An Open Letter to Kauai – When Good Brands Go Bad


Dear Kauai,


We’re all still getting used to the drastic carpet-pulling of your new brand and CI. It’s several months down the line already, so you’d presume we’d have warmed up to it by now, but I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, “meh.”


You don’t know (and maybe don’t care) who I am, but I represent a large portion of your previous market segment, and as a marketer with over 20 years of experience in the industry I think it’s fair for me to comment on what I believe is a bit of a branding flop, if you don’t mind my saying so.


Rebranding is a careful science that should take a lot of research, time and cunning to execute well.


Here’s what I think went wrong with the Kauai rebrand, and a few ideas on how to get it right next time.


If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it

What was wrong with the whole Hawaii concept?


I know what it’s like to be forced to use the same colours over and over again because they’re part of your corporate identity. Can get boring, right?  Like when Spur Burgers rebranded, I didn’t get what was wrong with the previous brand either, but I guess every Marketing Manager gets bored of their CI eventually.


Kauai went from colourful, fresh and inspiring, to monochromatic, cold and bland overnight.

The franchise’s newest CEO, Dean Kowarski, was quoted in a press release saying, “Kauai’s fresh new brand identity strategically positions ingredients as the heroes and the food as the colour against the black and white backdrop in store”. Erm, do your customers feel that way, Dean? How do they know that they’re supposed to get their colour from the food?


I mean, I get it because I’m super clever and educated (that’s what I tell myself), but I think the new menus look worse than those of that Corner Diner where I ate that bunny chow and got the trots. If you haven’t been to Kauai in a while you have to check if you’re in the right shop. It’s all just a little too, er, vanilla and humdrum for a brand that was previously set apart for its vibrancy (and originality).

Your customers were the last to know.


So the thinking is that before you make any major changes to your brand identity or product line, you should consult your customers first.  You know… customers? These are the loyal people who have been choosing to spend their hard-earned moola with your business. So I can’t say whether you did or didn’t do this, but I’m hoping you herded them into focus groups and plied them with food and drink to answer brand experience questions? Yes?  You tested the new designs with them, right? Right?


You’re targeting a niche in your niche market

So previously Kauai catered to a small part of the market who were interested in and could afford to buy healthy fast food. Since the rebrand, however, not only have the prices increased, but you’ve eliminated some of the customer favourites from your menu, effectively giving some of your customers the boot.


Now I get what you’re trying to do. Believe it or not, I’m actually part of your new, healthier (and much smaller) target market. I’m trying to eat ‘banting’ style, exercising more than I used to, but by killing the magma wrap, you’ve left my husband with no option but to revert back to his junk food eating ways, or at least that’s his excuse. Either that or I’ll have to start cooking, perish the thought.


I think it’s commendable that you’re trying to educate the masses into making better food choices, but personally, after observing the size and shape of the people on the beach this Christmas season, I think it’s a losing battle. There’s a reason Spur and Mugg & Bean are always full - South Africans love large portions of food dripping with tasty ingredients.


But good for you. Who needs to make tons of money by giving customers what they want, right? You’re doing the right thing.


How to Do Better Next Time


There are three small things that make a huge impact on the success of your brand in the market place.


  1. Do user testing. Pull a bunch of people from your target market into a room (one at a time) and get them to go through your website, your menu, your app, your food, facilitated by an expert (moi of course) and get honest feedback. Understand how they perceive, experience and use these touchpoints. It’s not an expensive exercise and it can save you millions. To be honest, this is something you should do at least every quarter.
  2. Do Mystery Shopping. We get people who represent your target market to shop at your store and rate their experience on a number of different (very clever and insightful) levels. This helps you see weaknesses where you may not have thought to look, and will give you insight into what your customers are experiencing in your store on a day-to-day basis. Think you know your business? Think again.
  3. Invest in Brand and Customer Experience Mapping. Do you know what your market thinks of your brand? Do you what it’s like to be a customer? Do you care? You should. These are the pillars on which a business can rise and fall. Get inside your customer’s head and do what it takes to give them more than what they expect, more than what they want. You won’t regret it.


People vote with their Rands, and if you don’t take the time to understand your customer, it’s just a matter of time before you lose them.


About the Writer


Dylan Kohlstädt
 is the heart and soul of Shift ONE Digital. As our CEO, she brings her passion for marketing, social and all things digital to the fore, and commands excellence in all that she does. She has her MBA as well as her IMM (3 years) Marketing Diploma, and over 20 years of Marketing Management experience working on national and international brands. Dylan loves wasabi peanuts, café mochas and Game of Thrones. Not necessarily in that order. She is married with two gorgeous children.


  1. Tendai on May 17, 2016 at 6:49 am

    I completely agree with your article and it describes everything I’ve been thinking and what I’ve wanted to say.

    • Dylan on September 20, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Thanks Tendai, you know the other day I confused them for a Vida, and this is at my local gym that I go to every day, just because their new brand is so weak. 🙂

  2. Gina on June 15, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    I agree 100%. The new visual identity is really bland, common and boring. Black does not inspire me in this restaurant. If i didn’t know any better Id presume this logo belongs to a bath and body store. Oh I much preferred the hawaiian theme. That said I still live for their food. They come out tops there and own the market!

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