Modern rebranding strategy guide

Ryan DeGama May 14, 2020 9 min read Brand
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It’s the rarest of brands that launch, thrive and dominate their industries and categories without ever needing to rebrand in any meaningful way. Even the most enduring brands usually eventually need to shift course, either by rebranding their logo, or by a larger rebranding process that goes deeper than just the visual to recalculate the core identity of a brand from the ground up.

In this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about rebranding, from what it is, to when and how to rebrand. This is your ultimate rebranding strategy guide.

What is a rebranding strategy?

What does rebranding mean?

A rebranding strategy is designed to take a brand from its current positioning and reshape it to address existing and shifting market conditions, prime it for future opportunities and, ultimately, ensure it can drive sustainable growth.

There are different levels of rebranding, ranging from a complete rethinking of brand strategy, values and purpose, visual style, voice and tone, differentiators, messaging and audiences, to more targeted rebranding focused on a selection (or single one) of these things. For example, some rebrands just focus on a logo, and require the services of only a brand identity agency.

Because a rebranding represents such a critical moment in the life of a brand, one where it can soar or sink, it’s important for any rebranding strategy to be comprehensive. It should include a process for rebranding a business but also guidance on a rebrand launch strategy. It should take your brand from where it is today to a new place, the one that represents its future.

Here’s a post we wrote outlining some useful rebranding examples.

How do you know if you should rebrand?

How do you know if you should rebrand?

There are proactive and reactive reasons for rebranding. Some of these are focused on positioning a brand to succeed in the future. Others are designed to mitigate the damage or decay a brand may have suffered in the past.

Here are some of the most common reasons for a rebranding:

1. Your brand has grown out of its initial mission.

Sometimes a brand needs to be modernized. Some brands have been in-market for years but the initial problem they solved for their customers no longer exists. Sometimes a brand’s customers are demanding different solutions, ones the current brand is not set up to address. Or maybe the brand feels stale in its messaging, visual style, or some other core brand element. Think here of McDonald’s, a company initially known for its cheap, fast food which eventually rebranded to the McCafe concept, which brought everything from restaurant design to menu items up to date for a modern audience.

If your brand is being compromised by its outdated aesthetics or purpose, it may be time to launch a rebranding strategy to bring it up to date.

2. You are pivoting strategies (and your brand needs to reflect that).

A significant shift in business strategy usually necessitates a rebranding strategy. This is because all brands are extensions of the business goals that underpin them. If your business goals change, there will be impacts to your brand.

For example, if you’re shifting your target audience from a narrow group of high-income consumers who prize elite products unavailable to the general public to general consumers with average incomes, a lot could change in your brand. Your messaging and tone will almost certainly need to be adjusted. But you might find you need a complete rebrand rollout strategy, one that aligns your core brand elements more closely with the group you want to reach in the future.

The important thing to remember here is that if your strategy is changing, your brand should change to align with it.

3. You want to outpace industry trends.

Great companies and great brands have their eyes on the horizon. The question of ‘what’s next’ can lead to the launch of new brands and the rebranding of old ones in order to seize opportunities and (just as importantly) ensure your brand doesn’t become obsolete.

For example, you’ll see many meat producers now launching lines of products focused on plant-based proteins to capture a rapidly growing market segment and shifting consumer demands. These lines may be separate brands from their meat products (rather than outright rebrands). But as part of this new product launch, you’ll also see them shifting their overall company positioning from meat producers to protein producers. This is a shift in their brand that’s subtle, but significant. They see the industry trends shifting towards plant-based foods. And they’re going to be ready should larger branding changes be necessary.

It’s important to remember that if you are rebranding in anticipation of market shifts to make sure you’re aware of the effects they will have on your brand now. You want to avoid creating a disjointed brand.

4. Your brand is part of a merger.

Whether it’s media companies, railroads or airlines, mergers demand certain types of rebranding. Sometimes two companies merge and both vanish into a newly created brand. Other times, one of the two merging companies is absorbed into the other (like the 2013-2015 U.S. Airways-American Airlines merger). Both of these require some sort of rebranding process, largely to show consumers that there is a new, more appealing brand available to them. And to make a clear break from the past.

Mergers require a great deal of precision in order to effectively manage communications, customer bases and infrastructure across both companies. That usually means great care and planning is taken to create a rebranding strategy that will create the most positive impression and publicity for the newly merged companies.

5. Your brand acquires or is acquired by another brand.

Sometimes when a brand is acquired it retains its essential brand character, messaging and core offering. A good example of this is Dollar Shave Club, the feisty direct-to-consumer brand acquired by Unilever in 2016. As one of the planet’s largest enterprises, Unilever has dozens of brands under its umbrella, and they all have their own distinct branding. There was no need for a full rebranding of Dollar Shave Club to align with the parent company. It’s distinctive character was part of the appeal for Unilever.

But other times it’s different. For example, a single-product-brand can be acquired and completely absorbed into the acquiring company. Save for the product itself, everything about the brand might change as part of the acquisition. That’s why you’d rebrand it to fit with the parent company.

6. Your brand has taken a public relations hit.

Some brands can’t be saved after a public relations disaster. But many can. If you find your brand on the bad end of a PR problem, or if your brand reputation is suffering due to poor service or a bad product, it may be time to rebrand. In these cases, a rebrand is a signifier that the brand that endured the bad PR or delivered the bad service is effectively gone, and in its place is something new, something that will address those problems going forward. It’s a fresh start for a brand that still believes it has something to offer consumers.

The rebrand process

How to rebrand: The rebrand process.

As we noted earlier, the process of rebranding a business can vary drastically in terms of both scale and complexity. Some brands just need a visual facelift to modernize them. In this case, their brand strategy and positioning in the market might largely remain the same. But in other cases, a strategic shift may lead to dramatic changes in the foundation of the brand. That leads to a much more extensive rebranding process. In this case, you’ll need branding and identity design services if you don’t have those capabilities in-house.

