For CMOs, few things are worse than a rebrand gone bad. That’s why many companies shy away from the idea altogether.
Yet sometimes there’s just no way around it. A company might have gone through a merger or acquisition and needs to reconcile a portfolio. It might be entering a new market in which what has been working thus far will not work there. Or it could be a pure lack of engagement--either among customers or even employees.
Regardless of the reason, though, this is for sure: Changing the way people perceive your brand involves a great deal of risk. For one, a company could wind up alienating core customers with its new brand promise, said Andrew Goldberg, SVP of marketing and strategy at Dialogic, in an interview with CMO.com. That, of course, will impact sales. Another big risk, Goldberg said, is a rebrand can dilute a brand’s pricing position and decrease the premium that can be charged.
“This could result in an unexpected shift down market in terms of pricing strategies or the need for discounts to move inventory,” Goldberg said. “Rebranding can lead to customer confusion in that the imagery no longer connotes what the brand stands for or the products that are sold. Rather than alienating customers, this could lead to customers, especially new customers, failing to understand the brand message in various categories and a far lower share of mind.”
What else should CMOs consider when embarking on a rebrand? Following is critical guidance from executives who have walked the walk.
Identify Your New Brand Promise
The first step in rebranding is figuring out what needs to change. Where are you failing as a brand, and how can you evolve to better serve your customers? What is your new brand promise? And how will you fulfill it day in and day out?
According to Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue, it’s important to figure out whether your company needs a new brand promise to begin with. Just look at JCPenney. The company’s rebranding was an utter failure because it did not have a brand problem--it had an operation problem, Blue said.
“You should only rebrand if you meet one of two conditions,” Blue told CMO.com. “If your brand promise does not serve you right anymore is the first. The second is you’ve evolved and you’re not what you used to be.”
For ePrize--now HelloWorld--a rebrand was the only way to stay relevant and appeal to the target consumer. About a year ago, the company decided to rebrand because its business model had evolved and it wanted to better deliver on its brand promise.
Matt Wise, CEO of HelloWorld, explained that the reason for the name change was that the name ePrize became too constrictive and niche; navigating the brand into a new position without changing the name became impossible. ePrize had been around for about 14 years and was known for just electronic prizes. It connected consumers to brands via contests and sweepstakes.
“As the industry evolved, we realized that our brand promise was to connect consumers with brands, and that could be done in many ways, not only via contests and sweepstakes,” Wise told CMO.com. “Our name was restricting us in evolving and expanding the business. The company rolled out a whole new product offering and began strategizing a rebrand.”
According to Miller Ingenuity's Blue, marketers who are rethinking their brand promise must read “Start With The Why,” by Simon Sinek. The main point of the book is that companies should focus on why they do what they do.
“Focus on the ‘why’ and understand what the values are of your company and what is your promise to the customer,” Blue told CMO.com. “Then look at what your company does, after you understand your promise, and ensure you are communicating that in messaging.”
Get Employees On Board
The rebrand process at HelloWorld was led by CMO Jennifer Gray. She came up with the entire concept, which Wise signed off on, and then she presented it to the board. At Gray’s request, the company did not use outside agencies to aid in the rebrand; instead, it relied on its own in-house marketing team, who came up with the brand's new look and feel.
The nine or 10 months that it took to finally announce the rebrand had a very set process. It began with the outline of a brand promise and then moved into ideation of a name to represent that promise. This time around, the company chose a name broad enough to work in the future as well. According to Wise, the initial response from both clients and employees has been positive.
One important rebrand rule for any company is to get employees to embrace the new essence of the brand, Wise said. When HelloWorld rolled out the new name, it gathered its employees in a casino in Reno, Nev. The company also produced a video intended to hype people up.
“We positioned it as change for the good,” Wise told CMO.com. “It represented growth and the next level of maturity for our company. People are really excited that we’re heading into new horizons.”
Wise suggests putting the weight on who you are going to become, not the fact that you need to change. Dialogic’s Goldberg echoed Wise’s position on turning employees into brand evangelists. In B2B, especially, company salespeople can become great brand evangelists during a rebrand.
“Helping the go-to-market channels understand the story, appreciate the nuances, and buy into the process can go a long way in working with customers to more closely identify with the brand and the future direction of the messaging,” Goldberg told CMO.com.
Slapping A New Logo Onto Your Site Is Not A Rebrand
According to Jeff Hayzlett, former CMO of Kodak and the host of Bloomberg TV’s “C-Suite” online video series, it is important to remember that rebranding is not about look and feel.
“A brand is a promise delivered, and so if you are rebranding, you should be rethinking that promise and window dressing it with design elements,” Hazlett told CMO.com in an exclusive interview. “If your brand has elements of being emotional, then that should be reflected in design. If your brand is all about business, then design should be more black and white. A logo is not a brand.”
Instead, Hayzlett suggested sitting down and identifying the core of what you are doing. Doing so is fundamental, he said.
A Rebrand Is Not A Marketing Initiative
According to Hayzlett, it’s the CEO, not the CMO, who leads a rebrand; the chief marketer’s role is to nurture it. “When you are looking at changing the elements of your business, the rebrand and the new image needs to be reflected in your business goals,” he said. “The most successful rebrands I’ve seen have been led by the CEO. In fact, I have never seen a company where the real owner of the brand isn’t the CEO.”
Alyson Schonholz, group strategy director at Siegel+Gale, agreed. Although it is logical to have the CMO play a role in the rebrand, it is important to note that a rebrand is not a marketing initiative--it’s a business initiative, she said.
“The CMO needs to play a big role, but an organization going through a rebrand needs buy in from the CEO and even the head of HR, who is driving this change or shift from within the organization by rallying and inspiring employees,” Schonholz told CMO.com. “The CXO also needs to be involved since the rebrand needs to be consistent in all customer touch points. We’re seeing that the most successful experiences use all those players.”
A rebrand also needs to be instituted across the entire organization, not just marketing. It’s important to get the entire company thinking in terms of the new brand promise.
Do Your Homework
Once you’ve figured out your new brand promise and have executive buy in, a company needs to outline which needles it wants to move. Are you trying to drive sales or maybe increase employee engagement?
In order to identify the changes you want to see as a result of your rebrand, it is important to use research to inform your decisions, Schonholz told CMO.com.
“You need a fact-based approach to a rebrand,” she told CMO.com. “Ensure you are involving the right people from the very beginning. ... And the final decision isn’t just for the boardroom either. Everyone needs to be involved. Define success up-front and create a road map.”
While creative can generate tons of great ideas, a rebrand ultimately has to enhance the customer’s experience. Spend the time to test your concepts with customers and the sales channel, listen closely to the feedback, and make the decisions that help achieve the brand’s goals, Dialogic’s Goldberg advises.
Additionally, he said that brands need to do their homework across geographies. There are inherent differences from country to country and even from state to state. It is very difficult to build a brand with global appeal. What may work well in some regions of the world could alienate other cultures.
“More than just a logo, rebranding should be accompanied by stronger marketing messages, fresh packaging, great design, and a notion of lifestyle not associated with more generic messages,” Goldberg told CMO.com. “Great rebranding can dramatically change market share within categories, justify premium pricing, or justify line extensions that open new markets or geographies."