To Rebrand or Not to Rebrand: A Guide for Businesses at a Turning Point
- posted in: Marketing
Even rock stars have a difficult time rebranding.
When – in an effort to wrestle back control from Warner Brothers – Prince began to go by a mysterious symbol, or ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,’ fans reacted with annoyance, and the population at large reacted with mockery. Though his fight for artists’ rights may have been laudatory, the abrupt execution of this new moniker alienated just about everyone.
Rebranding represents a pivotal moment of transition for a company or an artist, and whether superficial or totally transformative, it can highlight the fact that a brand’s identity is always a negotiation between popular opinion and the interests of the brand itself.
Lesson One: Don’t Neglect the Value Proposition
There are many good reasons to rebrand, and a few lousy ones, as well. The important differentiator and the one that customers will be most sensitive to is whether there’s been a significant change or merely a surface re-design.
For example, when Radio Shack, in an attempt to regain relevance, changed its name to “The Shack,” the public response was a mix of confusion and apathy. The problem was that the value proposition hadn’t been updated, so consumers felt like they were being tricked or talked down to. It was, in a sense, insulting.
Lesson Two: Rebranding doesn’t have to be radical.
Although a rebranding that is received as merely a marketing gimmick is likely to fall flat, it’s also not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Ideally, you want to build on your past successes and spotlight your strengths.
When Dos Equis launched its “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign in 1996, sales rose 22% in three years.
This rise was not due to the fact that Dos Equis had started selling orange juice instead of beer or was moving its headquarters to Iceland. It was because it had found a way to showcase and amplify brand values such as a love of adventure and a healthy sense of curiosity.
Lesson Three: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Companies will sometimes revamp their branding out of an anxiety around staying current or in an attempt to maintain a competitive edge.
However, this well-intentioned move can backfire because it misjudges the marketplace. The “new” can definitely have an appeal, but the “classic” or the “traditional” are also of high value.
We reach for something because it is familiar as much, if not more, than we reach for something because it’s novel. Whatever the ratio of their relative sway, both the familiar and the novel exert a powerful influence over us, and it can be a mistake to choose one at the expense of the other.
In 2010 when the Gap changed its logo from its well established tall, unique typeset to a dull helvetica, it was met by such a backlash of criticism and disapproval that it reversed its decision in six days.
Lesson Four: Rebranding can’t be all about the bottom line.
Your brand represents a relationship, and though the overall health of that relationship is often measured by a bottom line, it can’t be reduced to it. It follows that a rebranding motivated entirely by profit margins could be counter-productive in the long run.
The classic example of this point is the 2011 Netflix/Qwikster debacle. When Netflix proposed a split into two companies and a 60% spike in service charges, 800,000 subscribers said, “Bye, Felicia.”
Lesson Five: Offer quality.
One of the best reasons to rebrand is to offer higher quality. How can you make your product safer, healthier, tastier, or more environmentally friendly? Whether the motivation is a new competitor, customer complaints, or simply a great idea, boosting the quality of your product is a sound move.
When Harley Davidson faced bankruptcy in the 80s, they realized that the reliability of their motorcycles had to match the popularity of the brand. When they adjusted the quality of their product, they were able to thrive.
A word to the wise here: don’t compromise something customers love about your brand to offer something new. If Harley Davidson had redefined its culture in the process of upgrading its product, its fans would have been outraged. Even if it feels like the trade-off might be worth it, it’s a risky move.
Lesson Six: Adapt, adapt, adapt.
“The times they are a-changin,” sang Bob Dylan.
He might have been referencing the civil rights struggle and the expansion of consciousness that marked the 60s and 70s, but his words still ring true. Perhaps, the times are always a-changin’.
This doesn’t, however, mean that there’s nothing to hold on to. Some of the most successful brands are ones that blend a sense of heritage with a sense of ongoing evolution. Dylan himself underwent just such a transition in 1965 when he “went electric.” As a smart rebrander though, he kept the same lyrical sensibility and intelligence that had earned him millions of fans.
Burberry, the high fashion darling, was seen as incoherent and out of touch as recently as 2006, however, under the management of new leadership and with the help of influencers like Kate Moss and Emma Watson, it underwent an overhaul.
By centralizing design and making its products more exclusive, it was able to climb the ladder of luxury brands and offer more by offering less.
Lesson Seven: Tap into a new market.
There’s a running joke about the struggling model or actor who says, “I’m really big in Japan!” Though rebranding in a foreign market can occasionally be perceived as an act of desperation, there are many cases in which it represents an astute tactical move.
No one laughed, for example, when Pabst Blue Ribbon, the go-to beer for broke college students, featured a jaw dropping $44 Blue Ribbon 1844 in China.
The Blue Ribbon 1844 is a special mix of German malts, aged in oak whiskey barrels and catered towards the Chinese elites’ affection for pricey beers. It was a brilliant, if unexpected, idea, and it goes to show that there is room for brands to explore their alter egos without letting go of their home base.
Lesson Eight: Connect with your audience.
The most effective brands sync up with their audience, and in some ways, know them better than they know themselves. This could be reflected in the style of seasonal campaigns, or more dramatically, in a total rebranding.
When Apple dropped the “Computers” in its name, traded in its colors for a clean slate, and designed the iconic “Be Different” campaign, it tapped into the values of its clientele of cultural creatives and secured a loyal following. By aligning its brand with values of innovation, simplicity, and social revolution, it distinguished itself as an ally and leader in the dreams of the young.
Lesson Nine: Get help.
It’s natural to be secretive while rebranding, since an early release by a third party or in less than ideal circumstances can diffuse or distort the excitement of a rebrand. But, in isolation, it’s all too easy to lose perspective. To the extent that you can, use focus groups, employee feedback, and customer opinion to refine your rebranding efforts.
No brand exists in a vacuum, and if you can tell a new story while involving everyone who makes your brand vital and viable, the new story will be a success.