12 Tips for Executing a Successful Rebrand

Rebrands can make big headlines and offer brands fresh starts, such as the case of Budweiser with America and Tribune and tronc. But they also come at the expense of brand and search equity – and, like marriage, perhaps, can only be done so many times.

Here’s a look at when it makes sense to rebrand – and how to successfully pull it off.

When Should a Brand Rebrand?

1. To Gain New Associations

As Kim Saxton, clinical associate professor of marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, put it, our brains are essentially like 3D maps and brands own spots on this map, which she called a brand’s perceptual license. This is what a consumer perceives a brand can and does do.

“The human brain is like a huge categorizing machine,” she said. “We have to make sense of the information coming in.”

Therefore, if the association a brand has among consumers is not what it wants, it makes sense to rebrand, she said. The Tribune brand, for example, had a long legacy of newspaper publishing behind it, which is not as modern as, say, brands like BuzzFeed, Mashable and the Huffington Post. Therefore, the change is logical in terms of aligning with what would be interesting to a different – younger – audience segment, she added.

Budweiser, too, was struggling in the market as it is not a light beer, it is not owned by an American company and it’s a big domestic brewer at a time when craft beer is hot, Saxton said.

“So they did something temporary to get back to the cultural values and perceptual license they want to have, which is summer, patriotism, July 4,” Saxton said. “Beer is always more highly sold in the summer and that’s why it’s just a temporary thing.”

Brannon Cashion, global president of branding firm Addison Whitney, agreed one reason to rebrand could be to correct something that isn’t working, such as an outdated logo or a name with outdated or negative connotations.

“Your brand should be one of the most impactful assets for your organization and if there is an aspect that is not fulfilling this role, then a new brand could be worth exploring,” he added.

2. To Better Reflect the Business As It Evolves

Per Cashion, if a brand portfolio significantly changes, such as adding new offerings or acquiring new brands, the pre-existing brand may no longer accurately represent the portfolio and a new name/image could better communicate the value of the offering.

Ashleigh Hansberger, co-founder of branding and digital agency Motto, agreed a brand that changes its business model may also need to rebrand to reflect those changes.

“The diversification or new division of a business warrants a rebrand for clarification,” she added.

This also includes changes in ownership.

“Under new rule, values, vision and priorities may change,” she said. “That’s a great time to make sure strategy and creative align to reflect the new goals, vision, message and personality.”

3. To Demonstrate a Maturing Brand

Further, Hansberger noted some startups begin and grow without having a professionally designed brand. In those cases, rebranding becomes an important step for them to be taken seriously as they scale and challenge more established brands.

4. A Rebrand is Not a Quick Fix for a Poor Image

A brand clearly extends beyond a name and a logo to include a story and values, as well as user experience, among other elements. And, for his part, Donald Giller, senior project director of visual marketing and brand communications firm BrandEquity, noted in the case of countering a poor image, a rebrand does not make sense until the organization is confident changes have been made to correct whatever caused the poor image to begin with. And, even then, brands should remember recreating a brand is a long-term commitment.

What Does This Say About Brand Equity?

But that’s not to say a rebrand – such as tronc perhaps discovered after less-than-positive feedback to its rebrand – does not come without risks. And high on the list is potential damage to brand equity.

According to Saxton, brand equity matters more than ever because in part consumers are inundated with media and must focus what they pay attention to and therefore tend to rely on brands they know and trust. That means brands that have firmly entrenched equity – like, say, Google, Apple and Coca-Cola – tend to hold on dearly to the brands they have established. And instead of rebranding per se, larger brands can acquire smaller brands if there are untapped niches they want to target, like lifestyle brand VF Corporation, which owns brands like The North Face, Wrangler and Nautica.

But for brands that don’t have comparable equity – be it in terms of brand, capital or both – here’s what to consider prior to taking the plunge with a rebrand:

5. Research Your Existing Brand

According to Cashion, brands should look into their current brands before deciding upon a rebrand to discover what aspects are still valuable and should remain similar, as well as to identify what is contributing to the need to rebrand.

“Additionally, find out what your audience is saying about your brand, which could be very helpful in determining the direction of the rebrand,” he said.

Further, Giller said if brands are plagued by problems like performance, they should address those issues before considering a rebrand.

6. Don’t Change Just to Change

“Some rebrands come from a need to align with current trends or to make the brand more modern or because new leadership is looking to create a change,” Cashion said. “A rebrand is not a light undertaking and can have a long-lasting impact on your overall brand, so the decision should not be made lightly.”

Saxton agreed a rebrand is a huge move and brands must plan to invest accordingly.

“Branding is not, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Saxton said. “I think sometimes people underestimate the money and time it takes to build a great brand.

7. Ask the Right Questions — and Answer Honestly

Per Eric Brantner, founder of blogging resource site Scribblrs.com, these pre-rebrand questions include:

  1. What am I hoping to gain from this and how will rebranding meet that goal?
  2. Am I really just bored with my brand and could I achieve the goal with just a brand freshening?
  3. Can I handle the consequences of a rebranded site falling the search rankings and what’s my plan to get my search presence back?

8. Choose Something Distinctive

Noting again the brain is a categorizing tool, Saxton recommended brands find a distinctive new brand that will yield a clean spot on consumers’ brains so they can therefore build new associations around it.

9. Give Consumers a Story – And Make It Consistent

A brand’s new story should include elements like why the brand came to life, what its purpose and personality are and what consumers should believe about it, Saxton said.

According to Hansberger, rebranding also requires a thoughtful plan because brands can become a mishmash of assets unless there is clear direction and purpose.

“If organizations lack visual and verbal consistency from using incongruent logos, typography, color palettes, imagery, messages and tone of voice, the brand will suffer from schizophrenia,” she said. “The way to solve that is to create a greater sense of continuity across the brand, and to overcome the inefficiencies, frustration and confusion that result in not presenting a consistent face to customers.

10. Make Sure You Can Acquire the Right Assets

Per Dallas McLaughlin, digital marketing strategist at ad agency The James Agency, brands need to consider whether they can secure all of the necessary third party entities to execute a seamless rebrand, such as Twitter, Facebook and domain names.

11. Carefully Consider the SEO Impact

A rebrand also potentially means loss of visibility tied to mentions and reviews of the old brand, McLaughlin said. Further, late adopters may show up online expecting to find the old brand.

“It can be done, but there must be a well-executed plan which covers all social, SEO, IT, PR and traditional elements so the business does not lose any ground in the ongoing battle for digital share of voice,” he added.

12. Get the Timing Right

Giller noted rebranding is not a good idea in the heat of, say, an employee relations problem as the full understanding and support of staff are critical to brand performance.

“But the typical ups and downs of an organization’s employee relations should not interfere with a strategic branding initiative,” he added.

About Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a freelance writer covering digital and search marketing. She's also a contributor to Search Engine Journal and Smart Brief and previously covered the industry for ClickZ, SEW and Momentology. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.

  • Kim Saxton

    Great list, Lisa. Nice job putting together these ideas