Refresh or rebrand - making critical brand decisions

Refresh or rebrand? Critical brand decisions

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every brand must change, but the extent of the change, and the size of the calls that accompany those shifts, are very different. So when should you revamp what you have to bring it up to date, and when should you “kill” the brand and start again?

Refresh a brand that is fundamentally robust and that has strong engagement and loyalty with customers. A refresh is about more than just the tweaks required to keep a brand current. (Those are brand updates and are now business-as-usual.) A brand refresh can in fact be a ceiling-to-floor rethink of how the brand not only looks but also how it delivers, speaks and operates. In essence though, the brand’s DNA remains intact. The brand retains its core market position and values, but opens the door to change other aspects of the business as required.

Reinvent, reposition, realign

As Thomson Dawson shows here, brand refreshes are about more than changes to colours or shapes. Whilst they are often associated with brand identity rethinking, a brand refresh in fact can (and often should) delve much deeper – into culture, systems and even products and services. At their most radical, these refreshes can even involve giving up iconic cash cow brands in order to continue forging ahead. Gillette and Jaguar are two examples of marketers who have chosen to “reinvent, reposition and realign their brand innovations at the expense of their most sacred cash cow brands”. In the case of these two brands specifically, they broke their most lucrative product lines. But they remained Gillette and Jaguar, and they continued to compete in the shaving and luxury car markets.

Dawson references a great analogy from Marty Neumeier that brands can leap to new relevance (which is what I see as the fundamental objective of any major brand refresh) through a two-stage rocket strategy – “essentially leveraging the cash generating strength of the iconic brand to fuel the innovation of a new brand. Killing the cash cow, as the second stage rocket of the new brand takes full advantage of the momentum of the first, can take a long time–certainly longer than a quarter or two.”

A rebrand is a full stop, and a new start

A rebrand is a much more radical decision. It represents a full stop; an end to the brand and all that it stands for. You’re killing what you had, and in doing so, you’re losing brand equity and all the investment that went into creating that equity. It takes much longer, requires deeper pockets and, as I point out here, the results will vary depending on a range of factors around the change. A rebrand is the right decision though when your brand can’t go on as it was, when your brand equity was in fact negative or heading that way, and when a break with the past signals to the market that a completely re-thought and re-engineered brand is now in play. A rebrand is more than a brand re-definition or even a re-position. It’s a full re-start.

A rebrand is a powerful way to end what you had to get you to where you need to be.

For example, if your brand has a strong association that it cannot continue to build on but that it will also never be able to shake, then that would be a compelling reason to consider rebranding. It’s tempting if you have been a brand in difficulty to see a fresh start as exactly what is needed and to believe that a clean slate will open new possibilities. Perhaps so, but unless those changes are accompanied by an equally revolutionary rethink of the basis of the brand and the value that it will deliver, then all that upheaval will result in business-as-usual, and trouble-as-usual, just with a new name.

We tend to think of rebrands as reputationally motivated but a rebrand could be a prudent decision for a brand that is looking to radically reposition its value proposition. For example, if you have been a “budget” or mainstream brand and you decide that there is an urgent need to move upscale, the brand you had may be too loaded as a price-conscious marque to make the move with you.

Rebrands fail for a range of reasons, but a rebrand is a responsible decision when you can’t use what you had to get you to where you need to be. It empowers you to do more than refocus. It enables you to re-direct and revalue your whole way to and through market that you simply would not have been able to do under the previous brand regime.

Choosing how you will grow

So how far are you going to have to go? Which path represents the most responsible use of funds? If brand change conversations like these are going on within your brand team right now, four questions should help you weigh the options and choose the best path:

  1. Why are we proposing change? What are we looking to stop? What are we looking to start or gain? Critical brand decisions need to be underpinned by robust investigations of cause and effect.
  2. What should our customers look to us for – and can we deliver that, or improve on that, in our current form? This is about quantifying what is possible within the brand structure that you have and what lies outside/beyond the current core.
  3. What will we be able to do as a result of this change that we have never been able to do up until now – and how do we know that? It’s one thing to see the possibilities, it’s quite another to realise them. This is about making sure that the logistics of what you can deliver will marry with the brand changes you are proposing.
  4. If we took a more/less radical approach, what would we gain/lose – and would that be worth it? This is the trade-off for change discussion. It helps you determine the level of brand change that’s required and the differences that varying levels of investment will enable.



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