Eight O’Clock Coffee’s Brand Image Re-design Gives Us More to Think About Than Just Visual Appeal

April 3, 2009 by  Filed under: Branding 

A discussion on LinkedIn’s CPG Branding and Marketing Forum caught my attention. Eight O’Clock Coffee recently launched a sweepstakes promotion asking consumers to vote for their choice of new packaging. In response to the promotion, a LinkedIn member had posted a question a couple of weeks ago asking what people thought of the new Eight O’Clock Coffee packaging options. Specifically, the member asked “what do people think of the new options when compared to the current version?” and “what do people think about companies that engage consumers in the branding process?”

Although the promotion is now over, I realized that no one had addressed an even more fundamental question of when and why a brand should re-brand. One cannot reasonably evaluate a new brand identity without understanding the need for changing it in the first place. A re-branding effort should not be conducted just for the sake of refreshing the image and identity of the brand – there must be a stronger rationale or strategic basis for the decision. That may seem obvious, but in many instances, brands reset their images just because they can – a new brand manager wants to imprint his/her mark on the business and, what better way to pump life into a brand with a slow innovation pipeline than to conduct a re-branding on a brand that has maintained the same look for many years.

However, I believe that any owner or, for that matter, critic of a new brand identity must first understand the strategic need for a re-branding and what problems, if any, exist with the existing brand identity. Re-branding is a costly proposition, so updating a brand identity should not be taken lightly or done to merely enhance an existing identity. I once worked on a re-branding assessment for a company that, by acquisition, had, over time, acquired multiple entities which continued to be in use, resulting in some level of confusion among the company’s customers, making the need for a streamlined brand very apparent. In the case of Eight O’ Clock Coffee, I see the brand’s interest in re-branding to be illustrative of a larger need: the need to grow the brand’s franchise and identity beyond its core consumers.

Therefore, I have a slightly different take on Eight O’ Clock’s sweepstakes than some of the people who responded to the post’s questions on strictly aesthetic bases. Eight O’ Clock is a brand with a lot of history and equity as a bagged, whole bean, premium value brand – at about $6 per pound it is positioned above the Folgers of the world but below many of the newer and higher priced bagged brands such as New England, Dunkin and Starbucks. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Eight O’Clock Coffee had over a quarter of the U.S. market share and many of those fiercely loyal consumers were the ones who kept the brand going for so long. As such, it has become one of those nostalgia brands with a need to maintain its historic equities and loyal consumer base while appealing to potential new customers.

It has developed a loyal, but older-aged demographic with a sticky price sensitivity, keeping the brand strong, but possibly at the expense of future growth if it fails to refresh its consumer base as its core consumers (forgive my morbidity) quite literally, die. My sense, though, is that in the current new economy, as Americans shift their coffee dollars to home brewing instead of away-from-home purchases (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE52K1RY20090321 ), the Eight O’ Clock brand offers new relevancy and appeal to consumers that are looking to recreate the experience of coffee shop coffee in their own home.

This relevancy is bringing new attention to the brand, with Consumer Reports in February rating Eight O’ Clock as the “Best Cup O’ Brew” for its taste profile and value at less than half the price of premium priced brands such as Peet’s (see: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2178988/posts ). I have no doubt that the sweepstakes presented Eight O’ Clock with a unique opportunity to engage and draw potential new consumers into the franchise by freshening up its image and providing a forum to do so through a medium that younger users tend to favor. According to Eight O’Clock Coffee’s image makeover website, “we understand during these uncertain and changing times that Americans are looking for consistency. We respect that and have decided to postpone changing our for the time being.” While Eight O’ Clock’s core consumer (i.e., older) loyalists may have ultimately had the last say in maintaining the same brand image as a measure of reassurance, in the long run, Eight O’ Clock can only benefit from its efforts to engage and attract consumers in new and innovative ways.

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