In my 10+ years since founding and running REBRAND and the renowned REBRAND 100® Global Awards, we’ve reviewed thousands of brand transformations from over 37 industries and 45 countries. Submissions to our global jury of prominent, multidisciplinary experts have included successful efforts for IO, Audi, Fiji Airways, Cancer Research UK, Alzheimer’s Australia, PRASA —Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, Hyatt Hotels, and many more.
However, mixed in with the great rebrands, are far too many examples of unnecessary ones—the type that did not help the organisation progress or be more desired by audiences in meaningful ways. The jurors term these failures a “de-brand.”
De-brands alienate loyal customers and employees, waste significant time and money, and divert essential resources. Believe me, we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
Planning a rebrand? There are many reasons to proceed with caution. For now, be sure to keep these seven in mind:
1. Without careful planning, the post-launch reality can be a disaster
Rebrands require a lot of work and significant investment in time and resources. Identifying the elements and experiences that must be changed will quickly reveal the extent of the expense that will be incurred.
It’s critical to have a compelling business case to drive the initiative. A valuable insight from Marc Cloosterman, CEO of VIM Group, the world’s leading network of brand implementation experts, says that the cost of implementation for a rebrand can be as high as 20 times the cost of the strategic positioning and creative effort.
Be sure to allow for this reality. That way the budget allotted, timing considerations scheduled, and practicality of implementation that must inform creative solutions will not result in unintended surprises, delays, and expenses.
2. An overhaul, while tempting, may be unnecessary
Instead, first consider smaller evolutions and improvements that may be more feasible and effective in caring for your customers in ways they feel are authentic, relevant, and indispensable.
How will you know what to do and when? Back to research and deep “listening.” Tools abound to glean helpful insights. You can ask questions and survey your customers and clients directly.
You can learn by talking with your frontline staff. You can “listen” via social media channels by tracking hashtags, mentions, and specific links. You can also map the customers’ journey—how they found you, what led them to choose your brand, and their experiences at key points. This is incredibly helpful. Mapping allows you to make improvements that show greater care and respect for your audience, and to “upserve” (my term) them.
3. The launch plan is often left to the last minute and treated as a one-time event
Just as implementation expertise must be considered from the start, so too must the launch process. A brand repositioning effort is no small initiative. In fact, there has to be a concerted effort to ensure your internal team, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders do not view the process as merely “surface changes.” It is an opportunity to build awareness, drive home the changes made, and encourage acceptance of the organizational transformation.
A smart, holistic rebrand often requires a business model realignment, culture change, and more. This is even more the case if it’s triggered by a merger or acquisition. As the rebranding effort requires an integrated, multidisciplinary team for success, so too must the launch, associated training process of internal and external team’s partners, and ongoing review and evolution of the brand/organisation.
4. If you’re not fully invested in positive outcomes for your audience, don’t rebrand
Don’t relegate all critical work of your organisation’s brand to outside consultants. Your leadership and representatives at all staff levels must be intimately involved. It’s better to view the consultants as facilitators of your process rather than the team that swoops down, fixes everything, and disappears. Your full participation, from start to on-going evolution, is critical to ensure continued success when the consultants are no longer around or focused on your brand.
If your company leaders still believe they can relegate the rebranding effort to “marketing” with a hands-off approach, hold off. Branding is NOT marketing. Rather, marketing is a component of an effective brand. Your brand and your organisation with its collection of assets, behaviours, and its guided experiences at all touch points are synonymous.
That core brand should inform risk management, communications, human resources, sales, operations, technology, social media engagement, digital interactions, and so much more.
To get this right from the start, a mix of “hands” must be on deck, from top to bottom, inside and out.
5. Lip service from Executive Management about the rebrand will not work
As much as we might believe we know what’s best for our clients, customers, or even employees, we are often wrong about our assumptions. Employees and others intuit when a rebrand is just a surface “facelift”, rather than an honest, deep dive into the essence of the brand. Rebrands require a willingness to humbly make needed changes that integrate critical input. This is true even more so in our age of increased skepticism and instant expression of opinions via social media.
A rebrand must be put in practice by everyone involved to reach full effect. To achieve this, there needs to be incentives, adaptable guidelines, and training to increase buy-in and to help each individual concerned learn how the repositioning impacts them. Cross-functional cooperation and an inclusive process from the beginning will make this whole process easier by launch time.
6. Do not make changes because you have a new CEO, new CMO, or feel that your brand is ‘tired’
Just because you’re sick of things does not mean your customers are. A rebrand is not an ego exercise, and should not be done because one of your C-Suite leaders wants to make her or his mark before moving on to the next gig.
Given that we’re told CMOs last in the range of 18-36 months before moving on, you can imagine why this is NOT the smart thing to do, without sound reasons. Would-be rebrander beware. I can’t say this enough. Base the rebrand on research. If you’re trying to reach a new demographic or customer segment, don’t do so by abandoning your proven, loyal customers. Research, test, and use prototypes to mitigate potential wastes of time, effort, money—and lost customers.
7. Don’t let data drive everything
Dig deeper into customer feedback and comments. Sometimes social media stir up a frenzy that may die down after customers embrace a change, with an even greater number benefiting from what they resisted initially. Be mindful, as well, of advice from management consultants that may sacrifice the important relevance and emotional connections your brand could engender.
There is a magical, non-quantifiable aspect to crafting brand experiences that doesn’t always fit neatly into outdated forms of success metrics. Just keep in mind that emotions drive the majority of human decisions.
Be aware that you may have blinders on with regard to some aspects of your brand and customer experiences. Many of us often don’t realise we’re in the proverbial ‘box’ we’re claiming to break out of. A fresh perspective from those truly outside your box will help you avoid a commoditised, un-differentiated brand.
The best data can’t account for the fact that emotion weighs heavily in choices and decisions. Members of your audience, like most of us, use rational insights to explain away actions that are actually based on feelings. Imagine the number of brands we have today that couldn’t have stood the test of traditional data-driven business plans ‘best practices’ such as Amazon, Google, eBay, Airbnb, Uber, and so many others.
So, should you rebrand? Take a very careful look at where your brand is today, how your customers and prospects feel about it, and sort out the most effective ways to improve on that relationship. More often than not, you’ll find that a rebrand is not needed, and that other actions and behaviours might be. However, if it is, analyse well, plan carefully, explore solutions diligently, implement effectively, and evolve continually.