This post outlines the two branding paths to consider when investing in branding and the factors that should drive a decision to pursue either one.
About a year ago I was in a workshop with Jeff McKay, Founder and CEO of Prudent Pedal, a marketing consultancy. During that session Jeff said something simple, yet profound enough that it struck a chord and has stuck with me since.
“Rebranding is the last thing a firm should consider doing.”
Having worked in the agency world for over a decade, I have been involved in my fair share of rebrands. But it wasn’t until Jeff said that powerful, yet simple phrase that the light bulb went off — because he is right. Brands are the most strategic asset marketers can use to drive a marketing plan. If revising it in some way is on the table for discussion, it better be for the right reasons. So, before you go all-in on that investment be sure you’ve picked the right path.
Two Paths to Consider for Branding: Rebrand or Refresh
#1 – Rebrand
Most marketers understand the aspects of a rebrand. It’s the most dramatic solution because it packages the firm or the brand in an entirely new light. Everything from the logo, messaging, tone-of voice, collateral, and website is redesigned and reimagined. In extreme cases, this even includes changing the company name. And, that’s just the outward expression of the brand itself — we call it the brand platform. A rebrand also implies that the thinking (brand strategy) that underpins that execution itself needs to change.
Think of a rebrand as a person changing who they are, what’s most important to them, and what they are passionate about. It’s extreme, so to go back to Jeff’s point, you will want to have some very quantifiable reasons to consider going down this road.
CH2M went back to its roots when it rebranded ~2015:
Ernst & Young changed the entire way it communicated itself to the market when it transitioned to EY — shifting from delivery-centered to philosophy-centered language:
#2 – Refresh
A brand refresh keeps the underlying strategy of your brand intact. A refresh implies that the thinking that underpins your marketing efforts is still valid. Yet, it acknolwedges that the platform that represents the brand needs to change to stay relevant in the current business cycle. A rebrand also works to preserve and build upon the existing brand equity and market perception of the firm. Think of this path as a person going through a style makeover. Gone is the haircut and wardrobe they’ve rocked the last 20 years and in its place is a new and polished look current with today’s style trends.
Deloitte elegantly described its brand refresh in this blog to introduce the changes the firm was making to its visual presentation after 13 years:
Justifying a Rebrand
If you can answer yes to 2-3 of these questions, then it might be smart to evaluate a rebranding exercise:
- Services — Have your core services or product offerings dramatically changed (you’ve shed old things and are trying to market entirely new ones)?
- Clients — Are clients routinely thinking of you for lower value services and passing you over for higher value ones?
- Culture — Does the internal culture of your firm no longer align with external attitudes of clients?
- Ownership — Is your company under new ownership or has it gone through a merger that has create a need to distance itself from previous ownership?
- External Factors — Has there been a sequence of significant events that has caused the firm or the brand to be seen negatively by both internal and external audiences?
- Static For Long Periods — Has the brand strategy and platform remained in its current state for decades with little new thinking or changes occurring along the way?
Justifying a Brand Refresh
If you can answer yes to 2-3 of these questions, then it might be smart to evolve your brand through a brand refresh:
- Services — Have your core services or product offerings been expanding?
- Clients — Has your firm been experiencing a slow but steady loss of revenue or market share? In other words, is the sales pipeline smaller than it was a few years ago (especially during a time when it should be up)?
- Culture — Has the internal culture and employee demographic shifted meaningfully in the last 5-6 years?
- Ownership — Are you thinking about identifying and engaging the next generation of owners?
- External Factors — Has the brand showed signs of slowly losing relevancy?
- Static for Short Periods — Has the existing corporate identity been in use for more than 5-6 years?
Be Smart and Pragmatic in Your Branding Pursuit
A brand initiative can give the strategic boost and energy a company needs to accelerate into its next growth cycle. But it can also have severe negative consequences – look at Tropicana and its 2009 orange juice repackaging. My intent with this post is to make sure your leadership team thinks about branding the right way and to make sure it has the right data to validate pursuing the investment. The decision should never be because we think it’s the right thing to do. Be confident and know it’s the right thing to do.