Taking the Fear Out of Rebranding

The effective rebrand proceeds as more of an evolution than a big bang. It enables companies to retain the brand equity they’ve amassed while shifting to respond to changing markets, better integrate new products and services, or integrate new value following a merger or acquisition. The fear of getting it wrong, however, can be paralyzing.

Taking the Fear Out of Rebranding

The thought of a rebrand can spark terror in even the most seasoned leader. For the uninitiated, the process seems shrouded in mystery, the end result uncertain. Cautionary tales abound—Uber’s much-maligned 2016 rebrand, the Sci-Fi Channel’s 2009 rebrand to Syfy, and  IHOP’s recent rebrand to IHOb, which leaders later said was a publicity stunt.

Decidedly one of the most important decisions a company will ever make, the rebrand is an attempt to move brand equity from one vessel, in essence, to another. It requires the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, not a bludgeon, to identify the core components worth retaining. It demands internal reflection and a level of self-awareness, as a successful rebrand takes into account not only what customers value about the existing brand but also the organizational culture. The effective rebrand proceeds as more of an evolution than a big bang.

In doing so, it enables companies to retain the brand equity they’ve amassed while shifting to respond to changing markets, better integrate new products and services, or leverage new value following a merger or acquisition. But there’s a lot at stake: With strong brands outperforming weak brands by up to 20 percent, the fear of getting a rebrand wrong can be paralyzing.

“Businesses are now only as strong as their brands, and nothing else offers business leaders so much potential leverage.” —Jim Stengel. “Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies.”

Whether an organization turns to an internal team or external agency to lead a rebrand, there are some common fears that halt progress. Here are a few fears and how to move past them:

Fear: The branding agency will blow up the brand and start over.

It’s fairly easy to blow something up and recreate it from the ground up. It’s much more difficult—and in many cases much more important—to take a more restrained approach. Apple, Coca-Cola and Target have done it well, adjusting incrementally in sequential rebrands over the years.

To help your brand evolve, ground the rebranding process in practical research and data. At OVO, we use qualitative and quantitative research to help us identify brand awareness (how many people know your brand?) and brand perception (what values do consumers attach to your brand?). Ideally, the agency you select to guide your rebrand should play the role of a translator, serving as an intermediary between the company and the customers with whom you want to communicate. It might even feel like an intervention at times. Be prepared to address tough questions, to respond to research and establish channels to better understand feedback from customers and their habit. There will be uncomfortable moments and times when it may seem easier to maintain the status quo. But that’s likely also why now is the time to roll up your sleeves, trust your chosen partners and avoid killing the messenger.

Fear: The rebrand won’t feel like us.

There’s a distinct difference between a really good agency and a designer able to recreate a specific aesthetic at scale. The branding agency with which you partner for your rebrand should be design-agnostic; personal preferences for look-and-feel should have no influence on the end result. Instead, a rebrand is about respecting the history of the brand and understanding its unique brand identity. It needs to reflect who the organization really is.

Keep in mind that the consumer isn’t your only customer. Your employees need to feel just as confident that the rebrand captures the essence of your company and the value it provides. The more excited employees are about your brand, the more engaged they will be, and Gallup research has shown that companies with highly engaged employees have more than four times the earnings per share compared to those in the same industry whose employees are less engaged with their company’s brand.

Ask your employees for their opinions throughout the rebranding process, whether through surveys or face-to-face interviews (ideally, both). Even if the final result doesn’t mirror their thoughts, they will feel heard and valued, and that goes a long way toward creating alignment with your company’s new branding.

“The benefits of a strong brand are tremendous. The best leaders realize that, despite conventional wisdom, strong brands aren’t built by the marketing department alone; every employee in every department has a role to play.” —William Arruda, Forbes.

Fear: Our customers won’t like the rebrand.

When Andersen Consulting split from the accounting group Arthur Andersen in 2000, it was forced to change its name, and the new name was initially derided: Accenture was called a “generic corporate nonsense word,” according to Time Magazine. (The name change ended up being fortuitous when Arthur Andersen’s name was sullied in the Enron scandal shortly thereafter). Similarly, Apple’s choice of a name for a new product in 2010—the iPad—was mocked, but the name’s lack of popularity ultimately had no effect on sales or the longevity of the brand.

It’s normal to second-guess yourself during a rebrand: Will they know it’s us? Will they like it? These doubts can paralyze efforts to rebrand. Overcoming this barrier requires having a strong internal champion able to sell the rebranding internally. Support has to come from the top—it’s almost always the CEO.  This champion needs to be able to explain where the brand is going, and why—without letting divergent opinions diminish enthusiasm for the chosen course.

Fear: The total cost is uncertain.

How much will a rebrand cost? That all depends. Arthur Andersen spent $100 million on the aforementioned rebrand, while Nike reportedly spent $35 to design its iconic swoosh.

As you evaluate partners, consider all of the touchpoints you use to interact with customers and keep your end goal in mind. Establish a budget and work with the agency to tailor a scope of work that meets it. The service fees for the branding agency you partner with (should) directly reflect the value you receive: Is your partner merely redesigning a logo or website, or is the partnership a more extensive one, with the agency conducting research and fact-finding to uncover the drivers behind your brand equity? Ultimately, while the agency fee is a portion of the total rebranding cost—there are also costs associated with employee training, marketing materials, signage, legal filings and more—a rebrand is an investment in the future of the organization.

A promise made. A promise kept.

Brand is a promise made and a promise kept, and it goes far beyond a logo and your choice of colors. It’s about engagement. It’s about the customer seeking YOU out—rather than you enticing them to join or buy. It’s about a shared relationship, and it must be built on what is really true of them and what is really true of you.

As a discipline, branding is an extended effort that requires the long view. Rather than swinging for the fences, the most effective branding is about rounding the bases on consistent singles and doubles. It’s about the sum of many small brush strokes to fill the larger canvas. Metaphors aside, the most successful branding is the result of countless smaller, strategic efforts intended to uniquely position the brand and prepare it to go big, but only if and when the proper groundwork has been laid.

Confused by jargon? We’ve compiled a Glossary of Branding Terms and Definitions

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