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Rebranding for Rebound

The pandemic, whether directly or indirectly, caused many organizations reconsider their place and role in the world. Some call this ‘the Great Reset’, others ‘The Great Divide’. Either way, what are the implications for brands and businesses?

Individuals, small and medium-sized enterprises, for example, took this time to go deep and re-orient themselves with unprecedented agility and speed, adapting products, services, and their brands to a new reality.  But larger corporate structures adapted swiftly too, investing significant time and energy into transformation processes, many of which we are only to see bearing fruit in the coming years.

From Re-Set to Re-Brand

It comes as no surprise then that the year 2021 will go into the history books as one of a rebranding spree[1]. Some of the companies that invested in rebranding during 2021 are GM, Pfizer, Kia, Facebook (now Meta) among many others. And this only marks the beginning. The process of renewal is still in full steam and will showcase a firework of ‘Re-Sets’ over the next months and years. It is our firm opinion that companies which are rebranding right can achieve – or are already experiencing – a very strong rebound through increased relevancy and deeper engagement in a rapidly evolving world.

A Fresh Start

In order to prepare better for the post-pandemic world, companies have multiple options in terms of adjusting their relevancy through ‘Re-Branding’. Generally (and excluding the ‘do nothing’ scenario), these can be grouped into ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ rebranding.

Soft re-branding is when a company is not undergoing radical transformation. This is evolutionary, aligning the brand with an evolved marketplace, serving largely the same segments with the same products and services. The business might change its approach in communications or some of its brand codes in, for example, adapting its logo or visual appearance on the outside and use the power of such shifts to internally re-energize, too – re-invigorating employee engagement. The vast majority of companies undergoing this process fall into this category.

Hard re-branding on the other hand is about a much deeper transformation and is considered a revolution, rather than an evolution. It’s also much riskier, a finer (economic) line to walk and involves generally a full re-alignment (re-positioning) of products and services, a review of market segments, price points etc. From a branding point of view, this is equal to a full reset: changing an entire identity inside out.

From an outside perspective, it is often hard to distinguish why a company re-brands and how much is ‘soft’ and what is ‘hard’. For good reason – these are complex processes. Did Facebook become Meta because of the reputational issues linked to legal battles over the power of influence in elections, alleged privacy issues, etc. – or is it all about readying the company for the coming Metaverse – as the name suggests?

Examples abound whereas Facebook is now Meta, Peugeot is now a design-icon (in terms of its logo, marking a clear statement to the future ambition), and even the CIA unveiled an updated identity.

What is important, is to identify the underlying transformational forces very cleary, evaluate these and form an opinion on how these will impact the future. For instance, the Black-Lives-Matter movement pushed the (now formerly) Cass Business School to change its name to Bayes Business School on its own initiative. The school considered the separation from a historic name association with Sir John Cass more important than to retain the equity the name had built for the elite school over time. These are never easy decisions. Sir John Cass was on the one hand a successful merchant, philanthropist, and a Member of Parliament – yet on the other hand a key figure in the Royal African Company, which was involved in the Atlantic slave trade in a time and context entirely different from ours. This connection of Sir John Cass to the slave trade was ultimately cited as the reason for the name change. The message was strong, clear, and timely – and pushed by a movement much larger than the school[2]. Analogically to Facebook, the timing for rebranding is as key as the driving forces that underpin such transitions.

When and How to Rebrand Right

How do you rebrand right for a stronger rebound? First, and most importantly, it is necessary to acknowledge that rebranding is not effective when it’s only about cosmetics – changing the colours of the website or design of the logo is not what this is about. It’s simply insufficient for getting real results from rebranding. The impact is always deep – and with this cultural. Rebranding helps to shift decision making and the mentality of a firm to adapt to a new context. As Darren Evans wrote: “If the reset is intended to help reposition the organization or reframe the opinions that exist surrounding its existence, the process must delve much deeper and ideally involve a wide spectrum of stakeholders who can really add value to what happens next.”[3]

It’s never a good move to start rebranding for the sake of rebranding. As the saying goes: don’t fix it if it isn’t broken. Rebranding poses many risks for the brand. As a thought and action starter, it’s a good idea to ask yourself whether a re-brand is the right thing to do.

Good Reasons to Rebrand

  • A significant change: market/macro, but more often tied to company structure (acquisition, merger, re-structuring)
  • Competition: a signification disadvantage in comparison to your competition.
  • Major changes in product or service offering
  • The current brand carries negative associations
  • You are fighting for digital presence (SEO)

Unnecessary Reasons to Rebrand

  • New leadership or management wants to ‘put their mark on it’
  • Recovering from a public relations crisis without addressing the underlying problem
  • Other companies in your industry are rebranding
  • To generate awareness and visibility amongst the target audience
  • Detraction: covering up bigger issues, wrong positioning, internal turmoil, outdated service and product offering

Points to Think About

  • Make sure the re-branding effort is carried at the top: full board or executive support!
  • Assign resources and a capable team, or get external help
  • Start by reviewing your competitive set, review insights ranging from customer feedback to internal employee feedback
  • Review your strategic business objectives; what do you want to achieve?
  • Re-Think your values are these right in the context of changing environment?
  • Establish a Purpose if you don’t have one: Why do you do what you do?
  • Stay real: authenticity is key. A gap to a future, desired state is OK – within reason
  • Don’t alienate customers (nor staff)
  • Create a Blueprint first; test-drive it (focus groups, internal and external)
  • Only start design-work once your blueprint is clear (see above)
  • Identify all touchpoints: from stationary to your building, websites
  • Don’t underestimate the time and cost in ‘re-branding’ fully, build it into your budget
  • Prioritize and plan your efforts: what, when, who and how-much
  • Communicate regularly on progress with all stakeholders
  • Start inside: engage your staff fully (don’t just send an email!), motivate!
  • Activate outside: tell the world!

Making it a Success

Successful re-branding is a complex undertaking and when done properly, can truly become a catalyst for growth. Benefits range from staying current, attracting more customers, retaining existing ones, engaging staff better to increased efficiency and better bottom line results. But it’s bold move that requires careful planning and usually entails a significant investment of time, effort, and money.

Successfully delivering a rebranding project in the 21st century requires collaboration and co-creation at every level, or in the words of Paulo Coelho: “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you”. Make sure your universe is fully involved.

[1] Alice Finney | 23 December 2021 Leave a comment. “Dezeen's Top 10 Rebrands of 2021.” Dezeen, 4 Jan. 2022, https://www.dezeen.com/2021/12/23/rebrands-design-review-2021/

[2] Cassbusiness. “The Business School (Formerly CASS) to Be Renamed Bayes Business School.” Bayes Business School, https://www.bayes.city.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2021/april/the-business-school-formerly-cass-to-be-renamed-bayes-business-school

[3] Lucia, Max De, et al. “Can Rebranding Help Shift in-House Attitudes?” Brandingmag, Brandingmag | Narrating the Discussion, 21 Dec. 2021, https://www.brandingmag.com/2020/02/18/can-rebranding-help-shift-in-house-attitudes/

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