Chipotle and How to Modernize a Brand

September 23, 2015


In 2011, after years of controversy over their stance on the use of beef in their food, Chipotle began to dramatically modernize and change their brand. Unlike the storm brought from Google’s new logo, or last year’s Airbnb fiasco, Chipotle never re-touched their logo in order to attract new audiences. Nevertheless, it is probably the most prominent example of a successful re-branding in recent years.To understand why, it would be more helpful to explain what exactly a brand is. A brand – on the most basic level – is your commitment to your client. It’s a contract that details your promise regarding the service or products you sell. The logo is the suit that embodies that contract and shows those who look your way what you’re like and what you’re about. Are you the new cool kid in town that everybody should expect to surprise them, or the reliable business man that everybody can rely on?

When Chipotle decided to modernize their brand they understood that changing the appearance wouldn’t be enough to convince people things had changed. Despite their use of beef, they are still very much different than McDonald’s or Taco Bell in their ability to face their critics head on and deal with these issues firsthand. Instead of just changing the look, they decided to rewrite the contract and explain to their customers what changed.

Their first move was releasing a series of stop-motion videos that told stories of people learning and thinking about environmental issues, as well as what they could do about them. The videos weren’t just a way for Chipotle to express their artistic side, they were also a way for Chipotle to represent their new stance on issues that matter to their younger audience. Chipotle has held firm that their ingredients come from healthy, sustainable, and happy farms, and these videos try to prove that, without making everything appear like another branded advertisement.

While Chipotle’s environmentally conscious campaign showed positive effects for their company, there are plenty of companies that are not communicating or connecting with their audience in a meaningful way. A great example is RadioShack: in 2009, they were struggling to find their market, and they were widely seen as a ghost of their former, more profitable self. After changing CEOs three times since the turn of the millennium, not to mention enduring one financial decline after another, the company agreed to a corporate rebranding to try and revitalize their appeal and appearance. What they ended up with was a new coat of paint. From that point on they referred to themselves as “The Shack”.

Despite the “re-branding”, none of “The Shack’s” widespread criticisms were addressed upfront. There was no adjustment in management, the quality of the customer service was still poor, and as a result, profits remained on the decline. It was still RadioShack on the inside, and their consumer’s trust was damaged by brushing aside their complaints and concerns for just a new look. Their plan to change their name and branding while acting as if nothing was wrong, which left everyone asking “what was actually changing?” In this situation, the consumer was only an afterthought to the company, which had many more issues to handle than their name, and this was enough of a sign to many consumers to find better hardware stores.

RadioShack should’ve taken notes from Chipotle’s strategy and fixed complaints from consumers, or at least put forth the effort to fix them rather than cover them up. They did come close, though, specifically the 2014 Super Bowl with a commercial lampooning their outdated style while promising to be more appealing to modern trends not just in branding, but in customer service as well. Just as Chipotle proved consumer relatability to be a success for them, RadioShack found themselves with a 7% stock increase and a lot of positive press from the commercial. That said, looking back from today, it wasn’t enough to save them from bankruptcy, and it serves as a message to a lot of brands struggling to attract an audience: communication is key.

What both new and existing businesses can learn from Chipotle’s success and RadioShack’s eventual failure is that a look and name can go a long way in gathering attention and recognition. However, your relation with your audience and your transparency can go all the way in building rapport and integrity. Just as being an observant and conscious individual can make people more inclined to listen to you, a business that is self-aware of consumer opinions and issues is a business that is bound to find an audience that has more trust in their product.