Insights - Brand & Marketing

The Only Rebranding Guide You Need

This comprehensive guide, explores the motivations behind why companies rebrand, pinpoints the ideal timing for a rebrand, outlines a comprehensive rebranding checklist, provides effective strategies for announcing a rebrand, and offers practical insights into rebranding for small businesses.

Coloured strips of different logos with a black rectangle in the center saying The Only Rebranding Guide You Will Ever Need

Introduction

Why do companies rebrand?

When should a company rebrand?

What is a good rebranding checklist?

How to announce your rebrand?

Conclusion

Introduction

Given the way the world is moving, rebranding has evolved from a rare occurrence to a strategic necessity for companies aiming to stay competitive and relevant.

Yet there is very little actionable and pragmatic advice on how to rebrand and the pitfalls to avoid, especially in today’s hyper-connected world. This guide aims to answer all the big questions related to rebranding, regardless of whether you are B2C or B2B, big or small.


Why do Companies Rebrand?

Rebranding is difficult and resource-intensive. No one wants to do it, unless there’s a good reason. Here are the key reasons why companies embark on a rebrand, accompanied by real-world examples:

1. Adapting to Market Changes

Motivation: In a fast-paced business environment, companies need to adapt to shifting market dynamics, consumer preferences, and technological advancements. Rebranding can help them stay relevant.

Example: Automotive company rebrands, following the move to electric

  • From BMW to Kia, Nissan to GM, and even Rolls Royce, nearly every auto company has rebranded in the last few years
  • There are two larger trends at play that are poised to change the very fundamentals of the Auto sector: First the emphasis on higher automation, smarter features and digital controls. Second, the shift to electric and cleaner sources of energy.
  • In brand design terms, there is a move to flatter, more minimal logos and no auto brand wants to be left behind and look as if they were not in tune with the times.
GM old and new logo
From Left to Right, GM ‘s old and new logo

2. Mergers, Acquisitions, Spin-Offs

Motivation: When companies merge, acquire or spin-off new entities, rebranding is often a natural step to create a cohesive brand identity that reflects the consolidated strengths and values of the new corporate structure.

Example: GSK

  • The British pharmaceutical company changed its name from GlaxoSmithKline to simply GSK in 2022.
  • It also spun off consumer-facing products, including brands like Sensodyne and Panadol, which will be housed under a separate brand called Haleon. GSK will focus only on the biopharma space.

For complete details on the GSK rebrand, read ‘Why GSK Rebranded’

GSK collateral

3. Repositioning

Motivation: Companies may rebrand to change their market positioning, trying to appeal to newer audiences in response to market demand and competitive pressures. Sometimes, just a successful campaign can do this. In other situations, you need a name change and all the pain that goes with it.

Example: Dunkin Donuts

  • Dunkin Donuts changed its name to just Dunkin in 2019. The ‘Donuts‘ suffix restricted communication about its offering and was misleading, given that 60% of the company’s sales came from beverages.
old and new dunkin donuts logo
Dunkin Donuts changed their name to signal they offered more than donuts

Example: Kentucky Fried Chicken

  • To comply with a growing awareness of health concerns associated with the word “fried,” KFC rebranded in the early 1990s to adopt the abbreviation “KFC.” This change allowed them to maintain their brand identity while avoiding negative connotations related to “fried” food.

Example: Fair & Lovely

In 2020, Unilever India rebranded its top-selling fairness cream, Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely, to counter accusations that it had been promoting unnatural and racially skewed ideas of beauty.

4. Correcting Negative Perception

Motivation: When a company’s reputation is marred or associated with negative incidents, rebranding offers an opportunity to rebuild trust and improve public perception.

Example: Volkswagen

  • In 2015, Volkswagen faced a major crisis due to the “Dieselgate” scandal, which involved cheating on emissions tests. To rebuild trust and address their tarnished image, the company launched a comprehensive rebranding initiative, focusing on electric vehicles and sustainability, aiming to shift public perception towards a more environmentally conscious image.
Volkswagen released ads that actually start by referring to the scandal, but then try to get past it

5. Expanding Target Audience

Motivation: Rebranding can help companies broaden their target audience, especially when they want to appeal to a different demographic, region, or age group.

Example: Old Spice

  • Old Spice undertook a rebranding campaign in the early 2010s. The brand wanted to appeal to a younger audience, but was seen as their father’s brand and was getting beaten by newer entrants like Axe. Based on the insight that 60% of male hygiene products were bought by women, agency Wieden + Kennedy launched a campaign called ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.’ The campaign was a big success and shifted Old Spice’s image to a more exciting, relevant one.
The ‘Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ campaign shifted Old Spice’s brand perception and sales by speaking directly to women.

6. Changes in Brand Architecture & Strategy

Motivation: Shifts in company strategy and organisational structure.

Example: Jaguar Land Rover

  • Jaguar Land Rover rebranded to JLR in 2023. The objective was to communicate that JLR was a House of Brands that includes iconic auto brands like  Range Rover, Defender, Discovery and Jaguar. 

