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Lara Sinclair — 29 April 2021
Most companies go through a rebrand at least once a decade − though it’s not something that needs to be thought of in 10-year cycles. Generally, there’ll be another reason it’s on the table, such as a merger, a change in business strategy or a need to reposition.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to approach your rebrand from the inside-out: if you know internally why you’re rebranding and what you’re hoping to achieve, your new-look brand will have a greater chance of making sense to your employees, partners, customers, as well as the market in general.
At Outfit we see a lot of rebrands and we help our clients implement them, so there are a few tips we’d love to share to help you make your rebrand as successful as possible.
Let’s be clear about one thing up front: a rebrand is not necessarily just about changing your corporate logo or updating your brand’s colour palette.
To rebrand means to change the way your product, brand or service is seen by others.
That may just be limited to updating the logo for a fresher, more relevant look, or it may extend to changing the company name, positioning, service or product offering, and more. It really depends why you’re rebranding and what you’re trying to achieve.
There are lots of valid reasons to rebrand, such as a change of company direction, expansion into new markets, and other situations in which the brand you started with, and the way it’s perceived, may no longer be valid.
There are also times when rebranding may not be the best solution. Knowing when to rebrand − and when not to − is as important as knowing how to do it well.
Here are a few of the most common reasons companies rebrand:
If your company is launching in markets and against competitors where it hasn’t had to compete before, it may be worth assessing whether your brand stands out in the market. Your logo may be too similar to new rivals, or your brand positioning may not resonate.
If you’re merging with or acquiring another well-known brand and you don’t want to lose that brand equity, consider the best way to represent the merged entity in the market. A new, compound brand may be an option, or you may consider incorporating the heritage of one brand into another.
If you reposition your business to target a new customer or market segment, consider whether your current brand will appeal to your new audience.
If there’s anything these crazy times have taught us, it’s that sometimes markets change. Customer needs can shift quickly and if you can’t fill the gap and cater to those new needs, it can be damaging. A rebrand can signal you’re moving to meet the changes in the market.
Sometimes brands do look dated and need to be renovated. On the other hand, some of the strongest brands around have barely changed in decades. Consistency is crucial in branding, so ensure you carry what remains important and relevant about your brand through to the next iteration.
Rarely, brands sustain such damage in the market it’s not worth trying to improve their brand image and it’s better to rebrand. For example, Andersen Consulting largely escaped the damage its stablemate Arthur Andersen sustained by being involved in the Enron accounting scandal of 2001 due partly to its rebranding as Accenture.
Marketing and management teams will often look at a rebrand if they feel the existing brand isn’t resonating in the market. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of rebranding for the wrong reasons. If any of these ring a bell, it may be worth reconsidering plans to rebrand.
Too often, a new chief marketing officer will look at a rebrand to put their stamp on their new role. On its own, this is not a good reason to rebrand − particularly given many marketers change jobs every couple of years.
Is familiarity breeding contempt? Just because you’re tired of looking at the same brand all the time, doesn’t mean everyone else is − remember, your customers and prospects don’t live and breathe it like you do. Also, you might find they quite liked your old brand.
Rebranding for some headlines or to generate some momentum in the market is unlikely to change whatever is actually ailing your brand, and will be a short-term solution at best. Go back to basics and reconsider what else may need to change.
Brands do recover from crises if management invests the time and effort required into addressing and remediating the problem. A superficial response, such as simply rebranding to try to avoid association with the issue, won’t fool anyone.
When you know why you’re rebranding, and you’re confident it’s the right option, you’ll be in a better position to know if its a partial rebrand or a total makeover you need.
A partial rebrand usually relates to updating your visual brand identity − such as your brand hierarchy, logo, corporate colour palette and so on.
If your rebrand is due to a major directional shift that has rendered your old brand name, promise, positioning and audience obsolete, you’re looking at a total rebrand, in which case everything is on the table.
Once you’re clear on why you need a rebrand, it’s important to understand what you’re undertaking. There are a few things to weigh up, including:
How much does it cost to rebrand? It depends on the size of your business and the scope of the rebrand.
BP spent a reported $211 million on its rebrand that included its ‘Helios’ symbol in 2000 and known brands that are just tweaking their visual brand identity can expect to invest millions − but even small companies can expect to spend many thousands of dollars to rebrand.
It pays to be clear up front on who will handle the many tasks involved in a rebranding, including:
Whether you insource or outsource the bulk of the work, a rebrand will still cost your team many, many hours. Among those who will need to be involved are:
There’s always some risk involved in a rebrand. Your brand lives in the mind of your customer and if there’s a big gap between the outcome of your rebrand and what your customer or the public will accept, it can cause:
A rebrand − even one that is restricted to the visual brand identity − is a whole-of-company exercise. There are some clear steps that need to be followed to ensure the successful development and rollout of your new, updated brand.
