Company Rebranding Can Be Fraught With Peril: Strategies to Avoid Pitfalls

In an effort to break through the cluttered marketing landscape, many iconic companies have taken to rebranding themselves to combat brand fatigue. Subway has a new logo, Coca-Cola has a new campaign message, J.Crew has a new endorser - all of these well-known brands have undergone some sort of rebranding process in recent years.

The rebranding process often entails restructuring a brand’s message to reflect market trends and spark a brand’s momentum generating buzz. Whether in the form of repositioning, renaming, or even adapting a new logo, the rebranding process strives to put a new spin on an old brand identity.

While rebranding should be forward-looking, it is sometimes poorly executed. Rebranding should be influenced by changes in consumer desires, yet there are numerous cases where rebranding is a result of a marketer’s personal perception of brand fatigue.

Why Companies Rebrand:

Pepsi has changed their brand logo to appeal to new consumers and revamp their brand recognition.
  • To rethink an outdated or irrelevant brand message
  • To simplify an overly complex or convoluted brand identity
  • To reflect internal company changes (i.e.merger, acquisitions, demergers, or leadership)
  • To address legal issues
  • To meet competitive demands
  • To distance the brand from a negative public perception (perfect example: ValuJet to AirTran)
  • To reposition
  • To accommodate predicted growth
  • To meet the demands of an evolving market
  • To mediate a conflict with stakeholders
  • To reflect a changing brand portfolio
  • To cater to a new audience or target market

What Rebranding Can Potentially Improve:

  • Brand visibility in a crowded marketplace.
  • Brand recognition. Rebranding a logo/campaign presents a business with the opportunity to advertise heavily, allowing for an increase in exposure and recognition.
  • Brand Differentiation. Between all the ads and promotions, standing out is impossible. Rebranding allows a company to tell a different story apart from their competitors.
  • Sales. Restructuring a brand that speaks to the target market will boost sales.
  • Brand momentum. Sometimes a brand is outdated or irrelevant to the current market. A campaign has the potential to bring a brand back into the spotlight simply by revamping the brand’s product/image/message.

The Potential Pitfalls of Undergoing a Rebranding Process:

  • Expensive. Rebranding costs an arm and a leg. Make sure it’s worth it.
  • Risky. The market is unpredictable. They may love or hate it but what is for certain is that they will share their opinion about it. Word of mouth travels fast, so have a plan.
  • Loss of customer loyalty. People identify with a brand. Some people use a brand because they grew up with it or have a personal attachment to it. Changing it may evoke rage, so tread lightly.
  • Failure to engage employees by aligning new brand message with internal values. Rebranding may cause a change in training and management, upsetting the internal staff of a company.  
  • Failure to understand the actual market pressures before beginning the process.

Sometimes the market is not even asking for a rebrand and companies assume brand fatigue. Marketers invest a ridiculous amount of money to alter or change a brand that has a loyal following thus upsetting the masses.

Before any restructuring begins, companies must map out the insights behind their decisions, their objectives, their strategies, and finally, their tactics. This provides a clear idea of where they are, where they are going, and how they are communicating that process internally and externally.

Here are some recommended steps to rebrand a company:

  1. WHO is the company

    1. Know the key products, share of the market,and goals for the future

  2. WHAT is changing

    1. Rebranding can include restructuring a company’s goals, message, and culture - not just a logo or color palette

    2. If the logo does change, ensure it is representative of the brand, invokes a high recall rate, and nods to the original design.

  3. Always explain WHY.

    1. Never change for the sake of novelty because it is too costly and risky.

    2. Brands are often perceived as personal and catered to the customer. People can identify with the products they use creating a genuine connection. If a brand chooses to change what they are about, the previous connection can be lost. There needs to be an explanation. A sudden change can damage consumer trust and following.

  4. Decide HOW and WHEN to spread the word

    1. Big reveal: This strategy gets the word out fast, includes huge promotions, and, since everyone gets on board right away, leads to fewer explanations in the future.

    2. Timeline: This process is a smooth transition of the rebranding. The set time stages give marketers a reason to touch base with customers in order to keep them updated.

    3. Evolution: A structural way to release rebranding with budget or logistical constraints.

Successful Rebranding Example

Axe manufactured a brand for men based on lust and manhood. However, in 2016, when the company launched it’s  “find your magic” campaign, Axe put their original definition of  “manhood” into question. By focusing on the individual and what men are searching on Google, Axe decided to change their messaging strategy. A complete 360 from previous ads where men are solely seducing women, these ads highlight what make individuals special and what is wrong with the classic definition of a “man.”

Axe knows their identity. They rebranded their message to cater to their market that is struggling with their own personal identity. The world is more accepting now than ever so Axe set out to connect with their audience by helping them accept themselves. They attempted to rebrand their message in 2014, but poor scheduling made for a weak execution. A new launch in 2016 with a different agency lead to a big reveal which, in turn, was met with positive sentiment.

Unsuccessful Rebranding Example

Dove rebranded marketing message to relate to more consumers but instead lost brand loyalty and following.

In the past, Dove launched empowering, successful ads catered to women. One of their most recent attempts to empower women resulted in insulting them. Despite the organization of the campaign, the message itself came off as insensitive. The promotion to have multiple bottle sizes to represent the many different sizes of women did not strip away self-doubt but caused it. Instead of the typical advocating for inner beauty, it was a bleak reminder of what outer beauty looks like - considering some bottles were “prettier” or “easier to use” than others. Despite their good intent, Dove should have  re-evaluated the message before launching.

Twitter post mocking the sizes of the bottles that instead of reminding people of their individual people, calls them out for their obvious physical differences.

Knowing how difficult it is to rebrand, the decision should be driven by consumer preference and not taken lightly.