During the year, I’ve attended many business and communications conferences and events. One topic has consistently come up – rebranding.
More often than not rebranding comes up in conversation as a solution to a problem of awareness or confusion about what a business does. I’ve heard this from big companies and small.
It’s clear that for some rebranding is a panacea – “By changing the name and logo, everything will be different!”
This reminds me of a truism at the intersection of marketing communications professionals and sales professionals – when business is good it’s because the sales team is doing a great job, and when it’s not it’s because the communicators aren’t.
Or, consider this true story: The CEO of a Fortune 100 company, who was under fire, came into a room of communicators, shared his bio and said, “You need to get the story of my accomplishments out.” A few days later, he was gone.
What has this got to do with brands?
Rather than looking hard at what may be a business problem – the product may not be right, the sales approach flawed, the strategy wrong – business leaders may jump to an easier conclusion. Fix the brand and problem solved.
If you are the head of a company, it’s easier, and potentially gentler on the ego, to do this rather than look deeper to find out that your approach, technology, or team are the underlying problem. Blissful ignorance or confirmation bias – we see what we want to see – can stop us from calling it like it is. In which case, changing the brand may be simply putting a different shade of lipstick on a pig.
Of course, waving a magic branding wand isn’t that simple. Changing a brand is a time consuming and often expensive endeavor. Changing signage alone can cost tens of millions of dollars for large companies.
This doesn’t mean that rebranding may not be a worthwhile exercise. If you are a small or mid-sized company, the cost may not be that significant and the impact of a change huge. I was recently on a call with the CEO of a company for which re-branding was a key element of a strategy that took it from millions in debt to a successful IPO in record time.
The takeaway is: Before changing your brand it’s important to take a hard look in the mirror to determine if the brand is the real issue holding your company back.
Understanding if there is a business problem is a key step. If the brand is the problem or a significant part of it, then it is important to change it. In the case of the CEO who IPO’d, the brand he inherited was clearly part of the issue.
There’s another thing companies need to be mindful of. If you believe you have an image problem and bring in a branding consultant, the recommendation is likely to be – you guessed it – rebrand, change the logo, or some variation of this. This is not because the branding consultants are looking to hoodwink you – it’s because that’s what they believe you are asking them to do. And of course, when you are a hammer, all you see are nails.
It’s up to the company to assess what may be needed and, if necessary, to charge its team or consultants to answer the question: Is the company being held back by a business or a brand problem? This will be the starting point for the best branding consultants. The next questions are: What are the solutions and what will be the return on investment by addressing either or both?
It’s important to recognize that the decision to rebrand won’t deliver guaranteed results – some of the best minds in the business came up with Oath and Tronc. I rest my case.
Knowing this, the decision to change a brand requires care and consideration.
As I have argued, the critical first step is to take the time to understand the underlying issues which may be driving a reflexive impulse to simply do something. Then, think of all the ways in which rebranding may not work and the costs and time required to build a new brand. Even when the effort required for a company or consultancy is not that great, this is still an important process to go through.
Setting a high bar is the best way to ensure the decision to rebrand is not taken lightly and the rationale for taking this path is built on a firm foundation. Making the right decision is a “bet the company” moment. There’s a lot at stake – for companies large and small.
Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM
CommunicationsMatch offers communications & PR agency search tools and resources that help companies find, shortlist, and engage communications, digital marketing and branding agencies, consultants and freelancers by industry and communications expertise, location and size. The site has 5,000 agency and professional profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video. Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.