Rebranding? 7 Keys to Ensure a Smooth Transition

UPDATED: February 1, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 30, 2023
colleagues discussing rebranding strategy

If you rebrand poorly, your brand can suffer. Scarier still: Your margin for error is slim at best. But you can improve the odds considerably by rebranding according to these seven principles:

1. Make sure you’re clear about what a brand is.

A brand is much more than your logo. A brand is the sum of the messages, interactions and experiences that a customer has with your products, services and people.

To customers, a brand is the promise of an experience as well as the experience of that promise being delivered. A brand is a valuable asset that must be nurtured by delivering valuable content in social media; friendly, quick customer service; personal and authentic responses to every customer who contacts you; and respecting customers’ desires to opt in or out of direct marketing contact with your brand.

2. Maintain control of the rebranding process.

Because a brand equates to a company’s crown jewels, people can be sensitive about any shift whatsoever. As a result, a rebranding effort can easily deteriorate into the personal likes or dislikes of executives or owners (or even what their spouses think). Consider hiring an unbiased consultant or agency to facilitate the process and outcome.

As your effort unfolds, ground your brand in a strategy that reflects not only the brand’s origins, but also its ultimate destination in the current and future marketplace. Some aspects of your brand (great sensory appeal, supreme customer service, excellent training, meeting deadlines, etc.) will probably never change. Keep an open mind. Small ideas can grow larger, and seemingly big ideas can diminish over time, depending on factors including marketplace demands, competition and tech breakthroughs.

3. Understand that a brand has two owners: The marketer owns 50%, and the customer owns 100%.

Yes, I know that’s 150%—and here’s why. The marketer produces messages, products and services. But your customers experience the brand. In the digital age, they are ultimately in control of whether they will ignore your messages, view or listen to them, share them with or without favorable comments or make a purchase.

The takeaway: During your rebranding, check in with customers and employees who have the most customer contact. Tap the knowledge of the internal employees who deliver your brand’s experience: folks on the helpline, installers, employees in the returns department and even the back-office staff, line workers and warehouse crew. Their feedback can be crucial for ensuring a positive customer experience.

Another benefit of inclusion: When you ask for, listen to and acknowledge contributions from your employees during a rebranding, people within the company will feel they have been heard and thus will be less likely to criticize and more likely to own the result. The worst course is to decide branding issues at the top level and then dictate to the troops who must deliver the brand experience. By doing so, you risk a loss of buy-in and relevancy.

4. Your logo, tagline, typography and design should tell a single-minded story.

The look, feel and message of a brand should tell one story. Every brand is heroic in some way. Think about what your brand fights for and against what odds. Consider what is at stake for customers, their problems and how you solve them. By becoming a hero to your customers, you make heroes out of them when they deliver at their workplaces, within their families and among their friends.

FedEx and National Car Rental are great examples of this focus. “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” is FedEx’s famous pledge. And the FedEx logo—with its distinctive typeface and color contrast—is a consistent presence on boxes, envelopes and trucks. National Car Rental makes everything green, from its logo and signage to their “Emerald Club.” Both of these companies have truly unifying imagery, promises and customer experiences.

5. Always remember that a brand should remain fluid—but exercise caution when rebranding.

Radically changing your brand is risky. If the effort fails, it can be expensive and disruptive. Consider Tropicana’s 2009 revamp of the established image on its orange juice packaging—the drinking straw stuck into a fresh orange. Television advertising had hammered this straw-in-orange visual for years. What’s more, this clever device supported Tropicana’s key benefit: “never from concentrate” fresh-squeezed orange juice.

The rebranded packaging design featured a clean, generic photo of juice in a glass. Consumer rejection was swift, with sales plummeting 20% within about seven weeks. Tropicana had altered a branded asset with dire results and would have to reverse course. 

External factors such as tenacious competition, industry trends and altered consumer preferences will force you to continually reassess your brand. Think of your brand as a buoy solidly anchored to the ocean floor but able to weave and bob in the waves. Create and invest in positioning that is broad enough to be as relevant today as it was yesterday and flexible enough to be relevant in the future.

6. Never stop supporting and promoting your brand.

Successful brands are a living presence in the marketplace and have a tangible relationship with their customers. It’s easy for customers to support a brand in boom times. So it’s important for brands to maintain consistent customer support during economic lulls in order to continue making sales.

7. Protect your brand after rebranding.

Once you’ve refreshed (or designed) your brand, appoint a brand champion. This key leader is typically a senior person in marketing, and they will publish a brand style guide. This person will also police internal and external communications (advertising, public relations, sales, retail sites, correspondence, etc.) to be sure that all employees use the appropriate logo, icon, tagline and templates for ads, emails, direct marketing, social media—every outgoing message in every medium. A brand united by look, feel and message is the goal wherever the customer engages.

Use these rebranding principles while being strategic, sticking with your company’s cultural roots, staying relevant and keeping customers’ benefits front and center at all times.

This article was published in October 2014 and has been updated. Photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock