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One Big Idea – Time to Rebrand?

In this week’s episode, Bill examines the differences between a brand refresh and a fundamental rebranding, as well as the reasons why a rebrand may or may not be right for an organization. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings, one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. This is One Big Idea. Today’s topic is rebranding. In fact we’ve titled it, ‘Time to Rebrand?’. No up talk there, it really is a question. It’s an important question that many companies face. Often, they come to us to help them assess the strengths and weaknesses of the moment for rebranding and whether or not it’s the right approach to take.

Obviously, if they do decide to take it, we’re often called in to manage the process. If they don’t decide to take it, we’re called in to manage other things within the framework of the existing brand. The reason I say that is because there is a fundamental difference between a brand refresh, which is primarily about either contemporizing, or in some way evolving the look and feel of a company, or of an institution and a full rebrand.

We’re going to focus primarily here on why not to rebrand even though you may have an itch to think about rebranding. The reason why we want to focus on the negatives and the reasons to think very, very seriously before doing this is because it’s much more than a brand refresh.

Companies that may come to us and just feel like they’re looking out of date, or they’re sick of it frankly, or any other reason, aesthetic, or otherwise, a brand refresh, which may even rise to the level of identity, name, logo, things like that, often is a way to bring a little bit of energy to the way that a company promotes itself.

A brand refresh is one thing, a rebranding process is fundamentally deeper and fundamentally different. It represents a meaningful enough shift in the company’s target, mindset, culture, product line, or method of going to market that needs to be addressed through nothing short of a full re-imagination of what a company’s called, how it’s organized, what it values, etc.

When folks come to us and the topic is should we rebrand, we really spend a lot more time talking about reasons not to. In fact – and this may be, in some ways, self-defeating, at least from a new business perspective – we really adopt a default position of, no, you shouldn’t until you’ve met a pretty significant threshold for a rebrand being the right path to take.

Five major reasons not to rebrand, or things to think about as you decide whether to rebrand or not. These five things are to be taken very, very seriously.

1. Hidden Brand Equity

First, is that many brands have what we could call hidden brand equity. Whether that is a heritage of happy clients, whether that’s a logo or a name that’s pretty recognizable and pretty well-known.

Even if there’s some baggage, even if there is some concern that there’s a pretty significant level of negativity, or confusion in the marketplace, often even imperfect brand equity is preferable to starting out, or starting over.

The first reason to be very skeptical and cautious about rebranding is that there is likely some degree of hidden brand equity, if you’ve been doing this for a while, that you can’t easily port over and you do not want to sacrifice. In the case where such equity exists, maybe again a brand refresh is a better course than a full rebrand.

2. Intensive and Emotional

Secondly, rebranding is emotional and it’s hard. There are two ingredients from our perspective to a successful project. There’s content and there’s process. Content always needs to be great no matter what it is whether it is rebranding content, new name, logo, positioning, vision mission, whatever it is.

Process in the case of a rebrand is often just as important and rises to the level of importance. Because brands are built from the inside out as we’ve discussed in a previous episode of One Big Idea, a rebranding process has to start and has to, in many ways, be co-authored by a company, the entirety of an employee base, or at least a large segment of it.

You need to think long and hard about enrolling folks on the team into a process. A. because they have genuine insight from their functional responsibilities, being close to the customer in many cases and B. because the ‘small p’ politics of this is such that they’re really going to need to be on-boarded on the back end for the rebrand to be as successful as you want it to be.

That’s the hard multi-dimensional part of rebranding. The other thing in this second reason to be cautious about is that it’s emotional. It absolutely is. You’re dealing with properties that many folks have never not known. That’s all they’ve known; formed various attachments.

It can feel sometimes, when re-thinking a name, or a logo, or deeper fundamental beliefs that rebranding is turning away from the past, which it is in some ways. That process is very, very difficult particularly when you’re dealing with subjective elements. What are our values? How should our Vision / Mission be written? What should our name be? Etc.

If a culture cannot accommodate, or you think ever get past or through the emotional quality of this and the difficulty of galvanizing the entire team around it, it might be best not to approach a full scale rebranding.

3. Not the Solution

The third is that often times, depending on what the company is facing, rebranding does not address the fundamental issue that is leading the company to a time of really deep introspection. Sometimes the reasons to rebrand have to do with very negative equity and the need to escape from that, or massive changes to the market, or whatever it is.

