A good brand has power. It transcends its product or service and can symbolize something greater to people. But what happens if a brand isn’t achieving your company’s vision? What if things change so much that your existing brand doesn’t make sense anymore? Rebranding is common — healthy, in fact. Managing a company rebrand, however, comes with its own set of challenges. To help navigate this exciting and sometimes tricky process, see below for our step-by-step guide.
First, determine why you’re rebranding
There are many reasons a company chooses to rebrand. Leading this process starts with a clear understanding of why the rebrand is happening. Here are the five most common reasons for a rebrand:
1. Ownership change or restructure
This can include mergers, splits or leadership changes. A brand is commonly up for review when executives or board members make these types of decisions.
Think Old Spice, the men’s grooming brand. You probably can picture their advertisements — a man on a horse, a beacon of masculinity. He is the Old Spice Man (also known as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”). Old Spice launched the Old Spice Man campaign in the 2000s to appeal to those wanting to be sexy and desirable. If the company brand stayed the way it was in its founding year of 1937, it likely wouldn’t see the attention and revenue success it now experiences. So it chose to reposition itself.
Most businesses that rebrand because of repositioning do so to appeal to a different audience or to further promote a particular product or service. That said, it’s very challenging (and expensive!) for a large, established company to rebrand. It’s much easier to reposition at an earlier product stage and with a more nimble company.
3. International expansion
When introducing a brand to another country that speaks another language, research is vital. Check out some of these brands-gone-international failures. Rough. And quite entertaining! Alternately, for inspiration, look to Uber’s 2018 rebranding as part of their global expansion. After traveling abroad to see how the app was being used across the world, they created a logo that would tell a global mobility story, rather than one that focused on cars alone.
4. Improving a reputation
Sometimes companies or products need a makeover after taking a hit to their reputation. While suffering from a negative perception is never ideal, taking charge of it with a rebrand may be the best way to recover.
5. Staying relevant or simplifying
Apple has been around since 1976. People initially knew the tech icon as Apple Computer Company. Not only did it drop “Computer Company” from its name, but it has also undergone a number of logo redesigns over the years — each simpler than the previous version.
Next, start the five-step rebranding process
After you understand the purpose of your rebrand, you can define the process. Here is a five-step approach:
1. Know your vision; plan for results
As famous productivity guru Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” Though you may not have the complete picture, having a clear vision of the rebrand will help you make all the little decisions along the way. Whenever you’re stuck, it’s a good idea to take a step back. Refocus on your overall vision, and ask yourself if the next step will bring you closer to or further away from that vision.
The other element of perception is knowing, and setting, the results you expect once you achieve the vision. Do you anticipate being more relevant to women in their 20s? How will you measure that? Make sure there is agreement on what the outcome will be and how to judge the success of it.
2. Define key stakeholders
It’s important to know your key stakeholders at the outset. These are the people who will be affected by the rebrand. They can be both internal (leadership team, board members, investors or employees) and external (key clients, potential clients, the market and general public).
3. Establish a communication plan
Once you’ve defined the key stakeholders, put together a communication plan. Create a spreadsheet with the suggested column titles below to keep track of how you plan to promote the change and various aspects of the process:
- Key stakeholder (Column A): E.g., Employees
- Message or information needed (Column B): E.g., Key message about the rebrand — why it’s happening, what it will accomplish, the timeline and the necessary information to share with clients
- Delivery method (Column C): E.g., All-company meeting led by CEO; division meetings for further Q&A led by Marketing Manager; email from Marketing Manager providing marketing collateral and talking points for their client conversations
- Frequency (Column D): E.g., Once in company meeting; once in division meetings; once in email
- Date (Column E): E.g., Months or weeks before rebrand launch
- Responsible for communication (Column F): E.g., Company CEO to host all-company meeting; Marketing Manager to create marketing collateral and host division meetings
4. Create a project timeline
Create a timeline and stick to it. A simple spreadsheet will do if you don’t have project management software. Not only will a timeline keep you on track, but it will also help you remember to share information with the right people at the appropriate phases. Here are some suggested column titles and examples for this spreadsheet:
- Phases: E.g., Develop key messages, develop communications plan, communicate to all audiences, communicate to market, back office tasks
- Internal team: E.g., List the names of the individuals or teams participating in each phase
- Stakeholders: E.g., List the key stakeholder affected by each phase
- Calendar: E.g., Add one column for each week in the project. Highlight the corresponding row(s) to visually define the length each phase will take. Note that some phases may only be one square (one week) while others may span the length of the rebrand
5. Design the ultimate project plan
The final element of this process is the ability to stay the course. In other words, stick to the project plan. Use this spreadsheet as the ultimate keep-you-on-schedule, don’t-forget-anything tool. Different from the communications plan and project timeline, this spreadsheet includes all of the little details and has color-coding for easy-to-read status checks. Use these recommended column titles and examples to get started:
- Type of activity: E.g., Communication; branding; website; legal/internal process
- Description: E.g., Develop key messages; create email template for communication to clients; employee voicemail updates
- Point person: E.g., List the individual who will make sure this gets accomplished
- Participants: E.g., List any other individuals needed to accomplish the task, such as if you need leadership team approval or a web developer to make changes to the website
- Status (the color coded part!): E.g., red for “not yet started,” yellow for “in process,” green for “completed”
- Due date
- Dependencies: E.g., Any tasks that need to happen before this one (you need to create the key messaging prior to sending communication out to the clients, or you need to have the rebranding launch before your employees can announce it on social media, etc.)
- Notes: E.g., Anything else you think would be helpful to remember
Plan for the unexpected
There will be things that come up during a rebrand that you never anticipated. Here are a couple of areas to keep an eye on:
1. Inventory your current brand presence
Create an inventory of where your brand exists now. This includes all of the places your current brand, logo and identifiable assets live. Your brand is likely in more places than you even realize. To get started, consider the following: letterhead, business cards, email signatures, voicemails, company on-hold music, building signage, marketing collateral, business checks, invoices, receipts, website, social media, directory listings, employees’ language (answering the phone, sales pitches) and so on.
2. Anticipate your budget spend
Rebranding costs money, so getting a handle on the project cost is critical. Create budget estimates as you go through your project plan. Consider the following:
- Design fees for logo, website, email signatures, marketing collateral, advertising, etc.
- Printing fees for marketing collateral, building signage, etc.
- Promotional items (in-house) such as mugs, pens, etc.
- Promotional items (client-facing) such as trade show tablecloth, banners, stress balls, other giveaways, etc.
- PR services (anything from hiring a PR agency to submitting a press release on the wire)
- Website design and development
- SEO services to promote your new brand
After the rebrand
You’ve launched the new brand! Now what? For one, pat yourself on the back. This is a major accomplishment, and it’s important to celebrate your successes. Following your celebration, give yourself space to recap what went well, what could have gone better and what lessons you learned along the way.
If you have a hard time stopping to evaluate how the project went, reserve a conference room for 30 minutes and lock yourself in it with a notebook. Ask yourself — did I accomplish my goal? Did I communicate with all my audiences in a way that worked? What went well? What could have gone better? Once you’ve answered these questions, get a few key stakeholders in the room to ask them the same.
Business owners and leaders quickly move from one focus to the next without pausing, so get feedback from them while you still have their attention. You’ll also want their reflection on how well the rebrand achieved the agreed upon outcomes. If the project didn’t turn out the way everyone envisioned, determine why, how to fix it and what you can do moving forward to make sure you have successful initiatives in the future.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in October 2015 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and relevance.