Every company that rebrands does so with high hopes. Their expectation is of course that this will mark a new chapter in the life of the business. Given how much is being invested, that seems more than a reasonable goal on their part. But is it realistic? How much change can a company expect to see through a rebrand, and where? This article by Laurent Muzellec and Mary Lambkin from some years back lays out some evergreen principles and reminds us that no two rebrands are the same in terms of the results they generate.
It depends on the degree of change. Muzellec and Lambkin draw a clear distinction between evolutionary rebranding – a brand refresh – and revolutionary rebranding. The former are the many tweaks that brand owners instigate to keep their brands up to date. These are a necessary and important part of keeping a brand current, and many brands make these changes without consumers being consciously aware of what’s gone on. While much of the onus here is often put on changes to the visual language, I see no reason at all why a brand cannot refresh other aspects of its brand structure and still remain largely recognizable as the brand that people know.
A revolutionary rebranding is more ambitious. This is a complete overhaul of the brand, clearing out and replacing many of the legacy elements. This demolition and rebuild is much more difficult to pull off successfully. It signals a break with what was.
The more radical the level of change you attempt, the longer it will generally take to gain acceptance and the more prone it is to failure, which in branding terms amounts to disbelief. Be very clear therefore about the extent of the change you are making and why that degree of change is warranted. Above all, help stakeholders understand that the change in brand in itself is not the end of the costs: that any rebrand requires a solid investment in supporting communications to make the most of the changes; and that there may well be operational and systemic costs as well (some of which can be substantial).
It depends where the change takes place. The authors identify three different levels within the brand structure where rebranding can take place – the corporate brand, the business unit and the product. Changes can take place at any or all of these levels. There are two critical issues to watch here in my view. Choosing what to keep consistent and what to change will determine how familiar the rebrand feels to consumers. Aligning the changes so that the new arrangement is consistent and not a mish-mash of old and new is also very important.
The authors give a range of examples of changes in brand structure in the paper. The simplest case, they say, is when a corporation with a strong brand acquires another business and changes everything within that acquisition to align with that power brand. In the branded house scenario, a new corporate brand is applied to all the existing sub-brands. In a house of brands architecture, a new corporate brand and the current constituent sub-brands are further separated, to put distance between the corporate brand and the working brands, to respect political or cultural sensitivities, or, I would suggest, to enable the corporate brand to ‘stand alone’, as an investor brand for example.
One of the key considerations raised, in reference to work done by Aaker and Kapferer, is that every decision to change a name destroys the equity that the name has generated. Therefore a decision to rename as part of the rebranding process needs to be undertaken with confidence that the current name has declining value and/or that a new name will supersede the equity held by the current name. This is true for names at every level of the structure, although, clearly, the values of the names change exponentially depending on the scope and structure of what they describe.
Rebrand to the needs of the business. Again, make careful judgments about where changes can best take place to reflect the extent of the changes that you need to communicate. Don’t over-extend your rebrand, but also be careful not to under-invest if you want to signal true transformation.
It depends on why the change is taking place. Companies can choose to rebrand for a range of reasons. Consolidations and mergers/acquisitions can change the owners of the business. A brand may be spun off or sold off. The company may have shifted its position in the market due to changes in consumer demand or the arrival of new competitors and needs to convey this shift unequivocally. The business itself may diversify into new spaces that don’t align well with the current branding. It may shift from private to public ownership, or align with a sponsor, and wish to signal these changes. The current brand may have a bad reputation or have been called into disrepute.
According to Muzellec and Lambkin, “The main drivers for rebranding are, therefore, decisions, events or processes causing a change in a company’s structure, strategy or performance of sufﬁcient magnitude to suggest the need for a fundamental redeﬁnition of its identity.” Consumers will react to such changes with enthusiasm, confusion, indifference or outrage depending on the motives for the change, how well the change is communicated, the benefits that consumers see for themselves and the community in dealing with the rebranded entity and how the rebranded company itself behaves.
Be very clear about the customer benefits of the rebrand, not just your reasons and keep those front-of-mind throughout the rebranding process.
Be patient. Rebranding is something that should be done with the wider business and with an unwavering eye on the business strategy going forward. Take the time to include, consult and decide. The excitement of rebranding should always be overshadowed by the responsibility of getting it right. Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, rebrand within timeframes and market conditions that give you the greatest degree of control. Attempting to do this while the business is rapidly declining or the market is in recession will only add further pressure to a process that requires big decisions and has major implications.