Many emerging brands are able to build a large and loyal customer base locally. Locally, they may be a household name.
But what worked in their hometown may be less successful as they expand into new markets where your brand is starting from scratch. Consumers and retailers don’t know you and your brand story. In some cases, a rebrand may increase a company’s ability to grow. But it’s important to maintain the character of the brand.
Matthew McIver, CEO of SKU partner Commence Studio, shared the story of Blind Dog Coffee Roaster – a case study in how to rebrand a beloved brand to help it scale without losing its personality, and the philosophy behind their approach.
“Behind every great brand there is an equally inspiring story. The Blind Dog Coffee story is one that teaches us to overcome our struggles and that our biggest challenges can become our biggest opportunities,” says McIver. “What do you get when you combine brand strategy with a quirky, playful coffee roaster? A dog-gone good time.”
An iconic nevada coffee brand
As a young child Blind Dog Coffee founder Mark Berry developed cancer that threatened his eyesight. Luckily, Berry received treatment and his cancer went into remission. Fast forward to his 49th birthday, where he was declared legally blind and could no longer earn a living as he had done the past 30 years.
Berry and his family decided they would overcome this challenge as a team. Inspired by a love of caffeine, everything organic and man’s best friend, Berry decided he would professionally roast coffee under the moniker Blind Dog Coffee. In 2007, the company officially launched. From the beginning, Blind Dog pursued a noble cause: providing local customers with conscious, organic coffee while raising money for the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation.
Blind Dog’s packaging was bold, bright and a little bit quirky. The bright green bag, with a logo of a white dog with sunglasses.
“Their packaging oozed personality,” says Berry
Primed for Global Domination
After years of success in the local market it was time to talk expansion. But could the original packaging compete on a national level where it was an unknown brand? How could they take a local, organic coffee company on a mission to end childhood cancer across the country?
“They needed help scaling into bigger markets from San Francisco Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in-between,” says McIver.
After hearing the story behind Blind Dog Coffee and meeting the amazing humans behind the brand, Commence Studio was excited at the opportunity to work with them. As a creative agency focused on branding environmentally and socially-conscious CPG brand, it was a match made in heaven.
Commence Studio believes that great branding begins with strategy. Every successful company knows where they’ve been before they decide where they’re going. Once they know who they are, they begin to plan how they’ll get to where they want to be.
“You wouldn’t travel across the country without a map would you?” says McIver.
Ready for the Big Leagues
In order to create a national brand, Commence had to get a deep understanding of the people behind the coffee. After taste testing, touring the roastery and in-person strategy sessions, they had an understanding of Blind Dog. Next, they took a critical look at the current packaging.What did it communicate? How did it make customers feel?
Blind Dog Coffee had a product that would “make you write home to momma,” says McIver. They had a unique story backed by a charitable cause. But they needed updated packaging and logo were outdated.
“They deserved something that stayed true to themselves but was able to compete with the big players on the shelf,” says McIver.
To local consumers, the bright green packaging was iconic. But the background print felt a little busy, with a confusing product hierarchy and value proposition. The current mascot was scrappy, industrial and didn’t take itself too seriously and didn’t translate well when shown on a black versus a white background.
“When using the current logo, the Blind Dog Team was just inverting it when using it on a dark versus a light background,” says Creative director, Kylie Souza. “That means shadows were becoming highlights and it was altering the image in an unrecognizable way.”
Second, some of their product names had greater brand recognition than their brand name, which can work for some companies, but ultimately would be a roadblock as Blind Dog started to scale.
Selling your story
Knowing yourself is half the battle. The other half is knowing where you fit into the market. Commence took a hard look at what makes large coffee brands successful and discovered that they had a few things in common.
#1 They had a great tasting product
#2 They presented that product in a visually appealing way
#3 They connected to customers through their story
Working with coffee is all about selling the story. It’s about creating a feeling of community and honoring a lifestyle. The design choices that the team made included:
- Modernizing the front of each bag
- Keeping the quirky-ness of the owners by sticking with the playful dog icon but smoothing some of the lines that came with him
- Giving the primary products impactful color blocking so customers can start associating their favorite roasts with the brand’s specific colors/
- Moving toward a more subtle, cleaner more professional type choice.
The Power of Easter Eggs
The key to good design is “easter eggs” – the hidden messages in the design. These are the easter eggs that Commence’s designer left:
Easter egg #1: The artist wanted to show “B” and “D” in the braille alphabet to pay homage to Mark Berry’s story.
Easter egg #2: The sides of the coffee bags pay homage to the artwork in the original packaging which were done by local artists
“With logo design becoming more minimalistic we saw simple opportunities that would create intrigue and add depth to the design,” Creative Director Souza says about the Easter Eggs. “We found a good balance of having interesting moments that fit the brand’s personality.”
The updated brand identity and packaging system modernized the front and gave primary products a strategic color blocking to make them even more recognizable. The fan favorite – Nevada Black, an Italian Roast – can be seen in an all black color block with artistic accents down the side representative of the iconic Nevada cowboy.
The rebrand stayed true to the makers behind the coffee while listening to consumer trends to create a look inspired by the company’s culture.
About Commence Studio
Commence Studio is a creative agency that’s about forward movement. As an agency that specializes in helping CPG brands communicate their mission through disruptive design and strategic marketing tactics.
Their services include branding, digital marketing services, packaging design, web development, web design, Shopify development, photography and more. Visit them at https://Commence.Studio to learn about their full list of services.