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Why Rebranding as a Bandaid Doesn't Work

Evan Maier

brand definition

In the corporate world, rebranding happens all the time.  From something as simple as swapping out a tagline or a logo to something as deeply complex as restructuring the entire image of a company, rebranding is seen as an easy go-to for marketing managers and execs looking for a way to start fresh, to achieve that ever-elusive clean slate in business.  But not all rebranded efforts are created equal, and if a company isn't careful, the swap can only hurt them in the end.  So what shouldn't a marketing manager or corporate executive look to achieve through rebranding?

A Simple Expansion - Remember back when AT&T Wireless and SBC formed Cingular, then Cingular became the new AT&T?  So do I, and it was a headache.  After countless hours and millions of dollars in identity changes, PR programs to win over the media, corporate memos to win over employees & stockholders, and advertising campaigns to win over the public, what was the result?  Customers were hopelessly confused and we essentially went back to square one.  Though certainly an extreme example of a rebrand being used as a cover for mergers and acquisitions, the lesson here is this: rebranding is much more complex than simply picking a new name and logo.  So to all the execs thinking a quick switch is all they need to get their stocks moving north, all I can recommend is take a little extra time envisioning every possible way your rebrand could turn out.  Otherwise, you risk the whole endeavor becoming the monster you can't control.

Erasing History - Even the best companies in the world suffer blows from time to time.  Maybe they spread themselves too thinly or maybe some bad press causes customers to lose loyalty.  Whatever the reason, no company is perfect.  But while a company should always strive to learn from and improve upon its mistakes, those mistakes will never go away - certainly not in these days of near-constant information streams and the running commentary of the internet's users.  So a lesson to marketers and the execs that employ them: focus less on the smoke and mirrors act of a rebrand and fix your problems.  Your customers will appreciate it much more.

A New Future - Even if your product pipeline is shrouded in secrecy and your executive meetings held behind lock and key, chances are your stockholders, customers, news zealots, and those whose job it is to analyze your business know where your company is headed.  But wait, you may say, what if we want to put the past behind us and move into new markets and offerings?  Yes, evolution should be injected into the backbone of every company out there.  But an apple doesn't become an orange overnight.  Looking to a rebrand to disassociate your company from its own history will merely alienate your purist followers and will leave everyone questioning your sudden identity crisis.  So take your finger off the switch and start planning for an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary flip.

"What's Next?"- So you've solidified a new name, selected a new logo, and reworked your messaging to fit with the vision of your new brand.  Now what?  Your loyalists will, at the very least, expect you to deliver something new and those change-happy enthusiasts are going to wonder what else you've got up your sleeve.  Needless to say, you've got quite a heap of expectations on your plate.  The key to success through a rebrand isn't just pulling it off, but knowing where those changes are leading you.  Lose sight of the horizon and you'll only let your supporters down.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from attempting a rebrand.  Considering change is what keeps industries moving and branding is a major part of our business, I'd be a fool to denounce it.  But the take-away is you can't look at a rebrand as a stop-gap solution for your company's short-term problems.  If anything, a rebranding should be a last resort, only leveraged when traditional marketing doesn't work, PR efforts fail to elicit change, and your efforts to improve the quality of your business have been carried out.  Then, and only then, should you enter the grueling marathon or a rebrand.