When your business grows and changes, your brand should evolve with it. But figuring out when or what to rebrand can be tricky. For small business owner Stanley Chase III of Louisville Vegan Jerky Co. (LVJCo), rebranding was a natural evolution as the business grew, the competition changed and the market expanded.
What initially began as an accidental burnt meal has expanded into a thriving business, boasting 12 unique flavors sold nationwide. Owing much of its success to trendy and experimental package design, we’ll dive into the evolution of a brand and show how reinventing the look of your brand as it grows is crucial in maintaining a connection with your current customer base and expanding your reach to new audiences. We’ll take you through 4 distinct phases that businesses go through when it comes to successful rebranding:
By the end of this piece, you’ll have a better understanding of where you stand with your brand journey and whether rebranding your business is the right move. And 5 tips to help you rebrand successfully.
Picture this: it’s 2011, and the founder of LVJCo. is hustling hard to make ends meet by selling vegan sandwiches around town. One day, after attempting to create a new sandwich, he accidentally overcooked some soy protein and left it on the counter to cool off with the intention of trashing it. An hour later, his roommate yelled out from the kitchen, “Who made this jerky?! The rest is history—after tasting it himself, he quickly threw the rest into ziplock bags to share with friends at a local bar and his new snack was a hit.
Humble beginnings often demand financial prudence, but a few dollars and a big dream can go a long way. Fortunately, Stan also had an advantage: a self-taught background in graphic design and a brother who was an incredible illustrator.
In 2012, they teamed up to create LVJCo’s first label design inspired by the pride they had for their hometown city and vintage apothecary aesthetic. Each flavor was represented by famous Louisvillian figures, including Enid Yandell (sriracha maple), a world-famous sculptor and activist; Pete Browning (smoked black pepper), the first baseball player to get a personalized Louisville Slugger; and Tod Browning (bourbon smoked chipotle), director of the film Dracula.
The labels were printed locally and applied to each pouch by hand. As the popularity of the product grew, Stan needed a way to mass produce the bags quicker. He found a printing company that could print directly onto the bags, saving him valuable time and effort he could invest toward other aspects of growing the business.
With business on a roll and extra capital to spend on faster production, Stan was ready to upgrade his tiny labels to a full packaging design that would cover the entire bag from front to back. However, he realized that taking the DIY approach again wasn’t feasible, and he needed to devote more time to other aspects of the business while bringing in a fresh perspective. Collaboration and delegation were essential at this stage, but the local agency’s quote of $10,000 was out of reach. Feeling discouraged, he searched online for options and stumbled upon 99designs.
Stan tapped into our global community of designers and chose Top Level designer Mj.vass to work with. Through the collaboration 2 new flavors featuring 2 new historical Louisville figures were added; Reuben Durett (smokey Carolina BBQ), who opened Louisville’s first public library in 1871; and Stan’s mother, Paulette (maple bacon), who ignited his passion for cooking.
The upgraded design enveloped the entire bag, with a small window in front that cleverly takes the shape of Kentucky state, offering a glimpse of the jerky inside. Bolder colors and larger fonts were used to amplify the design’s impact and legibility, offering an upgrade that didn’t stray too far from the original look and feel.
Years flew by and word of the vegan snack spread like wildfire. “We found out folks in Portland, Oregon, discovered us, and the band Arcade Fire emailed us. All they knew was that Louisville was where vegan jerky comes from.” Riding on their growing success through word of mouth and witty social media marketing, it was obvious that the vegan jerky trend wasn’t just a fad. As other vegan jerky brands started to pop up, LVJCo was no longer alone in the market. It was time to start thinking bigger and finding ways to stand apart from the competition.
As LVJCo gained increasing recognition, sales and a strong social following, another major milestone in their business journey was quickly approaching—their 10-year anniversary. Stan revisited his packaging once again with new challenges to be addressed; how to stand out from the competition and appeal to an even broader audience. At that point, Stan had forged a solid working relationship with Mj.vass, leading him to entrust her with spearheading their next momentous rebrand.
Despite larger companies such as Beyond Meat entering the vegan jerky market, Stan aimed to preserve their indie aesthetic while incorporating trendy and contemporary elements. He sought to retain the Louisville-inspired themes of his current branding while introducing modern and impactful features. Mj.vass took to the drawing board (literally).
To preserve the feel of a boutique, independent brand Mj.vass incorporated a hand-drawn image of the Louisville skyline and kept the Kentucky-shaped package window. The historical figures were dropped from the design and replaced by bolder fonts, brighter colors and more vector elements to give a more modern feel. To top everything off, official non GMO, vegan certified and gluten free certifications were added. With a new design that boasted greater “mass appeal,” LVJCo could now confidently showcase its products on shelves alongside major competitors, all while remaining true to its Louisville indie roots.
I learned about the 20ft rule in branding, where you ask yourself if the customer can tell what the package is from 20ft away. Taking that advice, we wanted the packaging to be as clear and bold as possible.
As an extra visual treat and opportunity to try new recipes, Stan keeps things fun and unpredictable with small batch flavor drops, which he calls a “playground for experimentation.” This is where LVJCo can let loose and “truly connect with customers in a unique way, exercising complete creative control” without any regard to what is trending at the moment. This approach also allows LVJCo to collaborate with organizations that share the same values.
“For instance, Queer KY is a prime example of a group that does incredible work for the LGBTQ community in Kentucky. Our Shelby Park bag was a meaningful way for us to support the neighborhood where our production facility is located while also sharing their story with people around the world. It’s not just about being a snack company, but also about investing in and promoting the causes we believe in within our community.”
The evolution of LVJCo’s packaging design beautifully demonstrates how a brand can adapt and grow with ever-changing trends and demands while still staying true to its roots. From sharing ziplocked bags of jerky with friends to adorning the shelves of thousands of grocery stores throughout the nation, Stanley and LVJCo have come a long way.
Throughout every stage of rebranding, the brand’s essence has been preserved, solidifying its identity and resonating with new and loyal customers. Stan’s business journey offers us a wealth of insight into what it takes to keep your product fresh and exciting. Here are 5 key takeaways to consider if you are thinking about rebranding.
1. Don’t try to do everything yourself
Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. Collaborating with others can bring fresh perspectives and ideas, freeing up your time to focus on other areas of growing your business.
2. Embrace change
Design trends are always evolving. Keep your branding fresh and relevant to your audience’s interests and preferences while recognizing that aesthetic tastes may shift over time.
3. Balance innovation and consistency
While it’s important to embrace change and stay up-to-date with the latest trends, maintaining a consistent visual identity can help you to maintain a strong connection with your existing customer base. By blending fresh ideas with familiar elements, you can broaden your audience without alienating those who already love your brand. This approach not only builds brand loyalty but can also attract new customers drawn to your brand’s uniqueness.
4. Differentiate yourself from competitors
Communicate your unique brand story within your design. A compelling brand story woven into a strong visual identity can help differentiate your brand and create an emotional connection with your audience.
5. Leave room for experimentation
Don’t be afraid to try something new: remember that experimentation is all about trying new things—it could be the key to standing out in a crowded market. If you’re bold enough to break free from the status quo and embrace the unexpected, you may just stumble upon the key to success.
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This article was originally written by Samual Lundquist and published in 2016. It has been updated with new examples and information.