Repositioning a venerable brand needs to both honor its heritage and create a new reality that is credible and disruptive. The disruption breaks the schema that has previously defined the brand, but if the disruption is too far afield, the new positioning will lack believability and authenticity and ultimately will fail to connect.

When ComBlu was asked to be part of the team to reposition Encyclopaedia Britannica, we searched for a platform that blended the old with the new. Part of the process was learning both the brand’s history and grasping the vision of its future.

What surprised us most at the outset was what we didn’t know about the company. When we thought of Britannica, we thought of the multiple volumes of encyclopedias lined up on the shelf like toy soldiers. We all had fond memories of using the books during our own school days, but even those of us with kids and endless research projects (myself included), had no idea of all they had to offer today.

We learned that Britannica had spent the past two decades transforming the company into a thriving, global digital education and instruction company. Today, the firm is well-positioned to make an even greater contribution to education and gain a significant share of the $10 billion school curriculum and digital learning markets.

In addition to the encyclopedia—print and online—Britannica offers a diverse range of digital products and services, including instructional programs for the classroom, reference and education portals, language courses, and educator tutorials for knowledge seekers of any age.

With its audience-specific, segmented product line, Britannica is well-rounded and thriving. But who knew? We did not, and as we learned through the listening program we conducted, we were not alone. Our listening revealed that:

· Britannica was not included in much of the conversation about online access to information and research.

· Many mentions of Britannica were nostalgic in nature and not forward-looking.

· Conversations often reinforced a perception that the company is outdated.

So, we definitely had a challenge on our hands. We knew we needed to find the right news angle to reintroduce and reposition Britannica as a global digital brand.

The sunsetting of the print set of Britannica provided the perfect platform to present who Britannica is today, what differentiates them in the competitive online research arena, why now is the right time to go all digital, and showcase their plans for the future. We used this event as an opportunity to tell the story of the new Britannica to a mix of influencers who could tell the story and give it perspective, context and power.

It was a fully integrated social and traditional media campaign that used a variety of assets that collectively created “lightning in a bottle.” All of the elements we created to tell the story had distinct roles and made it “easy to care; easy to share.” People were very attached to the legacy print brand so we made sure they had plenty of images and stories that reignited a deep emotional connection to the brand. We also included assets that showcased the “new” Britannica as a powerful digital and social suite of products. The result? More than 2 billion impressions that told the story in a respectful yet disruptive way.

Our infographics were shared wholesale and tidbits from them were used in various stories; segments of the B-roll footage were used in a number of broadcast and online pieces; the blogs and social posts were quoted, tweeted and retweeted; and the photos we provided appeared literally everywhere. Check out some of our favorite clips, articles and social posts that we consider highlights of the campaign.

When we started this phase of the rebranding program, almost 2,000 print editions were sitting in a warehouse—today, none remain. But more importantly, many people now know the story of a 244-year-old print publisher that has successfully repositioned itself for a long and successful future as a digital learning brand. This campaign was just the first step on a new journey for Britannica.

I have to admit that I did get a bit nostalgic about the end of the print era. The memory it evoked for me: I was cleaning the room that our set of Britannica’s lived in, dusting them off, and getting pleasantly distracted by perusing a page and seeing where it took me. Do you have a favorite memory of your own? We’d love to hear it.

Pam Flores

Pam Flores

Pam is adept at fostering relationships with respected thought leaders and influencers. She has 20-plus years of experience in social engagement, media and blogger relations, thought leadership, community building and copywriting.