From Evolution to Revolution: The REAL Role of A Rebrand

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You’ve spent countless time and money creating the brand you currently have. You’ve built a name for yourself. You’ve connected with your customers – for years. Yet here you are at a crossroads. Interest and attitude has shifted. Your business has evolved. And you’re contemplating one of the scariest words a marketer can say: Rebrand.

It’s more than just updating a logo, choosing the font du jour or picking a new color palette. When executed at the right moment and via a thoughtful, inclusive process, a rebrand is an opportunity to honor a company’s roots, while positioning it for the future. It’s a declaration of what’s to come.

A Few of The Recognizable Rebrands

While there is no shortage of rebrand examples, here are a few that jump out:

Way back in 1991, The Colonel replaced Kentucky Fried Chicken with just KFC. Executives said that in the age of shrinking attention spans, it was just easier and faster to say. Plus, it allowed the chain to pivot beyond just fried food – and open its menu and customer base with healthier options. Not bad for an abbreviation everyone was already using.

More recently, Dunkin’ Donuts dropped its last name (as if anyone used it anyway) as a way to streamline the brand, emphasize its coffee offerings (drinks have a much higher profit margin than donuts), and—like KFC— follow the healthy eating trend by removing fried dough from its name. America now truly does run on Dunkin’.

Of course, the advertising world is always reinventing itself as well (just ask us) with plenty of rebrands of our own. Ogilvy dropped Mather and WPP merged JWT with Wunderman to become Wunderman Thompson. And Young and Rubicam became Y&R only to merge with VML to become VMLY&R – very Wheel of Fortune-like. While these examples show off new names, a rebrand can be so much more than just what you call your company. (Or just a way for a brand to escape its roots in fried food.) And while launching new names or designing memorable new logos like Google, Mastercard, and Pepsi may be part of it – a rebrand is so much bigger than just what the world sees.

Done correctly, a true rebrand ignites every part of the organization with a vision of the future, while still celebrating the past. For executives and other key stakeholders, it is a holistic process of revisiting your brand promise and the platform it provides for your company, both in the present and for the long haul.

Recognizing the Right Time

Let’s face it. Times change, consumers change and sometimes brands need to change to still be meaningful, no matter how iconic they are. However, there are certain times when a rebrand is absolutely imperative. Mergers and acquisitions are a prime example. When organizations come together to create something new, the leadership needs to ensure the brand is streamlined and acting on one unified vision and mission. This ensures a future free of disconnect and makes a statement that you are truly one. Culturally, this is an opportunity to unify your teams internally and ensure everyone is excited to be wearing the same jersey.

Another rebrand scenario is when you’ve added more to your offering than what you’re known for. If you started out as an ice-cream shop that now has desserts of all kind, you’re doing yourself and your customers a disservice by not retelling your story to the world. Or, for example, if you start out as a digital agency that specializes in search and soon become a full-service digital powerhouse that touches every part of the customer journey. Let’s just say, it might be best to reintroduce yourself.

And let’s not forget about a change in overall business strategy, like KFC and Dunkin’ as we mentioned before. Sometimes a new mission can be held back by an old brand, so it’s critical to make a change to reflect who you are striving to be instead of just holding on and creating confusion.

Focusing On The Right Way 

If you’ve come to the crossroads and think you’re ready for a rebrand, you need to make sure you do it right. It’s not a process for the faint of heart – and if done incorrectly the changes can end up being more damaging than just staying where you were.

Once company executives have committed to a rebrand, the real work begins. Whether the process is managed in-house, via a brand agency, or with a hybrid approach, here are the five key steps in bringing it life:

  1. An extensive audit—of the business offerings and goals, the industry and the competitive landscape. How is what you are developing going to help you stand out from the pack?
  2. A consideration of the brand story and messaging platform. Where does your brand come from and where is it going? Don’t lock yourself in a room with the executive team to think this through. Seek input from long-term employees and new hires, senior leaders, and entry-level go-getters. Even consider input from clients, competitors and industry friends.
  3. The naming process. Arguably the hardest step in the process, naming is subjective, and not a love at first sight affair. Give yourself (and other stakeholders) time to marinate on your list of ideas – including keeping the name you have or just tweaking it.
  4. Development of a visual identity—from logos to colors, fonts, and brand guidelines—based on the vision, mission and the messaging you want to convey. The many rounds it takes to finalize the visual identity will further cement and define the rebrand for those tasked with executing it. This is the fun part!
  5. The launch. It begins with your employees—your front lines and your brand advocates.  Once your team is fully mobilized and know what it means to be rocking their new jerseys, you’re ready to go to market with your new brand identity.  This often includes a big reveal to clients and key partners. It then transitions to every customer touchpoint, from your employees’ email signatures to your social media handles and letterhead.

These steps get you through the rebrand, but to make sure it’s received the way you intended

communication is key. Make your “why” easy to understand. Clients, partners and employees should “get it” right away – and it’s up to you to make sure they do. Also, don’t be afraid of a few naysayers – many people are averse to change – even at the brand level. And as they say, haters gonna hate.

Pitfalls to Avoid 

It’s easy for rebrands to get sidetracked, go over budget, or even miss the mark completely, I’ve seen it countless times. To prevent that from happening to you, I’ve put together this list of the three items to pay attention to.

1. Prioritize the Google Juice

A rebrand almost always includes a site makeover – after all, it is the online window into the soul of your business. Which makes your digital visibility —what I call the “Google Juice”—incredibly vital. You need to preserve what you’ve built for the old brand and transition it to the new brand and site. Make sure you have SEO and paid media teams lined up to activate and manage everything from protecting legacy brand social media handles to making sure the new brand shows up on the SERP. There is nothing worse than having a beautiful new brand nobody can find.

2. A rebrand is bigger than a single executive.

It surprises me how often I hear the misconception the CMO “owns” the brand. Yes, the CMO should be committed to brand evolution and to making decisions that are in the best interest of the process. But, a brand is way bigger than a single executive; it can’t happen in a silo. This is about the heart of your organization – and anyone that helps make it beat should be on board and part of the process.

3. Take on a rebrand only when your business, your brand, and your executives need it and can afford it. 

Don’t catch “shiny object syndrome” and become so enchanted with the “newness” of a rebrand that you abandon the brand equity your firm has built up over time. Conversely, don’t do a lazy rebrand—like a clunky name mash-up without thoughtful execution on the front or back end.

Be clear on whether your business is healthy enough to afford a rebrand. If you can’t handle a potential small dip before the positive return, you might have other issues that need addressing first. A rebrand is a restatement and reconfirmation of your brand. It’s a promise you have to deliver on.

Who It Really Impacts

Whether it’s time for a rebrand, a refresh, a tweak or a double down on the old all comes down to you – and your customer. How well does your brand connect with current customers? Your future ones? They are the ones you are doing this for. While a rebrand is a way to reposition and refocus, never lose sight of what the customer really wants. After all, they may love you just the way you are.

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