Brand Thinking

What rebranding really means


Rebranding is a much misunderstood and maligned term. When done properly it can be a game changer for your business growth but at the other end of the scale it can be pointless.

Despite being synonymous with logo redesign a successful rebrand may actually leave the logo untouched. Logo is just one element of the many dimensions of a brand and, as you will see below, rebranding can be focused on many of the other elements of your brand. It is as much strategic and about the thinking as it is about identity design.

Rebrands are done for many reasons, the worst and least successful is when they are just about a creative refresh. This is because they are in danger of being cosmetic, making no fundamental change to the way that the business is perceived other than it looks nicer.

Ask GAP who introduced a logo redesign that lasted 6 days before they reverted back to the original and distinctive logo as a result of a huge public backlash against the change. In an age where brands like Kleenex are forced to rebrand Kleenex Mansize Tissues to Kleenex Extra Large Tissues due to public pressure and sexism claims, you ignore your consumer at your peril.

The why? question

We also live in an era where brands have to be authentic and the glory Ad Age where he who shouts loudest and convinces their customers to buy through mass advertising and intensive sales promotion are long gone. What this means for any changes to a brand is that they must have substance and relevance. Therefore, the first question to be asked about any rebrand is why? What is going to be achieved, what is going to improve and what will change? Without business clarity and positive reasons for rebranding then don’t do it.

Integral to your business strategy

It follows that rebranding has to be directly related to your business strategy. We engage with far too many business owners who think that branding is just part of marketing and sits separately to their business goals and strategies. Wrong. Your brand strategy is an integral part of your business strategy. Your brand is the sum of every interaction your customers have with your business, the way that you are seen, the perceptions you create and the fundamental success of your business or organisation. The terminology may vary, some people talk about your value proposition, others like brand promise, whichever words you use the fundamental point is to be honest about the underlying issues and dig deep to define the brand strategy to help support change. Think of your brand strategy in the same way that you think of your operational and financial strategies to deliver on your main business goals and objectives.

What is a brand?

To properly understand rebranding it is vital to recognise the core elements of a brand. Your brand is a four part set: thinking, context, story and style. You will note straightaway that style, including your identity within it, is only one element of the total. The four dimensions of your brand split neatly into the two essential aspects of your brand, namely the rational and the emotional dimensions. The rational side covers the detailed strategic thinking that underpins all strong brands, along with the marketplace context which ensures you are looking externally to understand how your brand fits in the market and against your competitors and not just being focused internally on what you want to achieve. Then the emotional side is a combination of your story to capture the imagination of your audience and your style which is not only your logo but your wider identity including the full colour palette you use and the look and imagery you consistently deliver to create the visual hit and emotive feelings. Brands have to reach us on both a rational / logical level and the emotional / responsive level.

It follows that by considering these four fundamental brand dimensions your rebranding can potentially cover a multitude of elements, including: changing or refining your name; modernising or updating your logo design; modifying your colour set, imagery or creative style; changing your market positioning to a higher level or to appeal to a new market; developing your brand character and personality to create more appeal; building your brand story to be more compelling, with distinct messaging and a more relevant tone of voice; or communicating your core values and business ethos in a convincing way. The list could go on. The changes that you make have to be properly thought through and vitally, they must fit with your business. Not because you see many other businesses following a given creative trend or generic brand approach, but based on knowing why you are making the change and focusing the rebrand in the areas that are key to your business.

Reasons for rebranding

There are a multitude of reasons to rebrand that do have a strategic rationale and can therefore yield very positive results for your business.

These include:

  • To respond to poor perceptions and overcome negative brand associations.
  • Where the business has outgrown the brand and there is a need to realign.
  • As the branding is too generic and looks like everyone else in your sector.
  • In order to support major growth plans that require a significant shift.
  • To broaden the offer into new markets that require a repositioning to show relevance.

We will take a look at each of these rebranding needs in turn so as to better understand the ways that a rebrand can be made to work effectively.

1. Poor and negative perceptions
Recognising that the business world does not stand still, brands can face negativity due to changes in attitudes, social trends or as a result of major service or quality issues. Brands are built on trust and if this is lost it becomes incredibly difficult to change perceptions back. If there is something fundamentally wrong within the business a rebranding exercise on its own, without addressing the business issues that are causing the problems, will not make a difference. Rebranding has to have depth and meaning. At Luna, we worked with Wantage Civic Hall a few years ago to rebrand them at a time when they suffered from a relatively poor local reputation. We created The Beacon Wantage as a full scale rebrand to signal significant change that was completed alongside a major overhaul of their service offer. It worked because the rebrand was strategic and completely aligned with substantial business changes that took account of the criticism they faced. Problems cannot be resolved by simply changing how you look or the communications you make to your market.

