Thursday, April 02, 2009

Change is not always good

Orange juice giant Tropicana has recently been taking some flack for redesigning the packaging on what was, essentially, already a successfully functioning brand and look. Pepsico, its parent company, recently announced that after less than two months of the new design, it will return to its original packaging due to customer complaints. Consumers said that the new look (which replaces the now iconic orange with a straw for a more abstracted glass of juice) made Tropicana blend in with generic brands on the shelf and presented problems when hurried shoppers tried to distinguish between the varieties such as “no pulp,” and “extra calcium.” At a time when private label brands are surging and an item already has a strong brand image and core customer base, this definitely wasn’t a great move (especially when the volume of complaints was not that huge, but they were from people who labeled themselves as long time brand users).

Interestingly, the actual packaging differences are not enormous: the color scheme, the single color item emphasis, and the logo offer some carry-over from the original design.

But perhaps the marketing folks at Pepsico misunderstood the power of its original design in relation to the place Tropicana holds in its customers’ brand memory. You would think they’d have learned their lesson with the recent trouncing of its parent company for re-vamping the Pepsi logo to be more in sync with the Obama “O” and piggybacked off of its message of hope and, well, change. While the change brought media attention to the brand, it wasn’t the kind that marketers had in mind.

Another recent change that’s also been universally disliked by users is the new Facebook interface. While logo changes are mostly for cosmetic and visual appeal, the complaints about the new Facebook, while not reducing its phenomenal growth in any way, means that users will have to adapt in more interactive ways. Interestingly enough, the petition against the new Facebook, signed by almost two million people, is of course, hosted on the Facebook site itself. The COO of the company talked about the interface as an evolving platform, always in the works and that they are interested in taking users’ concerns into consideration with each new iteration. While not a perfect incorporation of consumer feedback, it’s probably the right tack to the take for this kind of product.

Some manufacturers have gone one step further and gotten customers more deeply involved in the actual package design process. Stoneyfield Farms redesigned its yogurt packaging and logo--- although they’ve already finished getting input and made a choice based on it, still asking its online community to rate the various choices. Their online poll is a bit stilted, but it has the nice feature of allowing survey respondents to invent their own answers and then have those answers integrated into future version of the survey. Not only does this give the brand more of a transparent image with its core customers, it fits with the overall presentation of the company as engaging a larger community of consumers who buy Stoneyfield as part of a commitment to a particular lifestyle and set of values. Perhaps if Pepsico had paid more attention to those kinds of sociometrics, the desire for change would not have hit them quite so hard.

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