Many potential challenges exist when a company tries to reinvent itself. Some mistakes – such as selecting an inappropriate brand name – are obvious almost immediately, and there are many examples to cite when a consumer’s first impression of a rebrand is to question its intelligence. Avoidable missteps such as these detract from the real, intended purpose of the transformation, but other mistakes take much more time to develop and understand.
With hindsight, we can pinpoint the major pitfalls brands should avoid when they endeavour to change the perceptions of consumers:
Rebranding only on the surface: Sometimes, shifting the value of a commodity can be as simple as changing how it appears or the words used to describe it. However, new packaging alone cannot make up for a product that doesn’t materially improve. Too many marketers and executives believe that a “brand” is comprised only of company’s visual and audible elements – its trademarks, design, colours and symbols. Naming and imagery, while important, are still only one aspect of branding and a rebranding initiative which begins and ends with a new logo, tagline or title is not a rebranding initiative at all. While studies show people may purchase products in the short term based on their obvious associations, they become loyal because of the subjective and emotional linkages created through their interactions over time.
Unless a company actually changes how it behaves, no superficial amendment can truly be considered a rebrand. These changes are equivalent to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. It is no wonder why rebranding is often treated as a cosmetic exercise and why many rebranding efforts are met with cynicism.
Rebranding without differentiation: The fundamental principal of all branding activities should be to create a distinctive identity which separates you favourably from competitors. Any rebranding initiative that falls short of this goal and merely replicates what a leader in a particular field is doing is almost certainly a waste of time, money and effort. Blackberry, for example – once a market leader, now accounting for only 2% smartphone shipments – despite changing its name from Research in Motion and hiring a celebrity creative director, hasn’t changed much about who they are. Their so called “rebranding” can only be described marketing campaign to accompany the unveiling of its touch screen operating system.
The pinnacle achievement of rebranding should be to create a category of one – highlighting what a brand does differently, which is more important that what they do well.
Rebranding without a meaningful purpose: Change for change’s sake is unlikely to get buy-in from the most important stakeholders of a brand – its people. Convincing consumers is only the second step. Without a clear and compelling reason for a change, the status quo is likely to persist long in to the future.
Investment analysts and shareholders agree that clarity of strategy is one of their most important criteria for a company because organisations with such focus tend to create more effectiveness, efficiency and competitive advantage. Branding initiatives must have a vision and mission that are inspirational enough to drive change. Employees need to feel a sense of pride in the organisation – enough to become the brand’s biggest advocates.
To transform a company, the corporate strategies for recruitment, retention, internal rewards and communication must all be aligned so that the employee vision and culture moves hand in hand with what brand aspires to become. No rebranding initiative can thrive without the support of the engines that drive a company’s growth – its human capital.
Rebranding without restructuring: No matter how much the brand image needs fixing or how much internal culture believes in a new direction, physical obstacles and bureaucracy may still remain that can take the wind out of the sails of a rebranding effort. When companies change what they say and believe without actually changing the processes through which the brand promise is delivered, these physical pains may persist. With these inhibitions, management risks turning enlightened employees in to disillusioned ones – enthusiasm in to scepticism.
For most companies, organizational design evolves in fragmented way over time by adding internal processes along the way to meet various challenges, but it is rarely broken down and purposefully rebuilt. In some cases, the corporate design must change dramatically. True rebranding occurs when the combined activities of the entire organization from operations, production, distribution, customer service, sales and marketing can work without unnecessary restrictions that prevent those who desire change from accomplishing it. Synergies between these functions create the experiences, impressions and interactions that shape how consumers feel about a brand and where they rank it among its peers.
Rebranding in-house: Fresh perspectives and best practices from external influencers are a necessary condition for any rebranding project. Because projects require extensive research among employees, customers and other stakeholders, it is vital to engage experts who are not already pre-disposed to the current strategy and are specialised at getting to the root of problems they encounter. Third parties are also necessary since employees rarely feel comfortable giving criticism, however constructive, to colleagues tasked with reporting their findings to upper management.
Quite obviously, up-to date academic knowledge is not always something that CEOs, CMOs and other directors can be expected to possess when their primary responsibilities are based on executing existing plans – nor can they be expected to undertake such an enterprise while balancing their duties full time. Too often, corporate boards leave rebranding projects to marketers who are already busy enough and can only bury their initiatives among other routine tasks they are expected to perform. Rebranding must not be relegated to the domain of an internal department.
Rebranding without commitment: Aside from avoiding all of these pitfalls, rebranding requires extreme patience. Too many corporate boards are quick to abandon a transformation within one or two years. It takes time to first, turn around the people in the organisation, then much more time before consumers can have enough unique new experiences to craft their new perception.
The quarterly goal-oriented nature of share-price focused boardrooms today often promotes short term thinking and financial markets can punish visionary leaders. Therefore, it takes a courageous group of executives to stay the course when it comes to rebranding. Once implemented, a program’s success must be measured using brand equity surveys of external consumers and other internal adoption metrics. It must not be based on medium term revenues or investment performance.
If consumers do not shrug their shoulders at the outset of a rebranding effort and do, indeed give a brand the chance to change how it interacts with them – the ultimate success of their initiative depends on whether companies can avoid the major missteps that cause rebranding efforts to fall flat. Without a meaningful and differentiated vision, engaging the right people from outside the company and patiently implementing the long-term plan through structural and cultural levels of the organisation, a wasted effort to change could prove more costly than maintaining the status quo in a world where the only true constant is change.