Consider the reasons behind complete rebranding

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When a potential client comes to me with a request for a full rebrand, the first question I ask is, “are we simply putting lipstick on a pig, or is there a rational business case for rebranding?”

I was lucky enough early in my career to take part in rotational programs, during which I gained experience in finance, sales, operations and marketing. As such it’s difficult for me to look at marketing and branding decisions without considering the organization as a whole. And, while most firms have the best interests of businesses in mind, there are also those who are eager to sell a new image to struggling brands for no good reason.

So, what are the pros and cons of rebranding?

First, a cautionary tale: in 2002, the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail (similar to the U.S. Postal Service) embarked on a $2 million rebranding exercise. It changed its name to Consignia, abandoning its traditional logo complete with the royal warrant. This was replaced with a generic logo.

In addition, the iconic red mail trucks were painted blue, and the well-known postal worker’s uniform was changed. The rebranding was mocked by employees and public alike, and after a change of management, the changes were reversed.

This highlights one of the cons of rebranding: the brand may not actually be the issue. Royal Mail was running a financial loss at the time due to a lack of confidence in its service. The Consignia branding was an attempt to change focus towards parcel delivery. However, it was neglecting its core business; it was estimated to be losing 500,000 letters a week.
On the other hand, the idea of rebranding to focus on new services is sound from a business perspective. If a business is forced to adapt to changing markets by changing the type of service or product it offers, the old brand can confuse potential customers. In this case, a rebranding or the creation of a separate brand makes sense. In the case of Royal Mail, they already owned the parcel delivery service Parcelforce, so why rebrand Royal Mail?

Another good reason for rebranding is to throw off a toxic brand, and Royal Mail was attempting just this. However, the public was not easily fooled, and the cynical attempt to change the brand without improving the service led to contempt and ridicule. In the case of a brand that has improved its previously poor service, the case for rebranding would be stronger.

To conclude, there are a few guidelines to consider before rebranding:

Don’t rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic
If there are serious issues within the business, these are probably more harmful to the brand than the name and logo. If customer confidence can be improved through product development or improving service, this should be the primary consideration. If the brand has been seen to have listened to customer feedback, it may prevent it from becoming toxic.

Don’t touch a well-known brand
If a brand is well entrenched in the customer’s imagination and has been around a while, it will have probably have had mixed fortunes over the years. Most people can relate to that, and the current performance is key to success. Changing an iconic brand just creates confusion.

Consider changing a toxic brand
On the other hand, if a brand is known exclusively for the wrong reasons, it may be time for a change. However, this needs to be accompanied by a change of practice that benefits customers and is best attempted when there has been a change of management.
If the branding is misleading or harmful, change it.

In the early stages of a brand being founded, it was easy to use a name and logo that just doesn’t work. If the product or services receive good feedback, but the brand image puts customers off, then change it. Similarly, if the branding confuses customers due to a shift in business focus, change it or create a separate brand.

The important thing to consider is that rebranding is never a panacea. Before making changes, the high cost of rebranding needs to be balanced against the financial returns. If it isn’t worth it, don’t do it.

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