not appear to be resonating and delivering on consumer needs, perhaps driven by new competitors, but other factors may be at play that should cause the brand team to question what’s eroding your market share. Perhaps the products are not performing well, or there is a demand for new benefits that the brand has not addressed, or the value proposition overall is no longer working.

• Price dominates over brand: Particularly when there are few clear differences between brands and consumers begin to shop on price, which is even more prevalent during inflationary times like these, categories begin to shrink in dollar value as consumers demand lower prices. If there is little brand differentiation and price is the main driver of purchase, brand equities and profits suffer. You can’t afford to be in a race to the bottom when you know your core consumer believes your brand is worth paying more for.

Image courtesy of Black Heart Gold Pants & FoodNavigator-USA

• Key changes in consumer behavior: Sometimes categories and brands can be entirely upended by new innovation that drives entirely new consumer behavior (think Kodak and digital photography and at-home printing). Other times, the shifts are less significant but still make an impact, like consumer behavior favoring non-dairy alternatives (think Chobani plant-based yogurts and non-dairy oat milk, which are growing as traditional dairy has been declining for years).

• New targets and/or geographic markets identified for brand growth: Your brand may have identified a consumer target with unmet needs that you believe the brand could uniquely address, but would require a shift in brand positioning that is deemed worth the effort to drive growth. In addition, there may be new geographic markets that are part of the brand’s growth strategy that require a change in brand positioning given the dynamics of the new market. It is critical to fully understand these consumer targets, geographies and channels to determine how your brand positioning needs to evolve.

• New/different category and/or channel focus: Sometimes a brand sees an opportunity to play in a new category(ies) or channel(s), or to reduce where it competes from multiple categories to 1 or just a few. A different positioning could support this change and enable greater growth. For instance, brands may be considering moving from exclusively DTC to a combination of DTC and retail. Do you know enough about how to enter retail to win with shoppers in different channels?

• Brand expression is out of touch: As time evolves, consumers and competitors change and a brand’s look, tone and feel requires a minor or major upgrade

Image courtesy of Optimove

Things to consider when engaging in a brand repositioning:

Make sure not to alienate core consumers. Even if these core consumers are ultimately not the right ones for the brand long-term, they are still important to the continued growth of the brand and their loyalty will help fund new brand initiatives, including brand repositioning. Sometimes, the new opportunities can be much larger than your current core consumers, so it is important to consider the balance of new consumers and loyals.

Carefully consider evolving competitive and category dynamics: Be sure you truly understand the landscape you are competing in from a competitive, consumer, trend, and channel point of view. Don’t ignore up-and-coming competitors who appear to be resonating with consumers but may not have deep pockets. Consider indirect competitors who offer a product/solution that you may not see as a threat now, but could become one.

Validate revised positioning with consumers: Doing your homework doesn’t have to be expensive and take months. Be smart with your research dollars, but be sure to get feedback on something as important as your brand’s positioning by talking to both current and prospective consumers to make sure it delivers what’s intended. Compass has deep expertise with helping our clients do this work in a smart way that is mindful of time and budget limitations.

Develop a plan to measure the impact. If you are already tracking brand awareness, market share, and brand attributes, capture how those are trending in the period before you reposition the brand (the “Pre" period). If you don’t track these, develop a plan for measurement on-going so you can capture changes in the future.

One key example of brand repositioning, CVS Health, showcases some of the reasons discussed above on why a brand would take this important strategic step, and how repositioning can be a key growth driver.

Embracing health and wellness: CVS Caremark becomes CVS Health

CVS Caremark repositioned their brand to better leverage shifts in the healthcare landscape, including changes in consumer behavior. The company sought to emphasize its expanding role in providing health care services to its consumers beyond the traditional pharmacy model and strengthening its partnerships with other health providers. It was seeking to help people on their path to better health. The brand expression included the addition of the CVS Health Heart, intended to be a relatable, universal new symbol that brought to life the organization’s purpose.

The move coincided with the company’s decision to end the sale of all tobacco products, becoming the first national community pharmacy chain to make this health-forward move despite the not insignificant loss of revenue and profit for their publicly traded company. This decision was applauded by the health community and strategically reinforced CVS in consumers minds as a convenient local, neighborhood health center they could trust. Strategically, this move helped put CVS pharmacists at the front and center, helping consumers navigate a variety of health issues, including quitting smoking. Pharmacists have become a trusted resource from consumers, and according to one recent survey, “Most Americans visit their pharmacist more frequently than they visit their primary care physician. For many Americans, the local pharmacist is the only accessible health care provider.”

Image courtesy of Health Populi

Given how strategic a decision it is to reposition, the company looked holistically at the business to make changes consistent with its evolved positioning. For example, they focused intensively to provide products that were efficacious, affordable, and innovative via CVS Health branded products as well as exclusive brands to offer customers alternatives to national brands. Their recently launched line, Live Better by CVS Health, offers trusted and transparent wellness products to help consumers stay well and live a better life. In some cases, CVS partnered with external suppliers to deliver new product innovation to meet the brand’s growth and other goals.

Image courtesy of CVS

A health partner during and post-pandemic

During the pandemic, CVS Health continued to deliver on its brand positioning with its role as a neighborhood healthcare partner to millions of Americans, with the delivery of vaccines and boosters through their MinuteClinic. They provided an easy way for families like ours to stay safe, as getting limited appointment slots with our kids’ small pediatrician practice proved difficult. This integral role further cemented the brand in our minds as intrinsically linked to our family’s health. Late last year, their CEO announced that CVS stores would become a place that Americans — particularly older ones — would go to see their doctor. A bold move, but consistent with their brand strategy. With 10,000 retail locations, 1,200 walk-in clinics, and a pharmacy benefits manager with plus than 100 million members with Aetna and Caremark, they have the reach to deliver on that lofty goal.

In late 2021, CVS Health felt the brand needed to drive greater awareness of the role the brand plays to enable consumers to take control of their healthcare, even more relevant in the post-pandemic world. The new ads show how they partner with consumers to “get healthier together”, a place where needs are taken seriously, where you can ask tough questions–day or night, and where health includes physical, sexual and mental health. The brand is appealing to consumers on both emotional and functional levels, increasing consumer trust in the brand.

Was it worth it?:

Image courtesy of Fortune

CVS Health came in at No. 32 on Fortunes’ rankings of the world's most respected and reputable corporations, up 6 spots from 2018. Revenues have doubled from 2015 to 2021. In one 2022 survey of the most trusted brands, CVS Health is the #1 retail brand in the U.S. and the #5 most trusted brand overall. The health-focused CVS brand has proven to be ever green and is well integrated into all facets of their company. Clearly, a strong brand repositioning can last for years when it is succeeds in its emotional connection with their audience.

Brand repositioning should not be taken lightly, but it can be a game-changer for brand growth as it was for CVS Health. Please reach out to explore how repositioning your brand would help you reach your goals. Or, if you are about to embark on a brand repositioning but need some outside expertise to get it done, we’d love to help.

Lynda Ferrari

Lynda is a consumer marketing expert with a track record of successful U.S. and global product launches. She has created new product innovations across consumer wellness, from personal care to digital health. She is a founding partner of Compass Marketing.

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