At rbl, the vast majority of our work involves rebranding existing businesses and organisations. We also create new brands for start-ups, newly established business divisions, new products or services and specific events. These are relatively straightforward by comparison, even if the timeframes may be demanding.
When you undertake a rebranding project there are a host of challenges that lie ahead because changing something is often much harder than starting from scratch.
People are often resistant to change
As the Headmaster of Radley College has just found out, people feel quite strongly about the organisations they have relationships with it. When you suggest changing something as symbolic as the logo (or in Radley’s case, the school crest) they may resist. Strongly.
Before you suggest changing anything to do with the brand, especially the identity mark itself, it’s essential that you explore the reasons for change. You should socialise these so that your employees and customers (including students and their parents) fully understand the context and are more sympathetic to any impending change. Taking the time to ask them what they think will give you the essential insight you need shape a more effective end result.
When rebranding you risk losing any existing brand equity
Changing a logo is one thing, but many rebrands involve a name change too. You need to think very carefully about this and ensure you have an effective plan to transition any existing brand equity from the old brand to the new. Handled in the right way, it can be a great way re-engage with people. Our world is littered with the corpses of brands that were launched without fully understanding existing sentiment and without a robust transition plan in place. In the digital world, equity, or traffic, linked to a specific name, is highly valuable. Always consult with SEO experts.
Changing everything within a short period places a burden on your resources
If you commit to rebranding then the workload will increase dramatically. Everything needs to change, pretty much at the same time. Think about a list of essentials and triple it! Signage, stationery, email footers, document templates, literature, digital presentations, websites, apps, event kits, exhibition stands, liveries, uniforms, internal graphics….And it’s never just a case of swopping one logo for another. The whole message is likely to be different, the design will work to a new standard and many of the formats will change.
Consider the internal resource and budgets and be sure you have planned ahead to manage a significant, if temporary, increase in demand.
Achieving consensus on a new brand takes time and effort
During a rebranding process there are many decisions to be taken and it’s important that the right people are involved. The leadership team need to forge a shared understanding and expression of their future ambition. This can only happen through extensive, collaborative discussion. These business leaders need to make some final decisions based upon wider feedback from their employees and customers. We often discuss the difference between objective and subjective comments and amendments. If you consult the right people at the right time, subjective feedback becomes less of an issue. Everyone needs to buy in to one shared brand narrative.
Articulating a new vision of the future is hard
It always surprises us that most businesses don’t have a very consistent or powerful brand story. Ask three different people to tell you what the business does, how it operates and why it exists and you’ll get three completely different answers. We put a lot of effort into working out what the narrative should be and crafting that into a story that employees, customers and partners can connect with. We often push clients to make sure they have a clear point of view, because without it, they seem bland and ‘me too’ against their competition.
It’s not just the logo that needs to change
Many rebrands tend to focus on the design of the logo and the marketing communications materials. However, the best results are achieved when the brand embraces the culture of the organisation and uses this to drive real organisational change. If the look and feel is about the external manifestation of the brand, then the culture, values and behaviours are the internal expression.
Cultural change takes time and can’t be done ‘to’ people. It must be achieved ‘with’ people. Again, consultation and collaboration are key.
If you present a new brand to the outside world, that will come with an expectation that the business itself will be different. Consider how every aspect of the organisation’s delivery will need to improve to live up to the new brand promise.
You open the organisation up to criticism if you are not careful
Sceptical employees, dissatisfied customers, expectant shareholders and news hungry journalists will scrutinise the new brand. It’s good practice to consider what your most disaffected stakeholder might say because then you can mitigate against this. Demonstrating that you have consulted carefully and arrived at the decision to rebrand for sound business reasons, not personal subjectivity, will help you deal with any criticism.
Transitioning from one brand identity to another needs disciplined management
We rebranded a client once, managing to update their communications materials within the first 6 months. However, the very large sign on the side of the building was stuck with the old logo for the best part of 15 years because it was deemed just too expensive to change. Only when the business moved to a new premises did they finally have the ‘new’ logo erected on the side of their stunning new headquarters.
This is just one example of some of the hard decisions any business will need to take as they remove the old identity to make way for the new brand. If there is a long period of overlap the impact of the new brand will be diminished. So, be ready to make some tough, and sometimes costly, decisions.
Rebecca is the founder and Managing Director of rbl. An experienced brand and marketing professional, Rebecca has spent over 30 years helping clients to build, design and manage their brands.