22 April 2022

5 reasons to rebrand (and 2-and-a-half reasons not to)

Guides & explainers
Expert comment
In today’s crowded market, standing out can be harder than ever.

Knowing how to improve awareness of your brand can feel overwhelming…

And sometimes leads businesses to launch eccentric (or even weird) new identities in a bid to get noticed.

It’s a veritable minefield that could lead your business towards disaster; soccer club Leeds United, based a short distance from one of our offices, learned this when 77,000 fans signed a petition to boycott the team after it launched a new crest in 2018.


The expensive six-month project was quickly reversed and the club continues to use the crest it introduced in 1999.

Whether you’re a soccer club, an SME or are looking to target a new audience, a disastrous rebrand can hurt both your reputation and your profits. If you’re thinking of rebranding, we’ve looked at when it’s a good idea (and when it isn’t) to ensure you’re heading down the right path.

Reasons to rebrand

1. You’re targeting a new audience

Many brands with a long history have great brand recognition with older audiences, whose media consumption habits and values are in stark contrast to today’s young people.

But if your brand needs to connect with those younger people, your brand needs to adapt to meet their expectations (because, no matter how hard you try, you won’t bend them to meet yours – sorry).

One example we recently wrote about is period pain relief brand Midol; its previous branding worked in the past, but the people it worked for have now aged (and many of them no longer need the product), even though their target demographic (young women) hadn’t changed. Its new branding reflects the changing values of their target customer: Millennial and Gen-Z women.

Before and after showing the old Midol branding and the new

2. You’ve changed your product offer

Many successful businesses start off by specializing in one particular product or service, but find themselves hemmed in as they grow by a name that’s too specific.

Dunkin’ Donuts dropped the ‘Donuts’ (and the illustrated coffee cup) from its branding in 2019 to reposition itself as a lifestyle brand. As well as adding more non-coffee drinks and savory food items to its menu, Dunkin’ has launched branded apparel and limited-edition candle collabs.

3. Your competitors have copied you

If you’re a successful business, we guarantee someone will try to emulate what you do, so they can enjoy a slice of the pie for themselves. Research shows that businesses in similar markets often use the exact same visual elements. Once a well-known brand establishes a look, others may gravitate towards it (a good example is YouTube and Netflix – streaming platforms that share a black, red and white colour palette).

This can cause all sorts of issues, such as customer confusion between brands and the erosion of your USP. If you’ve fallen victim to this, rebranding could help reinstate the distance between you and your competition.

If you’d rather not do this, you may find that your brand has some legal protections (if you’ve registered the name), but litigation doesn’t have to be the answer. In the UK, fried chicken giants KFC took a warm-hearted pop at lookalike independent stores (which are common) with a campaign that pointed out how imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

KFC advert showing shop frontage from lookalike brands with the caption 'Guys, we're flattered'.

4. Your image doesn’t reflect your values

People are ever-more brand sensitive, and use the brands they choose to project an image of themselves. Understanding what your brand stands for and believes in (and which your customers will like) is an important step.

For example, ‘making money’ is a goal (not a value). And it’s a goal that’s important to you, but less important for your customers – so a brand image that overtly projects profiteering opportunism would likely leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Instead, think of what you’d be looking for if you were in their shoes, and prioritize that. Parents looking for a children’s nursery might prioritize the values of joy and warmth (which is why most nursery brands are bright and colourful); parents looking for a divorce attorney might instead prioritize seriousness and sensitivity (which is why legal brands are largely conservative and considered).

5. You’ve merged with another business

When businesses come together, one key point of negotiation is what it’ll be called going forward.

If you choose one name over the other to move forward beneath, this can create a sensation of one being taken over by the other; it’s why many newly-merged businesses choose an entirely new name: it’s a clean sheet of paper where they can begin writing a fresh history, together.

You could follow the example of clothing giant H&M. It began life as Hennes (Swedish for ‘hers’, reflecting its range of womenswear), before acquiring hunting apparel retailer Mauritz Widforss in 1968. This added menswear to the range for the first time, so ‘Hers’ would’ve hemmed the brand in (see point 2, above); instead, they opted to give both brands equal status and become Hennes & Mauritz – and then, six years later, it began using the initialism we now know.

Similarly, human resources and staffing specialists Adecco began life as two separate firms: Adia, and Ecco. Realising that ‘Adia & Ecco’ is a mouthful to say aloud, they instead blended the two names together.

 

Reasons not to rebrand

We may be in the business of branding, but we don’t believe in rebranding for the sake of it. There are some instances when we’ll suggest thinking twice.

1. You’re bored of your brand

If you’re bored of your brand, this is almost always a good sign: it means you’re using your branding regularly and consistently. Don’t worry about your customers being bored of your brand – they don’t spend their lives immersed in it like you do. And the chances of them being bored of it? Tiny.

Instead, it’s much more likely that they’ll appreciate the consistency – and we’ve written about how you can achieve it.

There are ways of freshening up your existing brand, though, like introducing new assets. Many businesses consider their brand to be made up of solely visible elements: colour palettes, logos, typefaces and so on. But sight is only one sense, and introducing branded audio (like exclusive music, or a sonic logo) could make everything feel brand new again.

Audio is exploding everywhere right now, so it’s never been more important to consider how your brand sounds. In fact, when done right, your sonic identity can build on the authenticity of your brand at a higher level than mere visual elements alone.

2. Your competitors have rebranded

When a rebrand is reactionary, it rarely feels authentic—and your consumers are the first people to let on. Just because your competitors have a shiny new thing, it doesn’t mean you need to follow suit.

And the half?

Bad press can destroy your brand’s reputation, and the temptation could be to change your image to put distance between it and your business. But good branding can’t cover up bad behaviour, and your efforts are better spent on addressing the cause of the bad press.

That said, once you’ve made the necessary changes (which may mean a change to your business practices, management, suppliers and more), a rebrand could help you draw a line in the sand and emphasise how you’ve changed for the better.

Doing the groundwork on a rebrand

A strong brand identity isn’t something you can create overnight. Yes, outlandish campaigns have a magnetic pull because they can improve your brand’s ‘reach’, but the number of eyes on your brand isn’t an effective measure of success. Instead, you need people to like it.

The most effective rebrands are those which delve deep into a business’s meaning and purpose, pull out what’s likeable, and effectively convey this through design and messaging. This can create distinctiveness while ensuring it continues to represent your values for years to come (and you don’t find yourself rebranding again quickly).

In the case of Leeds United, their rebrand failed because it didn’t reflect the club’s meaning and purpose: created to mark the club’s centenary year, it lacked any reference to the club’s heritage and jettisoned the iconic white rose of Yorkshire. And here we can take a lesson: remember what makes your brand special, and make sure you carry that forward into any rebrand.

Striking an emotional chord with your audience is pivotal in making your first impression a lasting one. Consumers enjoy seeing and hearing the people behind a brand, so never underestimate how influential human emotion can be in gaining trust and increasing brand awareness.

If you’ve decided a rebrand is right for you, it’s time to look at the whole picture.

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