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Posted: August 05, 2014

Boldly rebranding

Staying relevant in a changing market

John Le Bel

Our first Anthony's Pizza & Pasta store launched in 1984 on California Street and still exists today. We built the Anthony’s award-winning pizza and brand on using the best ingredients and on making a product that was uncommon for its time. We bought local ingredients before the phrase “farm-to-table” was part of the vernacular. We then worked hard and quietly to help many organizations and people in need in throughout Denver. We could have never accomplished so much without our customers, who are the kind most companies can only dream about. 

But this is not about bragging rights. It is about re-engineering what looks like, on the surface, to be a perfectly good brand – right?

We began to think about a brand re-working during the 2008 economic downturn. Up to that point, times were good and we felt no pressured to change – but then the recession hit, and we were scrambling.

The upset was not about a business (Anthony's) failing, but rather because our collective gut told us that we were behind the curve. Things were changing fast and in different directions. Expectations appeared to change overnight.

We probably should have tackled our rebrand right then and there, but we hesitated. We fretted that our marketing wasn’t on point, that our operations were slack, and that there were other brands chipping away at our market share. So we decided to stay the course for a while.

Eventually – and boldly – we decided that we needed to stray from this path. Yet we proceeded with great hesitation: Anthony’s operates in one of the most competitive markets in the country, birthplace to brands like Chipotle, Noodles & Co., and Smashburger. In this environment, you need get it right or the customer moves on.

What’s more, as the market evolves, what do you do to keep a once loved (or at least much respected) brand from becoming irrelevant?

For the moment, forget about the legendary Fortune 500s like Sears or Kodak; it’s hard for most of us to relate to multi-billion dollar companies when we’re dreaming of $100 million revenues. Instead, think about brands that have successfully reinvented themselves: Old Spice, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Snickers. Apple and J. Crew did it, and Cadillac (an American icon!) is desperately trying to as well.

We knew the possible downsides of reimaging ourselves, and of the potential for a very expensive and very public disaster that could do much more harm than good. We knew that we needed to be very clear about what we wanted to accomplish, so we started the process by asking a lot of questions:

  • What do we do right?
  • What do we want to accomplish with the brand?
  • What is important about our brand?
  • Does the brand seem to represent our values?
  • We know our brand defines us, but does it limit us as well?
  • What about our brand do we not like?
  • Have our customers changed, or do we want different customers?
  • What do we think will be important to our customers in 5 or 10 years?
  • What are we missing?

We thought long and hard about each of these questions. We also spent time talking to and understanding our customers. At the end, we concluded that price is important – but so are our wholesome, natural ingredients. “Traditional and classic” does not have to mean “dated and tired.” And customer service was (and remains) key.

Lastly, we observed and researched the evolving pizza market – frequently looking at brands like Domino’s (which spent millions reinventing themselves) for lessons and guidance.

Through this process, we got to know our brand better – and thus prepared to reinvigorate the entire company. We collected ideas, and found great inspiration in Italian trattorias, New York pizza joints, fresh Southern California concepts and long-established Washington, DC eateries. From all of these and more, we distilled the elements that we had all along and incorporated them into an all-encompassing design concept.

Without a doubt, our rebranding effort was substantial. We changed our logo, our restaurant design, our merchandising and our point-of-sale materials. And at the end of the day, we cannot emphasize this strongly enough: A rebrand should not be taken lightly. If you think there is a need to “do something,” you need to make sure that you’re doing the right something. This thought process is what allows your rebrand to withstand the test of time. Not long ago, brands like JC Penny and Radio Shack were hailed for their bold rebranding efforts. Today, it’s clear that those brands needed more than a new look and a new logo.

We’re pleased and proud to say that so far, the customer response to Anthony’s rebrand has been fantastic – and the financial results are very positive as well. Some of our success can be attributed to our bold marketing and our long-standing community involvement and company culture of philanthropy; however, it all started with a deep commitment to understanding our brand better and working to keep it relevant in a changing market.

Our employees and franchisees are proud of what we have done, and we look forward to more changes and evolution. We love being bold at Anthony’s, and we encourage you to be bold with your brand as well.

A New York native, John Le Bel graduated from the University of Colorado-Denver with a political science degree. After a career in politics and as a lobbyist, he returned to Denver in the 1990s and joined pollster Floyd Ciruli of Ciruli & Associates. Le Bel discovered Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta at the original 16th Street Mall location at the same time, and enamored with the business, he became one of the first Anthony’s franchisees. He now serves as president of Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta International, which has 25 Front Range locations. Contact him at: jlebel@anthonyspizzaandpasta.com or 720.932.1800.

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