Al Ries, positioning guru cites the example of Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranding to KFC as a mistaken attempt to change perceptions away from fried food. Unfortunately for them consumers still saw the full name despite the acronym. His solution would have been to rebrand as Colonel Sanders Chicken. The point here is to understand where you have come from as much as where you want to go. Major rebranding due to negative perceptions is not to be undertaken lightly or subtly, but clearly not in a gung-ho fashion either.

2. Business needs to realign
The recent rebranding of ReceiptBank is a good example of where a business has grown and changed considerably but their branding has not been developed alongside the business development. This is perfectly summed up by CEO Alexis Prenn:

“Applying the branding that was honest & representative of the plucky little start-up to the ReceiptBank of today is misleading. Misleading because the ReceiptBank of today is no longer a start-up because our ambitions to innovate, to professionalise, to recruit and develop have changed out of all recognition.”

There is a growing trend for businesses to come to the realisation that they are out of alignment. When they stop they realise that they have been so focused on growing the business, particularly from start-up, they had not realised that their brand was no longer representative of who they are today. This is not so much of an issue for their existing client base but can be a serious issue in attracting new clients when you want the right fit with who you are today and going forward.

3. Your branding is too generic
The ‘Me-Too’ trap is an easy one to fall into when entering a market. You want to fit in and be easily recognised as a particular type of business so logically this can lead to adopting a branding style that is very similar to the majority of the other producers or suppliers into your market. While this may not stop you from achieving sales there will come a point when your business development needs a more distinctive approach. This is a classic development stage that may be a few years in but can sometimes be 5-10 years plus into your business life. When you hit this ceiling, it requires an open and honest assessment of your branding and determining how it can be developed to support your growth plans.

In the starker cases small businesses have bought off-the-shelf brand solutions that are resold to multiple clients and so you can end up seeing a business with an almost identical brand design to yours, perhaps in a different colour but with the same logo design. That is an easy signal that a change is needed. You need to stand in your own space and have clients and prospects respond to you as a distinct business in your own right.

4. Significant shift to support major growth plans
This form of rebranding thinking is based on having a new business driver that you need to communicate to your market or some other form of significant shift within the business. The recent rebranding of Dunkin Donuts to Dunkin may seem a little trite but the logic is sound. They realised that their business driver was actually coffee and not donuts so they wanted to reposition the business to reflect this change. There is a lesson there in brand naming when it can be too specific and potentially limit you in the future, but brand naming is a story for another day. Another recent example of a major shift is the rebranding of Gaming Nation to Ascend FS with this online gaming business clearly signalling a message of positivity rather than the potential negatives that come from the word gaming.

5. Broaden into new markets
When your branding is focused on a particular market sector and you decide to expand your sales into a new sector the key strategic issue is whether your current branding is appropriate for that change. It may be but often the brand strategy has to be modified. We have done brand projects where the answer is to leave the current brand alone and create a sister brand to appeal to the new market sector because they are totally different audiences.

An example is the Deckle Edge brand created for the Shop Display sector to sit with the original City & County Graphics brand that was well established in display graphics for the building construction market. Alternatively, there are many instances where adjusting the identity, story, positioning or other key dimensions of your brand can successfully reposition you to appeal to a new sector.

The point is you cannot generalise: it has to be the right strategic decision for each individual business.

Rebrand first principles

While doing any rebrand it is important that you follow first principles, that you:

  • remain true to your principles and values
  • ensure it is meaningful, so people take notice and that they care
  • has enough impact to make a genuine difference

Rebranding is not simply a design exercise, it is a fundamental change and relaunch. It is not a question of creating a new logo and carrying on as before. The thinking needs to be done to identify why the brand has not been successful to date, what changes in strategy necessitate a new approach and precisely how your brand is going to be changed to make it successful in the future. It is only when the new brand strategy is defined that the creative work should be done. If you cannot write a brief that outlines the direction, positioning, key messages and what will make the rebrand distinctive, then you should not go ahead with logo design and the rest of the brand identity work.

First and most important is to have a clear view of where you want to be in the long term. What scale of business do you want to achieve, with what level of turnover and profit? A local or a national player? A leader in your market, exploiting a niche or building scale? Your brand strategy has to be developed in relation to your strategic business objectives, not as a separate exercise, as is so often the case. The rebrand can have a significant impact but it is not for the feint hearted. It is not a superficial change, a redesign or a bit more of the same.

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