Rebranding process. When is the time right?

The rebranding process for a product, service or company is not something that should be entered into lightly. (Read about brand relaunching here) Still, because markets are more competitive today, rebranding is a strategy that the most aggressive brands need to consider. If your rebranding process is going to be successful, there are a few ground rules you must follow.

Your most difficult job when rebranding is to be dispassionate

Embarking on a scientific rebranding process is a difficult choice
Knowing when is the key to rebranding

You must create some separation between your emotional attachments to your brand and market realities. Often you will have an emotional investment in some brand values that are simply not important to the prospect. The whole idea of a rebranding process (read about our rebranding process here) is to fix problems not reinforce old and worn out ideas. We often find that when you strip away all the clutter of messaging and values that companies claim as their own, the essence that is left has little meaning beyond the generic benefits of your category.

When you dispassionately look at your brand, is it underperforming? Are those reasons for underperformance linked to your brand’s meaning in the category or because your product or service is a bit out of date and has lost some relevance in the market? Even the mot rigorous rebranding process cannot fix a defective product offering.

The product or service itself should be updated and fixed before any rebranding process. Nothing is more wasteful than a finely tuned brand message (which promises the customer an emotional connection) and a product that is now irrelevant. Fix the hardware first. Then we can fix the software.

Interestingly, even the world’s most successful brands, like Apple and Starbuck’s, like to think they are underperforming. The reason for this is found in their corporate DNA. These are fiercely competitive companies that have deep passion and love their products and services, and are never satisfied with results. They believe underperforming is when any customer chooses a brand beside their own. They truly believe that every customer should be theirs. It is their laser focus on their brand promise that keeps them on track. In so many ways their brand is constantly being honed and sharpened by the simple way they approach their business itself. In many ways, these successful brands are engaged in an ongoing rebranding process. They think of their brand as fluid.

Once you start a rebranding process you see things differently
Don’t overlook anything in your rebranding process

To critically evaluate your brand’s performance, you need to assess the performance in a dispassionate way. Is the problem your brand or your marketing? Brand should be a powerful marketing tool but it is often confused with the tactical application of current marketing.

Marketing had its own department, a department that is responsible for the tactical application of product messaging. Brand is the foundation that the marketing message should be built upon. It has within its bricks and mortar the permission from the prospect and customer to be important. It is why the prospect should believe your marketing message. It is why they can count on your message for importance and place.

Are you being outspent and more importantly out hustled? Success in any category, regardless of venue, is a mixture of connection, smarts, guile and spending. And in that order.

The rebranding process. Take a look at your brand and answer these questions:

  1. Where do you sit in the competitive ranking of marketing and advertising spending? There is often a direct correlation to spend and market share. If the following questions are all answered in the affirmative, then you may simply be outspent. The spend is meant to ensure that you do not have an awareness issue. Awareness does not create preference, but no one can buy or use a brand you have never heard of.
  2. How is your brand’s distribution? It is as simple to access as your competitor’s brand? This idea is tied to availability and, today, availability means browser and social media visibility also. Check your keywords and see if they are effectively communicating your position. Distribution is more complicated since Facebook, Twitter and Google defined communications. It’s no longer just about distribution channels, sales force training and retail end-caps.
  3. Tied to distribution is packaging and differentiation. Does your packaging stand out on the competitive shelf? If you are in the US, take a look at your local beer aisle. Notice how different the New Belgium Brewery (and Fat Tire) packaging compares to the competition? Five years ago, it stood alone in this. Today, more are copying it and, as a result, you will notice a series of flanker brands by this brewery. It is an indication that New Belgium is aware of the competitive glut. This is part of any rebranding process.
  4. How is your pricing? Pricing is the next milestone in deciding to rebrand if your awareness and spending are acceptable and the distribution and packaging availability are sound. The analytics to this pricing answer is more complicated than it seems on the surface because you could mistake this question as simply asking, “Is my brand cheaper?” Cheaper is simply segmentation for value buyers in your category. Cheaper is not always better. Last time we checked, most market leaders were priced in the top 10% of category pricing.
  5. What is your message? It needs to own a single-minded meaning, not a short list of attributes. The clutter we referred to earlier on is that short list of attributes. As hard as it may seem, deciding the single most important attribute and forgoing the rest is the first step to success. More is never better. In any rebranding process, when you have multiple values as part of your message it translates into a lack of confidence in your brand. Once you decide on that single-minded idea you need to ensure that it is emotional. Is that emotional message being conveyed in a believable and important way? This is where you start considering a rebrand when the other four questions are answered adequately and yet your brand is still underperforming.

