Rebranding is a natural part of business evolution. Knowing when to rebrand is less clear. Experts say it’s all about timing and reading the signs for when the time is right for a brand refresh.
In 2010, global fast-fashion retailer the Gap launched a brand redesign in response to declining sales and a plummeting stock price. The rebrand came without any warning and consisted of little more than a new logo. The backlash was severe. Thousands took to social media to mock the change, and within a week the Gap had reinstated their prior, 40-year-old logo. The blunder is among the shortest-lived rebranding efforts and is estimated to have cost the company $100 million.
A company’s brand is much more than its name or logo. It is a message about identity and value. It influences action. Geoff Wasserman, CEO of The Brand Leader, writes that a brand is the “promises made between a person or organization and its market(s).” Those markets naturally include customers, but it also factors in vendors, employees, media channels and more. Effective branding helps move people closer to becoming a user of or contributor to a brand. It also can invoke a strong emotional reaction and foster brand loyalty.
Rebranding is a natural part of business evolution – even for companies with iconic recognition. Apple, for example, has rebranded three times since its founding and Pepsi has made changes eleven times. Knowing when to rebrand is less clear.
There are no standards or rules for how often a company should rebrand. The timing and frequency will vary depending on industry, existing competition, and how well a brand is already established. That said, branding experts state that most companies will undergo at least a refresh every seven to ten years. But it must be consistent across packaging, signage, social media, multi-channel advertising, and, of course, the company website.
Regular brand audits and reliable feedback from key stakeholders can help companies know when it might be time for a rebrand. There are a few signs:
To attract new customers and contributors
A good brand will clearly let consumers and contributors (vendors, employees, etc.,) know exactly the sort of company with whom they are dealing. And more than ever, people want their work and spending to align with their values. Additionally, a clear brand message can help a company differentiate itself from its competitors to attract new customers and talent.
The existing brand image is wrong – or negative.
Overcoming an image problem can include simply refreshing an outdated look to a complete name change and reputation management campaign — particularly after a scandal or bad press. For example, in 2015 Volkswagen underwent a major rebranding effort after the “Dieselgate” scandal, which involved the manipulation of emissions tests. The new branding emphasized transparency and honesty, which helped restore trust in the brand.
Take note, however: no rebranding effort will overcome a failure to address and correct real operational/product/service issues. Fix the problems first and let the rebranding effort communicate a new and improved company.
New ownership or management
Mergers, acquisitions, and even just new management can all drastically change a business such that it necessitates rebranding.
A business model, offerings, or strategy has evolved.
Businesses change. The iconic cookware company Pyrex, for example, originally produced glass for railroad lanterns. Product lines grow, services become more specialized and niche. Companies expand to new markets or pivot altogether. These changes and others can be communicated through rebranding efforts or even through the creation of sub brands that are either clearly linked to an established brand or that merit branding of their own.
Wasserman suggests that branding is best considered the “process of rediscovering a core, authentic personality.” Performing regular brand audits and soliciting feedback from key stakeholders (i.e., customers, employees, etc.) helps companies know whether their image and message still reflects who they are, what they do, and who they serve. If the image or message is at all out of sync, it may be time for rebranding.
Learn something from The Gap though: make sure the change has substance and purpose — and give your existing customers and contributors a heads up.