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Brand Changes: The Different Types Of New


We hear a lot about how fast and how much the world is moving. But when brands absorb what they think is consumers’ fascination with the new and shiny and respond to it, reactions can be mixed. The trap for marketers in this is that there are different types of “newness”: the ‘new’ people queue for, talk about, and go mad on social networks over; and the ‘new’ that bewilders, confuses, worries, or even confronts.

To help explain why this happens, I’ve categorized ‘new’ into three groups.

1. “New for me” – the exciting changes; the new developments and extensions that people can’t wait to share; the changes that generate dopamine. Technology, media, gaming, fashion, books etc – the life-enhancing things that people can bring into and add to their world that make it more lively and interesting. These changes are easy to introduce because they fit easily and well into the “upgrade culture”. People are waiting for them. Pretty much, announce and they will come.

2. “New to me” – the changes that move things into people’s world and in doing so make life less familiar; things that they now need to learn or remember to do or look for; things that challenge people’s habits. New labels, new policies, new pricing structures, new buying rituals. A number of brands, like JC Penney for example, learned to their cost last year that when you adjust what people feel comfortable with, they take time and coaxing to shift.

I call this phenomenon “spooling”. It’s the time that consumers take to catch up, adjust and get used to what a brand has done. If a brand gets ahead of its consumers and doesn’t take them on the journey, reactions can be adverse and significant. New Coke is the most famous example of this. The outcry over the drink wasn’t really about what the drink was. It was actually about what the drink wasn’t anymore. To bring about these changes effectively, brands need to lead consumers through the change – explaining fully, urging quietly and encouraging patiently while people sort it out in their own minds.

 3. “New at me” – the changes, often in attitudes, that challenge people and businesses at close to a visceral level because they test the very boundaries, moral and physical, that people, communities and even societies have established for themselves. Social justice issues can fall into this category by way of example. Change in this space is slow, obstinate and often beset with skepticism and resentment. Consumers require discussion, debate and above all time to work through what is being proposed, why it’s needed, how they feel about that and whether they are willing to participate. (This interesting article looks at why consumers have been so slow to engage with climate change.)

The best changes are perfectly pitched to the level of “new” they introduce.

The most surprising changes are those that make challenging change exciting or that elevate a small change into something that people hanker for.

Where marketers can go wrong very quickly is if they mismatch how a change is introduced with how a change is greeted. Retailers sometimes do this – introduce a packaging or a formula change that they think is exciting only to find that it’s greeted by buyers as an inconvenience they need to adjust to. Or they can mis-pace their product development by bringing out a product that continues the familiar at the very time that people want something exciting and different.

Both pale by way of impact, however, to brands that introduce changes that challenge people in an “at me” way but were not framed in that manner. That dichotomy of size-of-issue versus pace-of-change is one that NGOs often struggle with for example. They seek to introduce what feels to many like far-reaching change quickly because for the NGO the matter is urgent. For the recipient of the message though, the consideration time is much longer, and people react adversely because they hate feeling rushed or pressured. Their response is to dismiss the call for the new as wrong.

If you’re bringing a change to market this year, be very aware of what sort of ‘new’ it is for the people who buy from you, and plan your communications accordingly. New is in the eye of the beholder.

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Twitter: Diplomat_Serge
on January 10th, 2014 said

Useful tips!

There is really a difference between “new” and marketers should get to know their audience better in order to understand what type of “new” they want right now.

Mark Disomma
Twitter: markdisomma
on January 11th, 2014 said

Agree Serge. Thanks for your thoughts. Regards, Mark.

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