Posted on 24 January, 2019 | 7 mins
“New year, new me.” We’ve all made plans for our future selves—whether that’s a New Year’s resolution to exercise more or a plan to make much broader, bigger changes in your life. Rebranding your company is most similar to the latter.
We don’t want your business rebrand to go the way of many gym memberships bought on New Year’s Day.
So, in this blog post, we’re going to go through the big beats you need to hit to successfully rebrand your company—why you might do it, what most people forget about rebranding, and some absolute essentials you’ll need to get it spot on.
Why do companies rebrand
Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies throughout history that haven’t answered the question of “why” they should rebrand before going ahead (we’ll come across a fair few examples before the end of this blog post).
If your response to “why” is “it’d be a nice change”, your rebranding exercise could in fact be damaging to your business.
Instead, you should have a good reason to rebrand; some of the most popular include:
- Your target demographic has changed.
- You have to keep up with new trends, competition or technologies.
- Your brand is outdated.
- You need better cohesion between the brands you own.
- Your business has undergone a lot of change.
As with most things, have a good answer to “why” and you can start moving on to other questions, like “how” and “how not” to rebrand your business.
Let’s look at a few examples of the latter.
Seven big rebranding mistakes and how to avoid them
1. Neglecting the customer
Do you remember when Royal Mail changed its name to Consignia? Perhaps not, seeing as it was 18 years ago and the new brand identity didn’t even survive 12 months.
Despite Consignia being quite a clever name—“consign” meaning to entrust in another and “insignia” still bringing the theme of royalty—customers just didn’t care for it.
To many, the name replaced a trusted institution they’d known all their lives with something that sounded like a buzzword thrown about in board meetings, along with synergy and blue-sky thinking.
Royal Mail spent two years and £2 million developing the futile rebranding—time and money they surely could have saved if only they’d heard the public’s opinions beforehand rather than afterwards.
To avoid some of the failures of Consignia, think critically about who should be included in your company’s rebrand. Your product designers, any brand agencies you use, your marketing department, your customer services team, certain thought leaders? Sure. You’ll want your wider staff to have their say, too.
But don’t overlook the insight your customers can give you, because you can’t get that anywhere else.
Find out what parts of your business (what parts of your product, service or brand in general) resonate with your customers—and even potential customers, lost customers and the wider local community, if it’s possible to get some of those involved, too.
These are some of the people who will decide whether your rebranding efforts are a success or not after launch, so it pays to get their thoughts pre-launch. Doing so will also mean you don’t waste time, effort and money doing things your audience actually doesn’t want… which we’ll come onto shortly.
2. Abandoning values and identity for trends
The very early stages of rebranding will involve looking at market trends and what your competitors are doing. You’ll be trying to find that sweet spot of identifying existing ideas you can get involved with and fresh gaps in the market you can fill.
But above all else comes your brand values and the identity.
In 1997, when British Airways decided to paint over the Union Flag designs synonymous with the airline, it was intended to move away from what then CEO Bob Ayling described as “old-fashioned Britishness”.1
After complaints from staff and customers, BA would later reverse its decision, Mr Ayling would leave the company, and the flag would find its way back to the skies. A company spokesperson explained that the returning, iconic flag design “reinforces a core goal of Britishness” in the brand’s identity and values.
Whether you think such a matter was a big deal or not, the flip-flop did show inconsistency in how British Airways identified itself in the modern world. More resolute values from the start might have made their rebranding decisions easier, more successful and less costly.
Businesses that don’t believe in their values will quickly abandon them at the first sign of change. So, if you find yourself in the position where you’re unsure how your identity fits with new trends and market opportunities, it’s time to get to the root of what you want your company to stand for before moving ahead with your rebrand.
3. Neglecting brand equity
It’s highly likely your current customers have been attracted to something in your current brand. You won’t want to completely remove those elements of your brand identity and equity, but add to them—or risk losing parts of your customer base.
This is again where Consignia went wrong, abandoning the trust they’d built up with their customers through the Royal Mail brand.
But probably the highest-profile case was the infamous Coca-Cola rebrand2, when the company changed its formula and became New Coke in the mid-1980s.
Some low-points of the backlash to New Coke included:
- Tumbling sales of New Coke, particularly in the southern US states, where Coca-Cola was considered a significant part of people’s regional identity.
- An increase in customer calls to the company’s headquarters (from 400 to 1,500 calls a day) many of which were complaints about the rebrand. A psychiatrist hired by Coca-Cola to listen to the calls said many of the callers sounded depressed, as if they were mourning the death of a family member.
- The ‘Old Coca-Cola Drinkers of America’ lobby group was set up to pressure the company into changing back to the old formula. The group filed a class action lawsuit against Coca-Cola, which was thrown out by a judge who admitted he preferred the taste of Pepsi. Interestingly, the lobby group’s founder, Gay Mullins, failed to tell the difference between New Coke and the previous formula in independent blind taste tests, suggesting it was in fact the principle of the rebrand he (and in fact many people) had problems with, not necessarily the new taste.
- Very public criticism from celebrities, comedians and the general public—an advert for New Coke was booed by attendees at the Houston Astrodome when it came up on the scoreboard. Ever one to twist the knife on Capitalist tendencies, even Fidel Castro, then president of Cuba and erstwhile Coca-Cola drinker, made public complaints about the rebrand.
A little over two months after the launch of New Coke, Coca-Cola returned to its old formula.
While it’s safe to say your company rebranding won’t have the backlash of the global beverage brand, it does show the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rebranding should be founded on your brand equity and built upwards. Learn what your customers love, and do more of it.
