Lessons from the Rebranding Trenches

When it comes to elevating your organization, it can be tempting to rebrand just for the sake of something shiny and new. Yet, when it comes to revising your organization's brand, timing is everything.

That's why the successful organizations initiate a rebrand around key triggers or junctures in their business lifecycle. For example, sometimes a rebrand is the outcome of reimagining your business’ purpose through updating your vision, mission and strategic plan. At other times, it’s to accommodate new growth through an acquisition or add a new product or service line.

In other cases, it's to celebrate milestones or anniversaries, which was the case for Pierpont. We initiated the rebranding process last fall to honor our 30th anniversary this year. However, we've used this rebrand to not only reinvigorate our messaging and visual identity, but more importantly, to also refocus our strategy for continued success over the decades to come.

No doubt going through a rebrand can be an arduous undertaking, but the payoff is well worth the time, money and effort invested. That's because rebrands create new focus for your business goals, infuse new life into your organizational culture and provide a refreshed messaging and visual framework to share your unique brand story.

So if you’re in the process of exploring a rebrand refresh, here are a few lessons learned from our recent experience.

Get an outside perspective.

After 30 years in the public relations and marketing industry, at Pierpont, we clearly know how to work with clients to identify differentiators, map strategies and creatively execute to achieve powerful results. Yet, our time in the marketing trenches, working with diverse clients from all types of verticals, means we also understand how difficult it can be to objectively evaluate and discern your true brand value.

That's why we took our own advice in initiating a rebrand, opting to work with a veteran marketing consultant to guide us each step along the way. Similarly, it’s essential to go beyond your organizational walls and look to an external partner who can help you navigate the process. Keep in mind, too, that the ideal partner should go well beyond the glitz of a new logo to provide a rock-solid approach to your strategy and messaging as well.

Mind your business, then your brand.

Executing a successful rebrand means first clearly understanding and articulating your business drivers. In some cases a rebrand is the visual outcome of an extensive strategic visioning and planning initiative. However, if extensive strategic planning hasn't already been undertaken, it's essential to pull out that trusty (or perhaps rusty) SWOT and reevaluate your core business strategy to discern how a refreshed brand can best support your goals, while reaching your target audiences.

It's also important to understand the current perception of your most important stakeholders—as well as quantifying the value you bring to them. Even if you don’t have the budget for extensive market research, you can still garner feedback through informal questionnaires via Survey Monkey. Or you could reach out to key customers or prospects through one-on-one phone conversations or larger, more structured focus groups. The goal is to gain a holistic, 360-degree view of your company’s perceived value.

If the logo falls off, will they know it’s you?

One of the biggest mistakes I observe among organizations looking to rebrand is failing to use the rebrand as an opportunity to dig deeper and truly identify, and articulate, your unique brand story. In other words, it’s far too common that organizations go through this entire process, spending valuable time and resources, only to walk away with a brand message that sounds exactly like the competition—usually full of industry jargon and meaningless buzzwords.

The question to keep asking yourself through this process (as we did time and time again) is: “If our logo fell off, could our competitors slap their logo on our message?”

If the answer is yes, you haven’t yet arrived at your core brand value. Unless you have some proprietary product or service with a well-established brand, chances are the nature of what you do or offer is, in fact, similar to your competitors. That’s why it’s essential that through the rebrand process, you must keep digging deeper to more clearly define why you do it (your purpose or reason for being) and how you do it differently or better (your unique value proposition).

Know how far your audiences are willing to go.

Do you remember April 23, 1985? That was the day Coca-Cola decided to buck its 99-year history and change the formula and packaging on its flagship cola beverage. I have to admit that as an 11-year-old Coca-Cola fan, I was excited to experience the hype of New Coke ushered into the world by the stuttering, futuristic Max Headroom. But New Coke lasted a mere 79 days before the original formula, rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic, returned to store shelves.

In the decades since this very public debacle, many organizations have pushed to rebrand, only to later realize they went too far. Brands take years to build, but only minutes to destroy. Knowing how far you can take your rebrand with your audiences—both in your messaging and visual look and feel—is fundamental to your success.

Because at the end of the day, the rebranding is a balancing of act of pushing your own boundaries and challenging your own thinking—and retaining those elements of your brand that your audiences have come to know, trust and love.

An award-winning writer, Lara Zuehlke is Pierpont's Director of Content and works with diverse organizations in defining and refining their unique brand stories. Connect with her on LinkedIn.