When to Consider a Rebrand (and How to Do It Right)
Your company's future might depend on your ability to periodically refresh your brand identity.
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s Juliet once asked. Perhaps a rose would smell just as sweet if it were called something else, but when it comes to your startup, a name can be integral to your brand.
Take the hard seltzer company Berczy — originally called NATRL, the founders decided to change their product's name as part of a comprehensive rebrand in order to better tell their origin story (the idea for the company was hatched during a trip to Toronto, during which the founders enjoyed evening drinks in the lively Berczy Park).
Each company has its own story to tell, and it’s essential to check in with your brand identity periodically and decide whether it’s still true to your company as it stands today. “A clear, unified corporate identity can be critical to competitive strategy,” write Stephen A. Greyser and Mats Urde for Harvard Business Review. “It serves as a north star, providing direction and purpose. It can also enhance the image of individual products, help firms recruit and retain employees, and provide protection against reputational damage in times of trouble.”
At my company, Jotform, we recently rebranded for the first time in over a decade. It required a considerable effort from the entire team but in the end, it was well worth it. Whether you’re considering a light refresh or a total brand overhaul, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Make sure the timing is right
Rebranding might seem like an exciting endeavor, but it’s also a big investment and as such, carries significant risks. To avoid wasting precious time and money, start by considering whether the timing is right for your rebrand. Although it’s impossible to state a hard-and-fast rule for every company, I usually tell founders to hold off until the market or their customers demand it.
What does that look like in practice?
When the old branding doesn’t feel relevant anymore, which can be caused by various factors, including moving into a new geographical market; an evolved company philosophy; or offering additional services. With Jotform, we expanded our business over the years and the former brand, including the tagline, “easy-to-use online form builder for every business,” no longer encapsulated how we serve users. Our new brand identity, which features an updated logo and tagline — ”powerful forms get it done” — reinforces the essence of Jotform.
A seemingly obvious case for rebranding is post-merger or acquisition — but even then, perhaps not right away. When the airlines Avianca and TACA merged, Fabio Villegas, CEO of Avianca Holdings, explained that each company had its own rich heritage, culture and business. Because of all of the coordination involved, writes Villegas, “We decided to unify the vision, culture and operations of the two organizations prior to launching a single brand.”
For them, it was the right decision to wait to ensure that the new branding aligned with the customer experience. It’s up to each entrepreneur to determine when is the right time for them.
2. Do some soul-searching
If you’ve decided that now is the time to rebrand, the next step requires some soul-searching: who are you and where do you want to go.
Greyser and Urde, who came up with The Corporate Brand Identity Matrix to help companies articulate their corporate identities, recommend breaking these essential inquiries into two categories: the internal elements, comprised of a company’s vision and mission, and the external elements: how the company wants to be perceived by customers and other external stakeholders.
With Jotform, internally, we want to help users create robust forms and collect important data. Externally, however, we want to be perceived as an innovative tech company alongside trailblazers like Google, Airtable, and monday.com. This informed our entire rebranding process.
Or take Burger King — its most recent logo captured the company’s then-values: A food company that focused on speed. But Burger King’s values have evolved over the years and today, it wants to be known as a casual restaurant that focuses on taste and quality, which prompted it to revitalize its retro-looking pre-1999 logo.
“As a rule of thumb, brand strategy always follows the business strategy. Not the other way around. The business sets the objectives. The brand gets them done,” writes The Go Branding.
Asking the essential internal and external questions will inform your decisions as you envision your company’s future identity.
3. Don’t rush the process
I’ll be the first to admit: There’s a special kind of rush that comes with posting updates about your company. When you’re in the rebranding process, it’s tempting to jump the gun in order to share your flashy new brand with the world.
But if you’ve committed your company’s resources to rebranding, make sure you take the time to do it right: to gather the information you need from stakeholders; to analyze that information; to let the creative process happen organically. As cognitive scientist Art Markman has written, “Creativity needs time and space to grow.”
Hack weeks are a great way to foster bursts of creativity, but give those ideas time to simmer, and I guarantee they’ll get even better. Think of it like winemaking: You can’t rush the process. Avianca Holdings took three years to finalize its rebranding, but the final product was worth it. “I have no doubt that we made the right decision,” writes Villegas.
To nail the landing, take as much time as your company, with its unique needs and customer-base, requires.
4. Include customers in the journey
When rebranding, don’t ignore the most important stakeholder of all: the customer. Consider the case of Uber: when it redesigned its logo, the new image featured an image called the “atom and bit.” The company thought it would make the brand easy to recognize, but as it turned out, 44% of people were couldn’t tell what the new logo represented.
Alexander Chernev, professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, commented that the logo was “just too abstract for customers who know Uber for its primary function: efficient and reliable transportation.”
Had Uber included customers earlier in the rebranding journey, its trajectory might have been different.
So, how do you meaningfully include customers?
The founders of Berczy said that they kept customers in the loop by sending emails and soliciting feedback along the way. You can share updates via social media. Send questionnaires or feedback forms so that your customers feel like part of the process.
Being transparent about the process will safeguard against disappointment when you finally have the chance to reveal your new branding.
Rebranding can be a powerful tool for giving your company a competitive edge — wait until the timing is right, do some organizational soul-searching, don’t rush the process and bring your customers along with you. Whether you’re considering a name-change or a total overhaul, just be sure the branding is true to your company’s internal and external ambitions.