For an in-depth rebrand to have any chance of getting traction, it needs to be relevant and meaningful: that means understanding how the brand is currently perceived, its strengths and weaknesses and the competitive set in which it operates.
It’s important to include staff in the rebranding process. Survey them on what your brand stands for, how that may have changed, what they think best represents the brand, opportunities for growth, and anything they feel is confusing or that needs to be improved. If you’re involved in a merger, include staff from both organisations.
The C-suite should be involved in your rebrand including input on strategic direction, where revenue is generated at your organisation, where growth is expected to come from, where the opportunities for expansion are and how this will impact the brand.
Talk to customers, prospects and partners about what your brand means to them, the strengths and weaknesses of your brand or product, and how it stacks up against the competition, as well as how their needs may be changing, and how they would like to see the brand change to meet those needs.
Refine your ideal customer persona. Are your customers who you thought they were? Who is your ideal customer? Who are your competitors’ customers? Are you expanding to target new personas with different needs? Essentially you’re answering the question: to whom does your brand, product or service need to appeal? This will help ensure your rebrand stays on track.
Go back to the foundational elements that underpin your brand and ensure they match your strategic direction, growth strategy and target personas.
This means answering the fundamental questions of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how you’ll get there, and what customers can expect from you along the way. This should include:
From there you can build out your brand positioning and messaging, which should lay the framework for the new brand. This is what enables users, such as your sales team, to clearly understand the new brand and how to talk about it. Consider including:
Do you need to rename your company or your product? Consider any name change carefully, as it risks losing the existing equity that resides in your brand, as well as internet traffic that comes from people simply typing your known brand name into search engines.
Establish any mandatories for the new name − such as whether it needs to include an existing brand name − and think about how it will work in mobile and digital channels.
Some options to consider include:
Brainstorm as many names as possible until you have a shortlist. Check the availability of URL domains, and social media handles and check the trademark is available.
Does your brand have a tagline or slogan that is synonymous with the brand or sums up what you do? Is it still relevant to the updated brand? If not, you may need to update your tagline as well. Avoid generic taglines that could apply to anyone, and keep it short and simple. Some options include:
Your visual brand identity, which allows you to represent your brand visually via a number of key elements, will need to be updated. Often, it’s more about evolution than revolution − for example, official brand colours are one of the most recognisable branding devices available to you, so change these at your peril − but sometimes a comprehensive change may be in order.
Logos comprise symbols, shapes and stylized text or a combination of all three, and through the visual choices made, should evoke the brand they represent.
Logos should not be developed in isolation. Consider things like:
Secondary marks are often used where the full logo and brand name will not fit, and may include graphic shapes that are synonymous with a brand, characters or mascots that represent the brand, or the first initial of the brand name in its trademark font.
Your official brand colours should represent the emotion or experience with which your brand should be associated.
Decide on primary brand colours and determine the RGB, HEX, CMYK and PMS codes.
Select a secondary colour palette to allow for a broader range of uses, and be clear about the situations and proportions in which primary and secondary colours should be used, as well as any background or accent colours you favour.
When choosing your brand colours, it’s a good idea to create a colour wheel and put your own and the brands of your competitors on it so you can see whether some parts of the colour spectrum are crowded, and what is likely to stand out in your market.
Great typography can distinguish your brand from the crowd and convey its personality in an instant. Your primary typeface is the main vehicle for doing this.
Most brands also select a couple of secondary fonts, and determine the size and styles that should be used in different situations, as well as any typographic principles you want to follow. It’s worth establishing a type scale so that everyone understands the relationship of a headline font to an intro font, paragraph font and captions, for example.
Also consider nominating a fallback font to be used if your specified font is not available. The range of system fonts that come standard with most devices has improved, but you can also choose from a wide range of web fonts.
Be clear about how photography, illustrations, texture and pattern, iconography and data visualisation should be used to complete the broad visual language of your brand.
Your photography may have a warm, comforting feel, you may want to feature realistic pictures of people at work but never looking at the camera, or perhaps your approach is more metaphorical or stylised.
Similarly, be specific about your illustrative style, when and how patterns and iconography can be used, and make sure all the elements of your visual language work well together.
Once you have a working brand system, test it with your key audiences and refine anything that you feel needs to be adjusted. It’s better to get key stakeholders on board during the process than to unveil everything during a big ‘reveal’ that risks missing the mark.
When you have decided upon the key elements, they should be enshrined within comprehensive brand guidelines that define and demonstrate each element and explain how they should − and should not − be used.
