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Launching a Successful Rebrand

By: Aniko Hill
Posted: November 5, 2008, from the November 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

Navigating the world of brand management is a tricky endeavor. There is no real rule of thumb on how often to refresh a brand, or what timing is appropriate. Since branding is ultimately the public’s perception of a product or service, it is natural for a brand to evolve over time as changes in the market impact the brand experience or if the overall culture transforms. Branding transcends fashion or trends, so it is often difficult for business owners to know if what they are presenting to the market is out of style. Although there may not be a perfect moment in a company’s growth for launching a rebrand, there are a few instances that make for good timing that the brand’s target consumer will understand and accept.

Rebranding typically involves either a refresh, a marriage or a full rebrand. Branding for an established company can be delicate, as there is always baggage that needs to be addressed—particularly if the product is fairly well-known. Consumers will already have their own ideas of what it stands for, and changing this perception is a complex undertaking. In contrast, new brands can be approached with a clean slate since the public has no experience yet.

Fresh Outlook

In some instances, rebranding can be handled with a refresh. A refresh is like a modest face lift—it tightens everything up and keeps it looking current. When it’s all over, the brand will still look like itself. The most common reason for a refresh is simply time. Part of the objective of a refresh is to address a dated look and feel, but there are often other shifts in a company’s product lineup or ideology that warrant an evolution. Refreshing a brand usually begins with an identity update, including logo design and color scheme. The updated identity is then implemented across all touchpoints—such as printed collateral, packaging, Web site and retail environments.

In the past 10 years or so, there have been a slew of branding refreshes to modernize brands that were established in the golden age of advertising—the ’50s and ’60s. Usually, these refreshes involve keeping the main concept of the original identity but creating an evolved look and feel.

For example, UPS kept the original 1960s shield concept in its new mark but did away with the wrapped package element in order to open the company up to being more than just a shipping and delivery service. Chevron’s recent refresh kept the same military-inspired mark and overall color scheme of the original logo while modernizing the letterform design and the graphic rendering style. Since these brands are so iconic, there was equity in the logo marks that was maintained in the refresh. Additionally, the original concepts behind the marks were conceptually sound, allowing for a strong foundation for the refresh.

Happy Marriages

In the instance of corporate mergers, acquisitions or new management, a brand marriage may be appropriate. The recent merger of FedEx and Kinko’s required a new logo mark to make the FedEx business-to-business brand more consumer-friendly. The solution maintained the existing FedEx word mark while introducing a colorful icon. In the case of the NBC-Universal brand marriage, the NBC peacock mark was combined with a gestural globe element to fuse the two existing brands, allowing each sub-brand to continue to operate under its respective identity. Since most mergers are a conceptual fit by nature, a brand marriage can often be addressed with a new corporate mark and relatively minor updates to the brand communications pieces. However, for the small- to mid-sized company, new management can mean a completely new direction for a company, in which case an entirely new branding direction would be appropriate.

New Direction

A full rebrand is a completely new conceptual and strategic direction for the brand, architected and executed across the corporate identity and all brand touchpoints. Reasons for a full rebrand include a shift in the overall company leadership, evolution or change in product lineup, or expansion into new consumer markets. Small- to mid-sized companies often grow organically without a solid brand platform and will inevitably arrive at a plateau in their sales or overall growth. Some of the time, this can be partially attributed to lack of evolution in product development—but more often, it is a lack of connection between the brand and the audience that keeps the company from maximizing its potential. At this juncture, the brand often must be reassessed in order to propel the company to the next level. Even if a company is relatively successful, its brand can get lost in the marketplace if not properly differentiated from competitors, limiting its opportunities.

Target is one of the most recent examples of a company executing a successful rebrand. It’s hard to remember a time when Target wasn’t cool, but about 10 years ago the brand was perceived in the same light as other discount retail competitors such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. When thinking of Target, most people think of the iconic advertising campaign in which hip music fused with visually clever representations of the broad product offering.