You could have knocked me over with a feather when my teenager said “Cadillac’s are cool” as we passed a dealership. I realized this was the rebrand success story of the century. When I was his age, Cadillac stood for “old people’s car.” Granted, it was a car for old people with money. But it was definitely not cool. The fact that a young demographic is showing interest in this brand is a testament to the success of the Cadillac rebrand strategy. Fallon’s remake of the Cadillac brand, with help from a company-wide post-bailout GM makeover, is a journey that other organizations—even nonprofits interested in rebranding—can look to for lessons.
Lesson #1: Build on core strengths. Cadillac built its new campaigns around its (original) competencies in engineering and bravado, taking on BMW, Audi and Mercedes by a commitment to out-engineering those brands and appealing to those “making it,” not just resting on their laurels or playing it safe. Figure out your brand essence, and build on it. Avoid getting sidetracked with those features or programs that aren’t your core competencies. Get input on a tag cloud from your various stakeholder groups. You might try the “what our brand is now” versus “what we want our brand to be” and see where there’s overlap. Often this is the core mission or competency.
Lesson #2: You don’t have to toss the old logo; just reimagine it. Cadillac’s shield was in many ways a relic of its age as a brand. The shield would seem like a negative in a world of sleek and simple car logos. Instead of tossing the image, the graphics team built a whole new, razor’s edge focus on technology using the lines and negative space of the shield.
Lesson #3: Commit to a talented rebrand team. Cadillac had pitches from many firms, and landed top talents in motion graphics, sound design, research, and creative direction. While your company or nonprofit may not be hiring a top agency like Fallon Minneapolis to shepherd your project, you can still assign a rebrand team made up of internal and external talent whose goal is to think big.
Lesson #4: Show your customers and products in action…with video. Even if you can’t produce a slick spot like this Cadillac aspirational ad you can do what the ad does: show your “target consumer” using your product. If you are a nonprofit, that could mean showing an African village using the new well you just dug. If you’re a hospital, show a happy child and their family after a life-saving surgery. In the corporate world, let users champion your product or service by creating their own videos of themselves using your brand. Set up a Pinterest page and let your “users” pin their favorite images of the brand in action.
Lesson #5: Bean-counters shouldn’t win over “car guys.” (See Bob Lutz’s book on this topic.) Don’t get me wrong, bean counters are often the ones who let us know we’re in trouble. They are the ones who say the business model isn’t sustainable, that some aspect of the brand isn’t selling well. But the visionaries and key stakeholders—the ones who really Get the core mission and values—are the ones who must ultimately re-invent the brand. If your rebrand team only assesses bottom line, you may end up cutting the very programs, products or services that make your brand distinct.