Don’t overlook anything in your rebranding process

Think about deodorant for a moment. How many of them do you see on the shelf today? How has this changed over the past 25 years? In other words, this category is more crowded than ever. But all claim to eliminate underarm perspiration and unpleasant sweat smells. This is not a brand definition. It is a category minimum value. There is not one deodorant that claims, “Use it and you will sweat like a shower and smell like a rodent.”

The message needs to reflect a powerfully human emotional need or an evocative emotional desire in the target market. You should consider rebranding if your brand does not perform in this way and instead claims something parochial, technical or as a benefit that is not emotionally charged. We see this problem all the time in medical device manufacturers. They are a culture built upon engineering and naturally see everything they make as a technical decision. Yet we know through first hand experience that they only true differentiator that they own is their brand promise. To see how similar most messaging is, look around you, outside your own category because our own perceptions within our category will be biased and clouded.

Consider the banking industry

Let’s look at banks and their rebranding efforts. What do banks promise in their messages? They all promise stability, safety, friendliness, convenience, many Bancomats or ATMs, and competitive rates. So great. They are all banks. But how is the prospect and customer to choose? Because the category brands are so poorly defined, banks build market share by being on the correct side of the road or nearest home or work. There are no brands in this category. There are only banks. You can see the foolishness of the brand marketing in this category and the terrible ROI in the marketing spend.

If you put the same critical looking glass on your own category, you would see much of the same poor category benefit branding. The rebranding process is an important consideration but the ROI must make business sense. Sometimes, the name needs to change. Sometimes, it requires a new logo, a new “brand skinning” to give it permission to be new and different from the previous brand iteration. It is very hard to be seen new, fresh and different when nothing has visually changed.

But different and fresh are not nearly enough. When your goal is to increase your market share and boost your margins, “pretty” and “different” are just the beginnings.

You need a new brand and a message that emotionally says what you promise and why you are important. The logo and mark must convey the same message. Too many brands skip locking the theme with the logo. It is a mistake. We always lock them because your ROI improves when there is no room for mistaking your emotional stake in the ground. Providing that emotional promise is real and conveyed with clarity. Use every drop of real estate you can own to sell that emotional benefit and declare loudly to those it is intended to influence that your brand is absolutely for them.

The rebranding process brings clarity to confusion
When should you rebrand? How about now?

The market is mature

Think about deodorant for a moment. How many of them do you see on the shelf today? How has this changed over the past 15 years? In other words, this category is more crowded than ever. But they all claim to eliminate underarm perspiration and unpleasant sweat smells. This is not a brand definition. It is a category minimum value.

There is not one deodorant that claims, “Use it and you will sweat like a shower and smell like a rodent.” The message needs to reflect a powerfully human emotional need or an evocative emotional desire in the target market. You should consider a  rebranding process if your brand does not perform in this way and instead claims something parochial, technical or as a benefit that is not emotionally charged. To see how similar most messaging is, look around you, outside your own category because our own perceptions within our category will be biased and clouded.

Talk to us. You will know in an hour’s time if our rebranding process is a smart return on investment and if our  rebranding process makes sense. Just remember, your brand is more central to your success and returns greater value than the finest creative work from the worlds best agencies. The graveyard of marketing is littered with the bones of highly creative executions and faulty brand reasoning.