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3 rebranding lessons from Miley Cyrus

Betsy Farber
3 rebranding lessons from Miley Cyrus Betsy Farber

For any brand looking to reinvent itself, look no further than Miley Cyrus. Last year when she made her unforgettable appearance at MTV's VMAs, full of unique tongue wagging and Robin Thicke groping, all while being surrounded by a gaggle of giant stuffed bears, millions of viewers were shocked, even outraged. But from a marketing perspective, it was just a classic case of rebranding: A reliable and popular brand, reinventing its image, and sending a loud and clear message shouting "hey, this is what I stand for now!"

3 rebranding lessons from Miley Cyrus

And whether or not you saw Miss Cyrus' performance as the result of a troubled teen lashing out or a brilliant calculated wizard manipulating her audience doesn't really matter. Even if you didn't see it or aren't a crazed Miley fan (like myself), you heard about it. In her bold move, she managed to redefine her brand message in minutes. Was it risky? No doubt. But was it effective? Debatable. However, the massive buzz she created within and outside her target audience -- from teens to Boomers -- had everyone talking about it for days, weeks, even months following the performance. And not to mention the social media explosion that resulted in 306,1000 tweets per minute compared to the previous year's 98,307 tweets per minute. It's fair to say, the twerking memo was heard loud and clear.

So what can other brands and marketers take away from this? Here are three lessons from three industry professionals weighing in on Miley's rebranding efforts.

Know your message

Even if you're not quite ready to smash a wrecking ball through your current image, to pivot from one message to another requires clear, defined communication. Bryon Lomas, VP creative director, Garfield Group, suggests, "Before you go off dying your hair and losing 85 percent of your clothing, the first thing you need to do is step back and ask yourself, 'Why are we rebranding?'"

"A rebrand should be based on a real business need, objective or reality. It could be a change in your product offering, your service or even your staff -- perhaps a merger or principal hire. Another reason might be that you want to stand out in the market because you've become complacent or lost in the noise," he adds.

"Successful reinvention comes from digging deep to find what's true about a brand's DNA," says Britt Fero, chief strategy officer, Publicis Seattle, "and then being able to reinterpret that for new audiences, new markets, new times. Rarely have brands totally scrapped everything they've always been about and successfully become something else. But they have reached down deep to find what's always been true and found a new way of behaving based on those same beliefs. Burger King, for example: 'Have it Your Way' wasn't a new thought for the brand -- but Subservient Chicken signaled a new way of behaving around that core idea," she says.

Bryon Lomas says the most important lesson you can learn when rebranding is to "stand out." He adds, "You are changing who you are to people, whether you're going from a mom-and-pop organization to a large one, simply want to stay relevant to your audience, or are trying to acquire a new one. Rebrand with a bang."

"Miley didn't just lose the Hannah Montana side of her; she changed everything about herself, from her look to her personality, style of music, persona and audience. And she did it with a bang. She made heads turn, she made people stop in their tracks, she made people sing along and, most importantly, she made people talk about her," adds Lomas.

And rebranding doesn't have to mean going rogue, being risqué, or changing your values all at once -- although, it can.
"Shock and awe does work. That's been proven time and time again. It's almost a theorem; the stronger a brand is, the more powerful the counter force that is required to shift its image," says Kevin Meany, founder and CEO of BFG.

Fero suggests to not go all "Miley" on your brand, "if they're looking for a Good Housekeeping seal of approval or want to sell to moms."

Target a new demographic

One of the hardest feats for a brand to achieve is not just finding a new audience or demographic to reach, but winning that new audience over. In Miley's case, going from innocent Disney poster child to edgy adult pop princess required having unwavering confidence in her new image.

"Miley didn't tell her audience what to think. Rather she let the audience discover the new Miley, and she let them pass it on. YouTube works! Better yet, Miley was totally authentic and believably honest when speaking about her transformation and her evolution from Hannah Montana to 'Wrecking Ball,'" says Kevin Meany.

If you don't believe what you're brand is now selling, then why should anyone else?

"You want your audience to believe that your brand is a living, breathing entity, consistent across all mediums, including on stage, in social media, online, in the office, in the store or wherever people might come across it," adds Bryon Lomas.

No matter what channel your new message is being communicated through, consistency is key.

"You only get one chance to make sure it's firing on all cylinders. From your logo, to your website, to your collateral, to your social pages, they should all be consistent. They should all have the same look and say the same thing," adds Lomas.

Take risks (and don't apologize for them)

"Go big or go home," was coined by an unknown yet brave soul who was 150 percent committed to his or her decisions, despite what the haters might say or think. And that's exactly the mindset your brand must have when going through a rebrand.

"It's not easy. It's a challenging process that requires a lot of time looking in the mirror, which can be difficult for some. Don't rush it. Make sure it's right, make sure it's you and make sure that at the end of the day it's something that you can live with. Some brands have done it well, while others have not," says Bryon Lomas.

Going out of your comfort zone inherently requires taking a leap, no matter how big or small that might be. But even with your risks, make sure they are authentic, relevant, and aligned with your new message.

"Stunts draw people in. They make headlines. They create waves. They drive conversation. Miley proved that. The 2013 VMA shenanigans drove record sales. She was even in the running for Time's person of the year. But stunts usually don't create long term effect -- and truly reinvent or rebrand, unless stunts are really the core of her brand. She'll need to keep up the shock and awe in order to truly become a brand that is about shock and awe. Otherwise, they're just antics that can drive quick sales or conversation," says Britt Fero.

And sometimes the bigger the brand the harder it is to make the bigger moves. 

"I don't know of any big brands that could or would take the risk Miley did. I've been in the board room, and heard the debate -- big brand conversations usually start with an optimistic focus on what can be achieved through change, but typically end with a focus on what can be lost; sales, brand advocates, equity, stockholders. Big brands usually take a safer smaller step and as a result never make the giant leap Miley has," says Kevin Meany.

If there's a rebrand in your near future, consider these tactics before leaping. But if you're not quite ready, the 2014 VMAs are just a few weeks away, which if we're lucky, might include some more inspiration from a new Miley.

Betsy Farber is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Miley on the wrecking ball image" via here.  

Betsy Farber

Betsy graduated from Fordham University, at Lincoln Center in New York with a B.A. in Communications/Journalism. Before coming to iMedia, Betsy was a writer for DrinkEatTravel.com where she covered restaurant openings and food events in Los...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Franchesca Nguyen

2014, August 07

When you rebrand yourself or your company, don't you want positive changes though? In my opinion, Miley is a bad example of how you should "rebrand." She went from a sweet, American girl to a trashy, no self-respect, druggie that only turns heads because she is always basically naked. You would want to rebrand yourself or company in a way that you don't lose other's respect and you make positive changes.