Rebranding: 10 reasons why rebrands fail

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As this article in Entrepreneur reminds us, plenty of brands try to re-set the market’s understanding of their brand and are well and truly spanked for doing so. If rebranding is the hot topic of conversation at your place right now, here’s 10 reasons to leave things as they are:

  1. You don’t need to change – yes, I know it seems obvious … but it needs saying, because there are still brands that rebrand for reasons that escape everyone who missed the slidedeck. In many cases, the rebranding decision is taken not because the brand needs to change but because there’s been a change in role or people internally are bored with the brand they are responsible for. Neither reason flies with consumers of course – and they quickly voice a view for things to revert to how they were.
  2. You’re guessing what change is needed – too many brands come to believe that any change signals refreshment and therefore any change will do. So they make changes to their brand that mean something to them or that they feel comfortable with, or that the agency has talked them into, but that are neither as significant nor as interesting as the brand itself believes they will be. The fact is that unless you are rebranding for a reason and to achieve a specific goal, change for its own sake achieves nothing good.
  3. The strategy is wrong – a rebranding that misreads the market can do a lot of damage. Read the assumptions and market analysis around your rebrand carefully. Ask for proof, look carefully at the opportunities, evaluate the need for change (and the nature of the change required) from the point of view of the consumer. Working with the right consulting or agency partner is vital. You need them to be objective, well versed in your sector dynamics and committed to getting you results not just taking you through their process. As Galen DeYoung points out here, “Marketers and corporate executives get consumed with what they would ultimately like the company to be versus the position it can reasonably attain in the marketplace at the present time: i.e., the next permissible step in the company’s evolution.” I love that word ‘permissible’. It’s a potent reminder that the power to change the brand rests with different people than those who must accept the new brand.
  4. People will be confused – if you change the signals that people look for in terms of recognising your brand, you can quickly confuse the visual cues. This is particularly true in environments like packaged goods where consumers are paying scant attention. If they don’t see the brand they recognise, they will quickly opt for another they do. For that reason, make sure your rebranding retains at least some of what people know to ensure they still understand who you are.
  5. The change is ugly – difficult to judge if you’re the one leading the rebrand, but a little research will soon tell you if people think you’ve got it wrong. As marketers, it’s tempting to think that aesthetic judgment rests with us. In point of fact, consumers are much more visually aware than we give them credit for, and it’s their eyes and wallets that will decide success. Tropicana got on the wrong side of customers and were quickly told so.
  6. You’re changing too late – if your brand is already in decline, then a rebranding is not a panacea, and it’s unlikely to be enough on its own, particularly if the brand has been in decline for some time. Unless the rebrand is the visual symbol of much wider and deeper shifts that have taken place within the business, chances are you will not have done enough to arrest the downfall. Don’t get drawn into believing either that a rebrand will buy you time while you make other changes. I’ve heard that reason given a number of times but I’ve never actually seen it work.
  7. You’re changing for the wrong reasons – don’t rebrand to cover your tracks, to revise your history or to encourage people to forget. A number of companies have tried to do this, but the changes of you removing all traces of who you were or what you did are almost nil. Unless the change in name and brand comes with a significant shift in the manner (and often the leadership) of the business, all you are really doing is rebadging.
  8. The change is meaningless – if you say you’ve changed and hail what you’ve done as a rebrand when, as far as consumers are concerned, there is little visible or tangible difference, then the rebrand itself comes to mean nothing and therefore holds no value. In 2008, Pepsi undertook a massive global rebrand that cost over a billion dollars but meant next to nothing to consumers.
  9. No-one is going to come with you – if you instigate a rebranding but don’t take your people with you, you will inevitably strand your brand. Rebranding the business takes huge energy and commitment. It will bring significant upheaval to the organisation and test the patience and resolve of even the most focused. It will invite the scepticism of sector critics and the probing questions of investors and analysts. For that reason, if the senior team isn’t right behind what is happening and if teams are not on-board with what is changing and why, the chances of failure increase significantly. You need to ensure your strategy and culture are aligned with what is happening creatively, because otherwise you’re going to end up short-selling the opportunity somewhere. Brad VanAuken gives some good leads on how to start this process here.
  10. You’re just going to join the long queue – if your rebrand simply makes your brand look and behave more like that of all your competitors, then you are on a hiding to nothing – and by nothing I mean invisibility. Brands need to be recognisable and to an extent that means they need to give hints as to the sector they are in, but when those changes are so generic that the brand ends up looking and acting like just another participant, the brand has in effect dug itself into a very expensive hole. If your rebranding does not deliver you significant and meaningful differentiation, it is useless.

None of this is to suggest that your brand shouldn’t change. In fact, quite the opposite.

Every brand should look to refresh and update what it looks like, how it behaves, where it participates and what it offers. In the iterative economy, such changes need to take place regularly in order for brands to maintain their competitiveness. Lego is a classic example of a brand that continues to successfully evolve. But the decision to rebrand is a lot bigger, more involved and more risky than ongoing refreshment. You should only seriously look at such a radical step if the story that your brand has told is no longer valuable, if the goals for the change are very clear and if the rebrand itself is accompanied by significant changes across the business and the culture that put you in a position of unprecedented advantage.

Photo of “In Pieces”, taken by Dusk Photography, sourced from Flickr



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