It’s a good idea to create a brand website that ensures the brand guidelines available for use are always up-to-date.
If your brand will be used by lots of people in different markets and locations, consider capturing the acceptable brand executions for all your key channels and executions in responsive templates or a brand automation platform with a central asset library containing all your approved assets that will help minimise the risk of rogue users going off-brand.
There are many moving parts to any functioning brand, so it’s worth completing a brand inventory once the foundations and visual identity are complete, to ensure you roll your new brand out across all assets, channels and marketing collateral. Set timelines to implement the rebranding in all those locations. Some of the areas to consider include:
Once you have implemented your brand, consider how you’ll manage governance. The last thing you’ll want to see is your old brand still doing the rounds − or worse, unapproved versions of your new brand out there.
Once management has signed off on the rebrand, launch your new brand in stages, beginning with your internal team.
Hold an event to announce the rebrand and talk about the need to rebrand, the key factors that influenced your creative choices, and what you’re trying to achieve. Consider this a rehearsal for your public launch and a chance to perfect the brand story.
Don’t forget to explain where the brand guidelines and assets can be found, and identify key contacts if people have questions.
Notify key partners and customers about what they’re about to see just before your public launch.
Prepare announcements for all your owned channels as well as a press release to go out on your go-live date.
People are resistant to change, so expect some pushback. Monitor media coverage and social channels and if there is a persistent or outsized backlash, take note. In the worst case scenarios, companies have rolled back unpopular rebrands, although with the right research and preparation, the chances of this occurring are slim.
There’s almost as much to learn from rebrands that went wrong as from those brands that have done it right. Following are some examples of what not to do, as well as some of our favourite rebrands.
Royal Mail in the UK infamously rebranded under the name Consignia ahead of a planned push into overseas markets. Taken from the word ‘consign’, meaning to ‘entrust to the care of’, the new name was touted as being more relevant than the term ‘post office’. The following year, the new brand, which had become a laughing stock, was abandoned and Royal Mail returned to its original moniker.
Abandoned Consignia logo:
Vegemite iSnack 2.0
Iconic Australian spread Vegemite, owned by Kraft, launched a competition to name a new cream-cheese-flavoured variant. The winning name was Vegemite iSnack 2.0. However it was abandoned following a public backlash. “We have been overwhelmed by the passion for Vegemite and the new product,” a Kraft spokesperson said. “The new name has simply not resonated with Australians. Particularly the modern technical aspects associated with.’’ After an online poll, ‘Cheesybite’ was selected as the new brand name.
US clothing chain Gap’s rebrand is still cited as one of the worst ever after the chain replaced its 20-year-old all-caps logo reversed out of a navy blue box with the word ‘Gap’ written in black sentence-case Helvetica. A storm of social media parodies followed, during which the new brand was dubbed ‘cheap’, ‘tacky’ and ‘ordinary’. Six days later, the company reversed the move, reverting back to its previous logo.
Burger King’s first rebrand in 20 years uses design to create an image of tasty, authentic food with real flavour. With a new logo, packaging, merchandise, menu boards, uniforms, signage and interiors, as well as social media, digital, and marketing assets, it’s a total makeover, although the new logo is similar to one used in the 90s. A retro custom font, Flame, was developed for the chain, which has adopted a strong colour palette that mimics the shapes and colors of Burger King’s menu items. There’s no mistaking the new Burger King for one of its competitors, and you can almost taste the typeface.
Twitter announced a recent rebrand, appropriately, in a series of tweets. The update aims to reflect the ‘complexity, fluidity and power of conversations today’, according to CMO Leslie Berland, and includes a layered, pop-art-inspired approach to illustration in which the tweet remains the hero. Twitter’s famous bird logo isn’t changing, but the social media network is branching out with the way it is represented.
Once the outdoor clothing brand of choice for the country aristocrat, by the turn of the century, this brand had been adopted by brash, loud football hooligan-style fans that favoured bling over style. The brand repositioned from the ground up with a new philosophy, playing down its signature Burberry check in favour of clean looks, buying back the licences that had allowed it to be placed on just about anything, consolidating lines such as Prorsum, Brit and London to increase creative control over the brand, and hiring model Kate Moss and then actress Emma Watson to represent the new, high-end Burberry image.
At Outfit, we’ve helped organisations all over the world to rebrand using our brand automation platform, which uses responsive templates to ensure dispersed marketing teams and entire organisations can create on-brand marketing materials, every time.
Outfit enshrines your brand guidelines while allowing personalisation and localisation at scale, at minimal risk. Check out our customer success stories to see how we save organisations time and money, while enabling them to produce more on-brand marketing materials for less effort.