4. Failing to get stakeholders caring for it
How many company directors would it take to sink your rebrand if they wanted to? Others throughout the business can similarly undermine the efforts behind your rebrand if they don’t like it or see the point.
So, from the very early days of your rebranding efforts, have your staff and stakeholders involved.
Make sure all stakeholders understand why you’re rebranding and the results you’d hope to see. And as soon as possible, start getting your staff across design concepts and other new ideas to get their feedback—remembering to make changes when necessary based on what your people say.
You could even make the process more enjoyable, collaborative and interactive by setting up working groups of staff members and/or a way for employees to vote on ideas. When your staff feel like they’ve had real input in the new brand, they’re much more likely to identify with it and sell/market/work within the new brand better than they otherwise would.
For a more extensive list of ways to get people on board with fresh ideas, check out our blog: five steps to get your staff engaged with new ways of working. The article is all about encouraging people to get onside with change, which can include company rebranding.
5. Changing what doesn’t need changing
One beautiful thing about including customers into your rebranding is you’ll not only find out what needs changing, but, by their omission, you’ll learn what doesn’t need changing too.
Another high-stakes example was in 2010 when Gap changed its iconic logo. From bold letters in a blue square, to lower-case letters outside of a blue square.
Rather inoffensive, right?
But the backlash from customers was huge. Instead of changing something people might have wanted (Gap’s fashion line or, dare we say, labour processes), they just ditched its 20-year-old blue square and font for another.
After only six days, the fashion brand reversed its decision, returning to its old, perfectly fine logo, and admitted its mistakes in not consulting its customers first. If they did, they would likely have found little need to make that change.
6. Not starting with the product offering
A rebrand for rebranding’s sake is likely to fall flat. It should signify a significant step in the life on your business, so don’t consider your company rebranding to be simply a change in colours or a new logo—it’s often not enough to make your customers take that journey with you.
This tip comes directly from marketing expert Craig Smith, who offered the following advice when speaking to the BBC about Gap’s 2010 logo debacle. 3
"Where marketers often go wrong is they think they have identified an opportunity for the brand to evolve and become something else—become more modern—and they think they can shortcut this by changing the visual identity, and carry the customers with them,” he said.
"It's a fundamental error because customers may not be ready to go with you. The product positioning has to change first, then the logo should be the last thing."
What’s more, if you start your rebranding with something that’s improving (a new product, a change in how you operate, even a move towards a better pricing strategy) your marketing and branding can be done around that core, making for a brand refresh that’s focussed on something tangible.
7. Not tracking the results
The majority of rebranded businesses will track something to gauge the success of their new brand—how could they not.
But often, it’ll merely be a broad metric like the sentiment of staff (informal requests for opinion) or customers (the number of Facebook ‘likes’ compared to pre-rebranding periods). There’s much more you can measure to truly see how your new brand is performing.
As mentioned in point four when managing stakeholder buy-in, determine what will be a success from an early stage and how you’ll measure it. Different measures of success have different timelines.
For instance, you might want to increase web traffic in the first three months, the number of web sales made within six months and overall gross profit within the year after your rebrand.
With something as large scale as a company rebrand, you might want to make specific key performance indicators (KPIs) for seeing whether your new brand is delivering the sales results you want. You can also set shorter-term project KPIs for creating all your new brand material during the refresh.
Not too familiar with key performance indicators? Check out our starter for 10 article What Are KPIs. Or, to reach expert level with your KPI setting and performance management, have a read of our below article on using the Pareto Principle for KPI perfection.
How to rebrand your business
Flip these rebranding missteps on their head and you have a good list of absolute essentials to successfully launch a fresh brand.
- Do your research: explore what’s already in the market and what’s missing, as well as certain trends that could lead your rebranding vision. BUT, make sure your direction fits in with your company identity first and foremost.
- Get stakeholder buy-in by explaining why you’re rebranding and what will constitute success. Decide how you’ll measure success.
- Include staff and allow them to give their feedback as soon as possible.
- Get as much feedback as you can from customers, clients and even those who’ve chosen not to work with you in the past.
- Protect your brand equity by learning what people like and what they want, and continue to do more of it into your new brand.
- Similarly, don’t change what people tell you doesn’t need changing.
- Make sure your new branding solves a problem—don’t just change the name or logo if the core product or service hasn’t improved.
- Those metrics you decided will constitute success: start measuring them and report on them as often as you can.
- Share your successes with the team so you continue to have their buy-in.
But there’s more to think about, too. It’s also going to take thought into what scope of rebrand you’re going to go for.
Is it just a few simple tweaks to product packaging or logos based on a new direction with your product?
A shampoo brand, for instance, that has started using all-natural ingredients might want to bring the same sustainable aspect to their packaging, or add a splash of green to their fonts.
Or, are you completely revitalising your brand with a new shop fit-out, a new company name and/or a fresh website look, feel and user experience? The more you talk to your customers, the more obvious it’s going to become how much you need to change.
Learn more about your business
We feel for businesses 10, 20, 30 years ago. When they rebranded, they only had the big metrics to judge success on—sales, revenue growth. Today, in a world where your accounting, sales and marketing tools collect data every day, things can be a lot smarter.
That’s why 9 Spokes exist. The 9 Spokes dashboard pulls together key insights from the depths of your business apps—like website traffic, sales by channel and (yes) gross profit margin.
There are dozens of other metrics suited towards your industry and business, just choose the ones you want. Not yet sure what business apps are and how they can help your company? Check out the 9 Spokes app marketplace and we can recommend some of the best ones around.
All the best with your rebranding. We’d love to hear how you get on.