Rebranding – Best Practices For Success

Rebranding - Best practices for success

The concept of rebranding is an often-misunderstood one. It is mostly confused with the concepts of repositioning and brand revitalization. In many instances, rebranding is done with the ultimate aim of repositioning a brand, but equally it is a strategy adopted when a brand starts to become irrelevant or insignificant in the category. Rebranding is also a common consequence of mergers & acquisitions, when acquired brands are rebranded to fit into portfolio level brand architecture. An often ignored but significant element is the fact that any new form of master brand endorsement or co-branding is a form of rebranding too.

To successfully implement a rebranding strategy and revitalize a brand requires a disciplined approach. The primary success factor of a rebranding strategy is to “begin with the end in mind”. Every rebranding strategy has a different objective or varying shades of one. So, the concept of “one size fits all” should not apply when organizations think of rebranding. There are multiple factors that can influence an organization’s approach and thinking towards rebranding. These same factors, if deeply and thoughtfully considered, are the primary elements of success. Below are some best practices for ensuring success of a rebranding effort:

Position and equity of the brand: The target brand’s position in the category and the strength of its equity in consumers’ minds are two of the most influential factors. There are some impactful principles on how brand owners should manage these two factors:

  • Brand equity and brand category standing goes hand in hand, so a brand with a strong equity will either have a category leadership status or be a challenger brand. First of all, embarking on rebranding for a brand of that kind of stature should be a “last resort” strategy. In majority of instances, rebranding will result in loss of brand equity in the short and medium-term and consumer rejection of the brand at its touchpoints. If the “last resort” is the only resort, which is true during M&A scenarios, a phase-wise rebranding is advisable. If the brand in question is a global brand, then the phasing approach should be extended to each market
  • As mentioned earlier, many rebranding exercises are directly linked to the need for a brand repositioning or a brand refresh. Keeping in mind that rebranding is an overarching strategy, decisions to rebrand in such circumstances requires strong due diligence and audit of the brand and the range it supports. This will allow the brand owner to have a very precise and objective assessment of the impact of rebranding not only for the master brand but also for all the product lines it supports
  • Revitalizing a languishing brand in the stable is a very attractive trigger for rebranding. But like every other scenario, this also needs to be handled carefully. Legacy awareness and the impact of negative perceptions need to be accounted for. In these scenarios, a full-fledged rebranding is the most effective option, because the existing or new brand owner can completely reposition the brand with a new name, new look, new positioning and new touch-point experiences

Acquired brand in an M&A: Another set of circumstances that trigger rebranding strategies is when brands are acquired as part of an M&A. In such scenarios, there are some golden rules that new brand owners should follow for effective rebranding:

  • Rebranding as an exercise should be evaluated if the acquired brand does not fit into the consolidated brand portfolio of the acquiring organization. In many instances, and in situations where the architecture is a “house of brands” or close towards that spectrum, acquired brands can be slotted into the architecture without the need for rebranding. This is the surest and most effective way of preserving brand equity of an acquired brand in the stable of a new owner
  • Cannibalization is a factor that triggers rebranding in M&A situations. If an existing brand and an acquired brand have similar market strengths and have competitive positioning, there is a tendency of the new owner to rebrand the acquired brand to remove the cannibalization threat. Rebranding in such cases can assume multiple forms – master brand endorsement (strong or light), co-branding or complete rebranding (change of name). The most effective way, in these scenarios, is to accurately assess the target brand’s market strength and brand equity. Any rebranding decisions then need to be taken in light of the potential impact on the new owner’s and other portfolio brand’s equity
  • Rebranding can also be triggered by the new owner’s intention to extend an acquired brand into new product lines or new categories. If the new owner has a strong legacy and strength in new categories, then it might decide to co-brand or endorse the acquired brand to give it an equity boost

Using a languishing brand to enter new categories: In a world where protecting and strengthening brand equity and a competitive position in the category is increasingly becoming challenging, brand owners are increasingly turning to the “unloved child” in their portfolio. These are brands, which without any investment or marketing support have lied unutilized as assets. Organizations are increasingly turning to such assets to enter new categories at a local and global level. Because of the lack of investments behind such brands, they are the ripest for rebranding (in any form). Even in these situations, there are some key principles to follow for brand owners:

  • Even though rebranding is the easiest thing to do in these instances, it is the form of rebranding that assumes critical importance
  • Because it is an underinvested and underutilised asset, a languishing brand does not have any awareness or equity to leverage when it is brought back into the category. To give it a base level of recognition and equity to start with, a master or corporate brand endorsement is important. This allows the brand to have some form of quality and trustworthiness credential in the category
  • Revitalising an “unloved child” requires going back to the drawing board for every aspect of the brand development process. So, if the original name was Brand X, this is the most opportune moment to change it to Brand Y, so that a new brand, with a new positioning can be introduced into the category

Transitioning into a one-brand or corporate brand endorsed architecture: There are multiple factors that influence the move towards a one-brand architecture. Some of the strongest factors are the:

  • Need to bring brands in the portfolio under a universal positioning platform
  • Need to give a unified and consistent identity to all portfolio brands
  • Need to infuse portfolio brands with a similar level of corporate brand endorsement or push
  • Need to bring efficiencies into marketing strategies, remove confusing / overlapping positioning platforms and ensure a consistent consumer experience

But for all the triggers above, brand owners have to be very careful while implementing a one-brand architecture across the portfolio. Both hard endorsement and co-branding are essentially rebranding in the truest sense of the word. In the case of soft endorsement, the brand name does not change but there is a change in the unified messaging / positioning consumers will be exposed to. Some key principles to follow in these scenarios are:

  • Co-branding and hard endorsement strategies should be a fit across the whole of the portfolio, and not for a few brands. If there is no overall fit, then there is a risk of equity getting diluted across the portfolio
  • To ensure consistency and uniformity across the portfolio, hard endorsement is a useful strategy, but there is always a risk of driving dissatisfaction with loyalists of the brand. If portfolio brands have a long history of successfully maintaining category leadership status without the need for any endorsement, then these forms of rebranding needs to be carefully thought through
  • Brand owners also use strategies where moderately weak or weak brands (in terms of category standing) are endorsed but strong brands are allowed to maintain an individual existence. This is a sound strategy, but only from the point of view of “propping up” weak brands. If the corporate brand and the individual portfolio brands do not share similar positioning or consumer perceptions, it will lead to a mixed and confused message for the consumer
  • Careful selection of a rebranding strategy is advisable for organizations that operate across multiple product segments and categories (high level of diversification). There are examples of universal endorsement and also those of selective endorsement. The rules for success for such organizations are to adopt and implement rebranding strategies that allow for equity translation and filtering across categories. This allows for the maximum possible efficiency and minimum equity risk for brands in the portfolio

Conclusion: Rebranding is strategic and C-suite led

Rebranding as a strategic process requires a very in-depth understanding of a brand’s current strengths, weaknesses and its future outlook. With the guiding principle to “begin with the end in mind”, a rebranding strategy should assess the new brand’s fit into not only the existing architecture, but also into the one that will evolve. It is a matter of finding a cohesive bond between the brand’s evolution and the organization’s evolution over time.

Rebranding is neither a fad, a tactical measure nor a short-term stop-gap arrangement to plug a weakness in the portfolio. It is a challenging, highly impactful and a strong influencer of a brand’s lifecycle and its direction, and rebranding should be given the C-suite attention and proper diligence it deserves. Branding and brands are most important than ever, and rebranding is an important strategy to maintain and increase long-term value.