For more information on the JLR rebrand, read Why JLR Rebranded.

JLR , Discovery. LandRover, Defebder logos showing JLR House of brands strategy
JLR rebranded in order to become a House of Brands

7. Compliance & Legal Reasons

Motivation: Changes in regulations, copyright issues, or trademark disputes might necessitate a rebranding effort to avoid legal troubles.

Example: Kent Water Filter & Kuhl Fans

  • The company Kent RO Systems, has spent considerable resources on building the brand name, Kent. However, when it expanded into fans, it found that the Kent brand name was already registered for the category by a company called Kent Cables. Therefore, it had to launch its fans under a new brand name called Kuhl.

Want to avoid a situation where you can’t use your name and logo? Get some solid brand and legal advice in How to Protect Your Logo.

Looking for more information about why companies rebrand? Read The Three Kinds of Recent Rebrands.


When Should a Company Rebrand?

The timing of a rebrand is critical. It requires a deep understanding of the company’s circumstances and the market. Here are key indicators of when a company should consider rebranding, accompanied by real-world examples:

1. Declining Business Performance

Indicator: If a company experiences a downturn in sales, market share, or customer satisfaction, it might be an ideal time to consider a rebrand.

Example: Abercrombie & Fitch

  • The American fashion retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch, had positioned its brand experience and merchandise to appeal to the ‘cool kids.’ Their apparel sported large logos and was available in limited numbers in small sizes. The stores were dark, with edgy wall art and loud music. They even had shirtless bouncers manning store entrances. This strategy paid off for a number of years, but then as audience tastes started to shift, the brand was faced with years of declining sales. (There is even a Netflix documentary on the Rise & Fall of Abercrombie).

    From 2014, the company changed its strategy and its sexualised marketing. It worked with diverse influencers to signal a more inclusive brand and store design changed to become more welcoming. The moose logo was replaced with a wordmark of the company name. The strategy has paid off, with sales climbing to over $4 billion in 2023.
old and new abercrombie ads.
These ads show the significant shift A&F has made in its brand personality and positioning

2. Outdated Brand Image

Indicator: A brand that appears outdated may fail to resonate with modern consumers. If your brand no longer reflects your values, vision, or offerings, it’s time for a change.

Example: McDonalds

  • McDonalds, the global fast-food giant, recognised the need to evolve from its traditional image. They first rebranded in 2014, with a healthier menu and new restaurant design aiming to convey a more contemporary and health-conscious image. In 2022, McDonalds also commissioned design firm Pearlfisher to redesign their packaging to make it seem more fresh and wholesome.
Old and new mcdonalds packaging
The refresh of McDonald’s packaging aims to move to a less fast-food and more natural positioning

3. Changing Business Focus

Indicator: As a company’s offerings and focus evolve, so should its branding. If you’re introducing new products, services, or entering new markets, rebranding can communicate these changes effectively.

Example: Amazon

  • Amazon started as an online bookseller and has since transformed into a tech and e-commerce juggernaut. The company’s rebranding included expanding its logo, making it more dynamic and symbolising the wide range of products available through its platform.

4. Negative Public Perception

Indicator: If a brand’s reputation has been tarnished or associated with negative incidents, rebranding offers an opportunity to rebuild trust and improve public perception.

Example: BP (Beyond Petroleum)

  • Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP rebranded itself as “Beyond Petroleum.” The new branding highlighted its commitment to renewable energy and sustainability, aiming to distance itself from the environmental disaster.

Example:Philip Morris

  • Philip Morris rebranded to Altria Group in 2003. The rebranding was a result of the negative perception around tobacco companies. The objective was to reflect the company’s diversification beyond tobacco and its improve its corporate image.
philip morris and altria logos
Philip Morris rebranded to Altria to leave its tobacco legacy behind

5. Mergers and Acquisitions

Indicator: When your company merges with another or acquires a new entity, it’s an ideal time to rebrand to reflect the new reality and create a unified identity.

Example: Verizon

  • When Bell Atlantic merged with GTE in 2000 to form Verizon, the new brand was created, representing the merger of two major telecommunications companies. This rebrand was essential to unify their identity in the telecommunications industry.

6. Inconsistent Branding

Indicator: If your branding is inconsistent across various touchpoints, it can create confusion for your customers. Rebranding ensures that all elements of your brand align cohesively.

Example: Coca Cola

  • Global brands continually and systematically maintain brand systems that allow for consistent branding, with enough flexibility for localisation. Coca-Cola has maintained consistent branding throughout its long history. While they have occasionally updated their logo, the fundamental elements, including the iconic contour bottle and distinct red colour, have remained consistent, contributing to brand recognition and loyalty.

8. Technology and Design Trends

Indicator: Staying current with design and technology trends is vital. If your branding looks outdated or incompatible with modern platforms, it’s time for a refresh.

Example: Microsoft

  • Microsoft rebranded Microsoft Office to Microsoft 365 in 2022, hoping to show how the rebranded app now offered far deeper and more relevant capabilities to users.

