Leading, and Surviving, a Company Rebranding Effort
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Most chief marketing officers understand the importance of creating and sustaining a company's brand to reinforce a corporate strategy, its image, accomplishments and aspirations. Brands are powerful things, with some carrying a legacy that might be at odds with current market dynamics and corporate strategy.
Businesses that don’t evolve over time cease to be relevant and, in some cases, cease to exist. And key to a company’s relevance is the evolution of the brand. A primary responsibility of any chief marketing officer is know when it’s time to advance a company’s legacy by transforming its brand.
Often marketers face resistance, recalcitrance and downright rebellion in tackling this effort and no shortage of opinions or experts. A brand transformation presents an opportunity to start anew and create something bigger and better than what existed before. My experience with multiple rebranding efforts at technology companies has given me the following insights about navigating the transformation process successfully. Here are a few ground rules for how to proceed:
1. Be honest about current brand perception.
Let’s face it. The company's rebranding isn't happening because it's exactly where it should be. Offer key constituents a dose of reality before embarking on a successful reinvigoration of the brand image.
Do the homework. When evaluating the necessary changes that could be made to the company's brand image, understand who the customers and audiences of the business are. They might not be those whom the company historically has been targeting.
Consider what each key market segment thinks about the organization, where the brand has strong value and where it's weak and the desired perceptions. Rebranding requires brutal honesty and that's bound to offend some people. Objective third-party assessments can help distinguish between fact and fiction.
Conduct a primary brand awareness and preference survey, look at net promoter scores and data, review industry and financial analyst research, assess competitors and conduct customer and employee interviews. Assimilating this information will help establish a brand reality that's fact based.
2. Get the CEO on board.
Gain the CEO's backing. It is critical that the company leadership, especially the CEO, be willing to accept the truth about the brand, no matter how difficult. The CEO must understand the need for a rebranding, support the process and comprehend how these efforts interact with the overall business strategy. If the CEO isn’t fully engaged and on board, most likely the rebranding will fail.
3. Watch out for the disadvantages of experience.
It’s difficult fo ran entrenched management team to go through any business transformation, including rebranding. Given managers' previous role in building the brand, they can at times be defensive. In many cases, managers can have an “if it ain’t broke” mentality or question, “Why are we wasting money on a new color scheme?”
As a result, some companies opt for incremental change (leading to suboptimal results) instead of the more dramatic kind that might be necessary. Consultations with a branding agency with fresh, objective eyes can add value. And if you're the new chief marketing officer, you might be the one to offer that fresh perspective. Take advantage of that chance.
4. Arrange for organizational buy-in.
Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to mediocre results. Figure out the key constituents to approach beyond the CEO. This clearly depends on the organization, but engaging with the sales and product organizations is usually a good start. A CFO can also be an important ally.
Keep in mind that the process is not a consensus-seeking exercise as everyone won't agree on the need for a rebranding or the end result. Not everyone needs to be in alignment, but involving key constituents early can lead to support for the outcome especially if they understand the how and why.
5. Follow a logical sequence of events.
Developing a plan of action to change a brand requires a structured process. And the process is not just about addressing color palettes and new logos. Align the rebranding plan with the corporate strategy. It's not necessary to do everything all at once. A phased approach can lead to better results and a more manageable budget.
6. Know what you don’t know.
Don’t assume that you must be the expert on every single step of the rebranding process. Consider bringing in an outside firm that can offer expertise and objectivity. Think about hiring an agency partner with a speciality in branding and pay attention to its process, previous successes and articulation of what's needed. Don’t hire an agency whose staffers say only what you want to hear. Hire one with team members unafraid to offer a little tough love.
7. Consider letting someone else tell the new story.
There’s something to be said for letting a company's story tell itself. Sometimes the right avenue is opting for a spokesperson or character unrelated to the company to deliver the new brand message (think Hotels.com’s Captain Obvious or Progressive insurance company’s Flo). A third party providing the firm's message can provide greater flexibility, through use of humor or a relatable story, and might feel less self-serving.
8. Manage expectations.
Many will expect immediate success from a rebranding effort, such as a huge increase in customer demand for the company's products. This may not happen. Let constituents know what to expect and determine baseline metrics for measuring success.
Depending on whether the company has an iconic consumer brand or is a business-to-business technology veteran, the rebranding process can vary. But it takes diligence before, during and on an ongoing basis to create an image that resonates with employees, company executives, investors, customers and others.