Rebranding generates change — in both good ways and bad – which creates risk.
At its most positive, a new identity can draw attention to your brand in ways that other strategies and tactics can’t accomplish. Rebranding can also help smooth over bad reputations and position you for success within new markets.
But don’t let that fool you; there can also be a devastating dark side. Rebranding may cause confusion among your audiences, and potentially erode years of tradition and loyalty that you have spent precious time and resources building.
So, how can brands find success in such a perilous situation?
Brands that decide to take the leap into rebranding often see more success if they have comprehensive research guiding their decision-making. This means before considering a brand refresh, take time to conduct research and consult recent studies about how your brand or industry is represented in consumers’ lives. You may find that a rebrand is unnecessary — or desperately needed.
Consider the recent example of American Express. For a brand that hadn’t changed its identity in 40 years, any change made to its identity was a big risk. By conducting and implementing their own research, American Express realized that its changing role in consumers’ lives and the limited visibility the brand was receiving on smartphones necessitated change.
It was the right move. The brand received praise across social and web channels, with critics applauding that the redesign “emphasiz[es] simplicity in the age of overstimulation.” American Express also made kept the changes minimal, continuing to rely on the “strength and simplicity of the company.”
This example proves just how crucial research can be. The brand could have ignored the research and not made any changes — most likely to later be challenged by changed customer preference — but instead, they used research and found rebranding success.
A strategy can be the difference between a successful rebrand and a dismal failure. When implementing changes, be sure to methodically think through the reasoning behind each change, how the change is communicated, and even the channels that the news will be announced through. All of these aspects have a powerful impact on how rebranding is received, and a thoughtful launch strategy can improve the likelihood that audiences will embrace the change.
After a largely unsuccessful rebrand attempt in 2016, Uber revealed a refresh that emphasized “accessibility, safety and ease of use.” Forrest Young, the creative director at Wolff Olins (the agency chosen for the project), said that the rebrand strategically “tried to kick out all the micro-moments where trust was eroded” — in other words: simplify a confusing brand identity and persona.
Although simplistic, the rebrand allows for easier application in global markets and appeals to more demographics than its “hyper-masculine” predecessor. The rebrand was announced via a multi-channel campaign, which helped to acclimate their audience to the new change. Also, the language surrounding the refresh was purposefully straightforward and easy to understand. The strategic approach worked.
Uber’s case proves strategic thinking is critical in today’s complex, hyper-competitive world. While they could have alienated their audience with another complicated and vague brand identity, they thoughtfully released changes that made sense for their brand. In exchange, the rebrand was accepted by customers with little issue. This proves just how worthwhile it is to take time building a comprehensive strategy.
When launching a new identity, timing is critical. If changes are released too abruptly without warning, or too late following a crisis, it can be devastating to audience reception. To avoid this, be sure to guide your loyalists through the process with open communication and ample information. Monitoring media mentions and social media content is helpful to understand the nature of conversation around your brand. It can suggest if/when a change might be necessary, and how it is fairing once implemented.
One company that struggled with the timing of its rebrand is Burberry. Over the past three years, the 162-year-old fashion company has moved many of their smaller labels under one uniting name. The rebrand was meant to serve as a strong marker of the single label. However, after the release, the response wasn’t positive. Why?
Audiences called the change “hasty”: this was in response to designer Peter Saville creating the new logo in a mere four weeks. Fans lamented the brand’s lost distinctiveness and iconic history, now blending in with other fashion lines. One Twitter user summed up the social sentiment, saying, “[Burberry is] a brand trying to be modern to stay relevant while losing character.”
While the brand could have guided fans into a new age through open communication, they instead chose to impulsively erase their brand’s history, which left fans feeling forgotten.
The next time you’re considering a rebrand and the inherent risk, remember that research, strategy and timing are key. Take time to research the market landscape, create long-term strategies and listen to your audience members to find the perfect timing to release changes. If you follow this process, you might just find that the risk pays off.