The Gap Re-Brand: Should’ve Done Some More Research…

In an earlier post we talked about how a lack of market research got Tropicana in some trouble. Well… it’s happened again. Many have already seen and heard about the newly re-branded Gap logo that surprised the world more than Rocky vs. Apollo. With little fanfare or warning, the new design became a viral force and reached the mainstream in the matter of hours after its release. Unfortunately in this case, instead of praise and admiration, it was met with an onslaught of confusion, criticism and laughter.

Shortly after the unveiling, blogs and twitter accounts ran wild with (mostly negative) commentary. Designers cringed at the sight of the out of place blue box, customers wondered why a classic label was abandoned for something that looked to be ClipArt, and critics sat back laughing. Soon after, numerous fake twitter accounts popped up (@gaplogo, @newgaplogo and @oldgaplogo, for example) with the sole purpose of mocking the logo, amassing thousands of followers. Vanity Fair even got in the fray calling the logo “infantile”. The onslaught was ongoing, and it wasn’t kind.

A week later, Gap got the hint and announced that it would be reverting back to the classic look.

Ooops.

The long term effects of the snafu remain unclear, but there’s already been more than enough embarrassment and financial waste for the company to mark this down as simply a minor blooper. Valuable lessons can be learned from the short lived re-branding, particularly in the area of market research.

While there’s room for gut feelings and intuition, whenever a company is looking to make drastic changes, thorough market research is a necessity. A new direction can’t be pursued on a limb, it has to be supported. Stakeholders need to be asked, and asked twice, and their responses need to be carefully quantified and examined. Their input is a crucial part of the decision making process and can’t be ignored.

When Gap decided that they wanted the logo to be “more contemporary and current”, did they ask consumers whether they agreed, or was this a “hey… we’ve had that logo for a while now, let’s change it up” type of on the fly idea? Judging from the fallout, Gap consumers had no qualms with the existing logo and didn’t see the need for a re-vamp, a sentiment that would’ve come through in the research phase. In fact, many were very fond of the classic, distinct, heritage look. Knowing that would’ve saved Gap a lot of time and money.

Decisions should never be made in a vacuum. Gap should have studied how consumer’s perceived their original logo, and whether these perceptions matched up with their desired brand attributes. If they did, then there was no need for a change. If they didn’t, then a new identity was the right decision.

But even if it was decided that a fresh look was necessary, the research shouldn’t have stopped. Possible logo ideas should have been screened by consumers to see what type of perceptions they evoked until a match was found between what the consumers saw, and what the company wanted them to see. Clearly, the Helvetica and blue square offering didn’t make anyone think of contemporary and current.

Market research needs to be ongoing, but should be ramped up even more before a major decision. A company has to be completely in tune with their customers. They need to know not only what they’re buying, but also what they’re feeling and saying. After all, if you’re customers don’t agree with your decisions, you’ll be in a heap of trouble.

At the very least, Gap got the message quickly and didn’t cling to a bad idea. With some more market research however, it might never have gotten to that point.

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