What is a Good Rebranding Checklist?

A successful rebranding process requires a well-structured approach, especially in today’s hyper-connected digital world. Without a checklist, even the biggest companies can overlook key rebranding aspects, as this story on Reckitt’s slip-ups shows.

Here’s a comprehensive checklist to guide you through the journey:

1. Establish Clear Objectives

  • Define your goals and reasons for rebranding, ensuring they align with your long-term vision. Make sure you have metrics that indicate the direction for each objective. For example, awareness of the new brand is usually a key strategic objective. There are many ways to measure this and you have to decide what is right for your business. For example, organic traffic is usually a good measure of awareness, for digital-first businesses. Quantity and quality of leads is another.
  • Common pitfall: Doing this exercise at the beginning and then forgetting all about it. Instead, the right way is to have a list of objectives and metrics, front and centre always. Refer back to them at the beginning and end of each of the following steps.

2. Research and Audience Analysis

  • Thoroughly research your target audience, competitors, and industry trends to inform your rebranding strategy.
  • Draw up your personas and discuss how they will be impacted by the rebrand. For example, a if a consumer brand is rebranding, they will need to create awareness amongst their end customers as well as their distributors and retailers.

3. Establish a Baseline

  • What do you want to change? Refer back to Step 1, and for as many of the objectives you have identified, try and measure current levels, so you have a baseline and can track the movement of important metrics.

3. Develop a Brand Strategy

  • Craft a clear brand strategy that outlines your brand’s mission, positioning and personality, aligning it with your business goals and showing a clear connection between brand and business.

4. Create a New Brand Identity and / or Update Design Systems

  • Redesign your logo, colour palette, typography, and other visual elements, as required. Even if a logo change is not called for, ensure that your design aligns with your new brand positioning and guidelines for seamless design implementation are in place.

5. Messaging and Positioning

  • Craft compelling and consistent messaging that communicates your brand’s core values and differentiates it from competitors. Ensure that you get granular before you freeze this. How will you communicate this in a sales email, on an online marketplace, in a PR release? Imagine a conversation between two customers, where one is telling the other about the rebrand. What do you want them to say? That’s where brand perception is built – not in Poowerpoint slides.

6. Update Your Channels

  • Update your website, social media profiles, and other online and offline assets to reflect the new brand identity and messaging, ensuring an SEO strategy is in place.

7. Internal Branding

  • Educate and inform your employees about the rebranding efforts, as their support is vital for a successful transition.

8. Marketing and Promotion

  • Plan a marketing strategy to promote your rebrand, including a launch campaign, press releases, and content creation.

9. Customer Engagement

  • Engage with your customers throughout the rebranding process, ensuring transparency and clear communication.

10. Implementation

  • Execute the rebrand across all touchpoints, including physical assets, online presence, and marketing materials.

11. Provide evidence of change

To truly see the impact of a rebrand, go beyond communication and visual identity and give your audience a Reason to Believe.

11. Monitor and Measure

  • Keep track of the rebrand’s success through key performance indicators (KPIs) such as website traffic, customer feedback, and sales data, making adjustments as necessary. This story on Marketing Metrics for Founders, provides an excellent set of marketing metrics that you should be keeping your eye on.

How to Announce Your Rebrand

Announcing your rebrand effectively is crucial for its success. Follow these steps to make a powerful announcement:

1. Book urls / social media handles

Most companies will do the legal work that is required for a rebrand, but overlook the many changes that must be made to a brand’s digital footprint. Once you have internal consensus, immediately book relevant urls, social handles.and hashtags.

2. Craft a Compelling Narrative

  • Tell the story of your rebrand, explaining the reasons behind it and how it aligns with your brand’s vision and values.

3. Get Buy-In from Employees

  • Your people are your most important brand ambassadors. Ensure that they understand the reason for the rebrand and what this requires from them. If they don’t understand the motivation for the rebrand – and can’t articulate it to external audiences, the initiative is unlikely to succeed.

4. Update all Channels

  • Update your website with the new brand identity and messaging, sharing the rebrand on all social media platforms and interacting with your audience to answer their questions. It is best to have as many eyes as possible on the changes at this stage, to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

5. Email Campaign

  • Send a well-crafted email to your stakeholders, informing them about the rebrand and the reason behind it. Most importantly, communicate how the rebrand benefits them.

Conclusion

Rebranding is an art and a science, where strategy and creativity merge to shape the future of a company’s identity. By understanding the motivations behind rebranding, identifying the right time for a rebrand, following a structured rebranding checklist, effectively announcing the changes, and executing these strategies for small businesses, you can navigate the rebranding process successfully.

As exemplified by the real-world cases of renowned brands, rebranding isn’t just about changing your logo or slogan; it’s about reimagining your company’s identity to better align with your audience and market demands. A well-executed rebrand can set the stage for growth and prosperity in the years to come, regardless of the size of your business. This requires that you monitor and track changes to ensure that you are on the path to achieve your revised brand perception.

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