So, while any rebrand should start with a rebranding strategy, the degree and depth of it depend on the exact goals of the brand in question.

With all that in mind, here’s an adaptable process to make sure your rebranding is a success:

1. Set your rebranding strategy goals.

Once you’ve established or validated a clear driver for a company or product rebranding, it’s important to kick off the process the right way: by setting clear strategic goals. This is where a lot of rebranding projects fall apart. If you’re choosing new brand colours before you know what they need to do for you, you’re moving too fast. Good business branding services will counsel you to avoid that (and many other) pitfalls.

They will also take the time to detail exactly the impact you want your rebranding to deliver and then use those goals to determine both the scope of the rebrand (e.g. how many of your brand elements may need to change) and the specific resources needed to meet your objectives.

2. Be true to your ‘why.’

Rebranding, by definition, is about change. And more than ever, a brand’s ‘why’ should be central in everything from your logo to your rebrand rollout strategy.

What is your ‘why’?

Your ‘why’ is related to your brand purpose and, in some cases, it’s identical. It is the core reason why your brand exists and why it’s necessary in the world. Imagine a series of concentric circles representing your brand radiating outward from a central sphere. Your ‘why’ should be in the innermost circle, the very middle. It’s the most important thing. As you make decisions during the rebranding process, think of your ‘why’ as your guiding light. You can follow it to a successful relaunch of your brand.

3. Do your research.

This is another critical early step in the rebranding process.

If you’re rebranding, your competitors may not be who they have been in the past. The list could shrink, grow or change completely. It’s absolutely critical to understand the competitive environment your brand will exist in, and that means knowing exactly who your customers are considering in place of your brand. This can sometimes include things like inertia. You may find you have no greater competitor than consumer indifference or apathy.

A thorough research process will be informed by the rebranding goals you set in step one and then set up the next stage of the process: defining (or redefining) your audiences.

4. Define your audiences.

Does your rebrand change your target audiences?

And if they’re unchanged – are you solving a different problem for them? Here, doing customer research (with existing or prospective customers) and/or personas definition can benefit the work that follows. And more to the point, if you’re guessing about your product/market fit or how a typical consumer will respond to your new brand, you might be about to invest a whole lot of time, energy and emotion into something that’s not what you need.

5. Consider your full brand before deciding what has to change.

In one of our foundational blogs on brand strategy, we wrote this:

You might assume a brand is a company’s logo or its website. You might assume it’s broader than that, including all the messaging and marketing material associated with a company or product. Or maybe a brand is how your company chooses to communicate with customers, both in person, and across various digital and social media channels.

Some people have a different perspective, suggesting a brand is not what is intended by a company but how it is interpreted by its customers. That means that whatever your customers believe or think about your brand feel is definitive – no matter what you may have intended.

Our perspective?

All of the above is true.

With this in mind, it’s important to consider all the elements of your brand as you determine what has to change as part of your rebranding strategy. The answer might be everything. Or the answer might be one thing. Do everything that’s necessary. But only what’s necessary.

6. Clearly define your messaging.

It’s easy to get off-message. A modern brand has potentially endless touchpoints with its customers in person, on social media, in retail locations, in call centres, in creative work and in all other areas where brand and consumer meet.

By defining clear messages you give everyone representing your brand a defined direction on how it should be represented. That’s especially important during a rebranding where you don’t want to slip back into old brand messaging or muddy the new messages by communicating something unintended.

7. Create robust brand guidelines.

Brand guidelines are a set of rules, standards, and procedures to explain how your brand should be expressed and how it should (and should not) be used.

Thorough brand guidelines work with your clearly defined messaging to define and protect how your brand is expressed to your target audiences.

Think of brand guidelines as an instruction manual for everyone – from executives to creatives – who works on your brand. You need them to all be on the same page.

8. Plan your rebrand rollout strategy.

A rebrand is an occasion. So make it one! Because there are lots of ways to make a splash.

A rebrand will almost certainly involve a change in your digital presence, including your website and your social media channels. It could include a series of communications to your mailing or customer lists (if you have them). It could involve paid advertising in both traditional and digital media. There could be special offers. Any number of things are in play.

A rebranding launch may also go beyond just that single ‘launch day’. Consider a calendar of events/content/messages to roll out beyond the first day so you can capitalize on the big bang of your relaunch and draw in existing and new customers over the ensuing months.

Slack rebrand, Zendesk rebrand, Airbnb rebrand

Successful rebrands

We’ve noted some notable rebrands above but there are many others worth your attention. We covered a variety of successful rebrands in our recent blog post on that topic. These included Airbnb, Zendesk and Slack, and a number from our own portfolio here at Tiller – including Tiller itself. You can see exactly how we approached a rebrand when it was our own business.

Check out our rebranding examples blog post if you want to learn more about how it can be done well.

Why work with Tiller for your rebrand?

We’ll give you three reasons.

  1. First of all, this is what we do. We’re a rebranding agency and we offer brand consulting services. That means we handle every aspect of branding that we mentioned above. Our team has years of expertise in exactly this kind of work. That’s a major benefit when you’re dealing with a rebrand, which has so many moving parts.
  2. Second, we prioritize taking a strategic view of your business as we set rebranding goals and build out a rebranding strategy. We don’t do anything without a clear strategic impetus for it. And we make sure every element of your rebrand is integrated to create a cohesive, compelling whole.
  3. Finally, we pride ourselves on delivering the highest quality work possible. So, whether you just need a new logo or you need your brand completely reimagined, you can expect us to dig in hard on every aspect of our work so your updated brand can shine.

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