A cartoon from Tom Fishburne brought memories back of my time as Director of Research for Blockbuster Online, when we launched Blockbuster Total Access, the service with which you could rent movies online, exchange them for new movies at the store, and watch them while you waited for new movies to arrive by mail.

As part of the launch we decided to redesign the envelop in which movies were sent out by mail to differentiate it from the old online rental service and highlight the value added by the new service, so a rebranding exercise got started. We got more than 200 design versions of the envelop and logo from four creative groups (internal and external), all trying to revamp and modernize the Blockbuster brand. Some, in the name of simplicity, went so far from the brand’s history that it was unrecognizable, like it happened to Tropicana orange juice a few years ago.

Fortunately, the Blockbuster Online group had a strong advocate for market research in our GM, Shane Evangelist, who refused to make a decision until we tested the options. He was wise enough to understand that we were not the target audience, and without user feedback all was an exercise in personal tastes and opinions.

Due to the large amount of design versions we had, we first needed to reduce them to a manageable number that could be tested. We selected designs representing each school of thought brought by the different teams, which reduced the number of designs to around 30. We then ran several focus groups with different customer segments that helped us to further reduce the number down to 12 designs representing 3 different rebranding approaches. This was still a large number of designs, and the design which looked as a potential winner was the least favorite among the design teams, so we conducted a survey which included a MaxDiff exercise to help us identify a winner and quantify preferences.

Which design won? Of course, the one the design teams disliked the most. I, personally, wasn’t surprised by the results. From the focus groups we had learned that this design covered all the basics and still managed to be appealing and scored high on simplicity. The main advantage of this design was that it made brand recognition effortless by combining key elements from the brand people were familiar with. It had the traditional brand colors (blue/golden yellow), it was about movies, and the value message was clear. The quantitative research validated these insights.

It is not uncommon using focus groups to test advertising and designs, but many agencies stop at that and don’t go the extra step of validating the results. Focus groups are good for exploration and guidance, but don’t give definitive answers.

In short, to avoid rebranding mishaps test, test, and test again with your target audience using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.