Brand Repositioning: Things to Consider

Earlier this year both USA and Canada have been the subject of brand repositioning initiatives.

The Canadian re-branding initiative was designed and implemented by Bruce Mau Design at the request of the radio program Studio 360.

Brand USA has launched the Discover America campaign with the goal of “promoting increased international travel to the United States“.

I am going to use these two campaigns to illustrate some principles of a successful brand repositioning. I think the two examples show the dos and don’ts of a well thought re-branding exercise.

Reasons to Reposition a Brand

Brands need to evolve, adapt and sometimes radically change. Repositing is a very tricky and sensitive exercise. It involves tweaking or radically changing an existing perception in people’s mind, which is not an easy task.

Some of the common reasons for rebranding are:

  • Consumers have no defined perceptions about the brand
  • A competitive brand is promoting a superior value proposition
  • The core market the brand is targeting is slowly (or rapidly) diminishing
  • Brand is not appealing to future generations of consumers
  • The company introduced another brand that makes the existing brand’s positioning irrelevant
  • The company suddenly owns an internal competitive advantage that needs to be incorporated into the new strategy

Brand Repositioning Starts With a Meaningful Goal

Whatever the reason for brand repositioning the goal of the exercise has to be meaningful, realistic and implementable.

According to BMD President and CEO Hunter Tura “Canada didn’t need to be rebranded or redesigned. America needed to be educated. And that is the basis for our campaign: Know Canada.”

Brand USA’s main goal is to “to spearhead the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination“.

Which of the two goals seem more realistic? “Educating” the Americans? Or changing United States’ perception in the world, from a war-focused nation to a country that values diversity and is worth visiting (so true).

The American campaign seems to be have a more meaningful and realistic goal.

When starting a repositioning exercise, it’s easier to:

Inform rather than educate.

Elevate an existing perception rather than radically change it.

Become more specialized rather than generic.

Build on Current Perceptions, Rather Than Changing Them

The temptation is to always communicate everything your brand has to offer. There is only one problem: people have selective memory, and tend to attach only one “label” to a brand.

Google is “search”. Fedex is “overnight delivery”, Volvo is “safety”.

The more elements you are trying to communicate the less people remember you.

Let’s look at the strategy behind the Canadian brand repositioning initiative:

First step in creating the campaign was to ditch some of the most recognizable symbols — hockey, the maple leaf, Mounties — which were outdated, says BMD President and CEO Hunter Tura.

According to BMD the new “labels” Canada should be known for are: “Arcade Fire, Charging for plastic bags, Legalizing Gay Marriage, Blackberry, Bike Culture, Recycling/Composting, Occupy, Ryan Gosling, CBC, Immigration Laws, Margaret Atwood, Drake,Wayne Gretzky”… and the list goes on (see BMD’s presentation for full details).

Wow! Lots of labels to be attached to one brand.

Something doesn’t make sense.

Why would you get rid of the maple leaf, one of the most recognizable Canadian symbols?

In contrast, the American campaign’s goal is to generate curiosity, interest and desire to visit the country: “Discover this land like never before”. It builds on perceptions that exist already, that in America you can fulfill your dreams better than anywhere else in the world.

The song “Land of Dreams” is the perfect communication tool to drive the message into the head of the potential visitors:

Catchy and inspiring.


Any brand repositioning endeavor has to be approached carefully.

Generally speaking, the older and established the brand, the harder it will be to reposition. I am not saying it can’t be done, it’s just that the company needs to be prepared to invest a lot more resources in research and communication.

In regards to the two rebranding campaigns, it’s proven again that Americans are the best marketers in the world.

Your Turn

What do you think about the two campaigns? Which one do you think does a better job at repositioning a country? I look forward to your comments and opinions.

More Resources

Check out the brand positioning tutorials page for more articles on how to build strong and differentiated brands.


  1. Graham, thanks for your comment. I am a big fan of your blog, Beloved Brands.

  2. Lawrence, thank you for your excellent comment. I agree that it’s up to citizens of a particular country to deliver on the brand promise. That being said, in my opinion repositioning a brand should start with assessing the current perceptions that the target audience (in this case USA) has about that Canada. Based on discussions with my friends abroad Canada is associated with cold, hockey and the maple leaf. Why not build on these perceptions rather than starting from 0?

  3. This year, one of my clients competed against these two brands. While I think the Canadian Tourism Commission has done a great job, they now have to battle against this diversion by a political party. I think this work is crap, and is not really telling a truth that fits with what Canada is all about. As for the Brand USA work, it’s not really a re-positioning, but a telling of the truths we already know. The 60 is fair-to-good, but the 30 loses the magic and falls flat. Given the strategic need to promote the US, the branding is way too subtle. The website feels interesting in that it fits with how consumers shop the sub-brands (aka states)

  4. Nice read. Interesting perspective. Bravo for the quick hits indicators on knowing when its time to refresh an offering, and what to strive for when executing (i.e. – build on current perceptions rather than trying to change them).

    In regards to which execution does a better job of repositioning a country, I do not believe that question can be answered. At least not at this moment. The answer is dependent on the degree to which the employees, in this case citizens of each country, meet/exceed the expectations established by the stated promises.

    In the case of Canada, I will respectfully challenge the position that they erroneously walked away from their heritage (i.e. Maple Leaf). While they may have work to do in terms of distilling the attributes that define Canada, it is 2012 and a lot has changed since the Maple Leaf was conceived. Through my own place branding experience, I’ve learned that like all other consumables, a city is the net sum of beliefs maintained by residents and those who can become or explore what it is like to be a resident.

    So, if Drake, Blackberry (YIKES!), and Legalizing Gay Marriage permeate the souls of our northern neighbors, then by all means, Canada should represent those beliefs which they’re naturally inclined to act upon.

    I mean, positioning (or repositioning) is all about telling a story that reflects what people believe they will attain by contributing to and/or using, as employees and customers, respectively. In our ever-transparent world, practitioners of brand must evolve the approach to shaping a brand. Meaning, we have a responsibility to champion truly authentic definitions and articulations of offerings that the people working on can stand behind to the same degree as those being asked to buy.

    Said another way, let’s go beyond associating a brand with identified choice drivers, and infuse the beliefs held by the enablers. In this case, we’re talking about bus drivers, school teachers, career moms, entrepreneurs, little league coaches, corporate executives, retirees and everyone who contributes to making a country’s fairy tale, otherwise known as “Brand Promise”, reality.


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