Sometimes there’s a product deficiency. Sometimes the company’s culture is not strong enough. Sometimes there may have been a mass migration, or attrition in the employee base. So, ‘Now’s as good a time as ever to think about that brand differently.’

That may be true, but if the issue with the company is a management issue, or is a cultural issue, or is something along those lines, there’s no guarantee that rebranding is going to solve that. In fact, the vast percentage of the time it doesn’t. Rebranding is about renewing the compact that you make and have with your team, with your employee base, and taking advantage of opportunities through product and through evolutions in the culture, whatever it is.

If your fundamental issue, when effectively diagnosed, isn’t really related to something that rebranding is intended to solve, you should focus on the issue and resolve that. Do not necessarily just launch yourself into a rebranding process because ‘new would be better,’ or it papers over whatever the other weaknesses are.

4. Cost

Fourth, and not surprisingly, rebranding can be very expensive. Not only in enlisting the help of incredible firms like ours, or whatever, but all of the things that need to be re-done. They don’t have to be done all at once, but over time. Often, clients step back from the abyss when they realize the impact on that year and the next year’s marketing budget.

The dollars that it takes to re-do every touch point, all the way to simple things like re-printing business cards, to sales brochures, whatever it is, these are things you don’t want to be out of date. It reflects the fact that the company may be operationally weak if it’s presenting this multi-faceted face to the market.

I would certainly, as one embarks upon a rebranding process, game out the financial impacts of this, particularly for larger organizations. For example, when we were doing the Liberty Property Trustrebrand, they are a big company, real estate company. Which meant tons of signage, tons of sales materials across the nation and the world.

To their credit, they thought through brand migration with a financial perspective and built a really concerted plan against how to execute that. It involved prioritizing different markets and different properties where priority 1 or the ‘A’ bucket was going to get rebranding materials first. It was going to be done over a multi-year period. It was very smart, the approach they took and that we helped them with. The expense of a rebrand is a reason to pull back, or at least to study and go in eyes wide open.

5. Depth and Breadth

Lastly, fifth and final of what I’m sure are many more, but fifth and final that come to mind here is that there is more to rebranding than you think. This is related to some of the other points. There may be more process-wise than you think. There may be more financially than you think, but when you think of operational and IT stuff like domain name and what the ‘’ email structure, there’s a ton of stuff in the operational realm.

There’s also, as noted, a ton of stuff needed to align, and educate, and inspire the internal team in addition to their participation in the process. There is a huge need to think through, with a very clear eye, and a lot of energy, the strategy of communicating this to the customer base. Putting a little notice in a billing statement, or putting something up on social media does not suffice as a customer communication strategy around rebranding.

Often, as noted on our previous One Big Idea, where we talked about M&A Branding best practices, in terms of thinking through the brand, it sends a signal. Often times while the intended signal is progress, the future, and focus, there is a signal sent to the customer base of a company going through a rebranding. It indicates that there was something fundamentally broken. It indicates that the company’s going through a process of figuring itself out.

While all of these things, we all know, are healthy and important processes to go through from time to time, there’s no guarantee that all the customers are going to go with you. There’s no guarantee, particularly if you don’t build a strategy that is multi-faceted, that enables enough time and that the company can execute against.

Five reasons to say no. In a future episode, we’ll talk about reasons to say yes, or reasons why it might be the right time. Just to reiterate those five:

1. There may be hidden equity that you really can’t sacrifice in exchange for something that doesn’t exist. You don’t know how well it’s going to catch on.

2. It’s emotional and it’s hard.

3. It may not address fundamental issues that are constraining the performance of the company as well as everyone’s satisfaction within the culture.

4. It’s expensive, or it can be expensive and often has to be accomplished in pieces for that reason.

5. There’s often more operationally, as well as culturally, as well as in terms of market face and communications, more than you think.

That’s One Big Idea for this week as we spring forward on Sunday night. As someone who has small children, not looking forward to this, although walking home with light out is going to be nice too. All the best. Signing off from the Cradle of Liberty, a wonderful day to all.

About The Author: Bill Gullan

Bill Gullan is the President of Finch Brands. His nearly 30-year (ugh!) career in branding has revolved around naming, messaging, M&A brand integration, and qualitative research. He has been with Finch Brands since 2001.

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