When change is unnecessary: Five reasons not to embark on re-branding

In the last fifteen years or so, “brand” has evolved from being what differentiated various kinds of toothpaste to being the buzzword and must-have it is today. And the stronger your brand, the better. But that doesn’t mean that re-branding your enterprise is a panacea for all that ails.

Not too long ago, many thought of a brand as something that only attached to (and benefited) consumer goods: toothpaste, cars, detergent, or jeans. That began to change when savvy marketers realized that having a clear and differentiated value proposition, promise, and position in the landscape could be a leg-up for any kind of product, service, or offering—and could actually provide a competitive advantage at both the product and enterprise levels.

Organizations of all stripes got on the brandwagon––many of which, just a few years earlier, would have shied away from something so “vulgar.” Now symphony orchestras, museums, institutional asset managers, colleges and universities––and, as we all know, politicians––both embrace and actively attend to their brands. All learned that when a brand’s promise and meaning combine both rational and emotional reasons to care, products can be freed from the confines of being viewed as commodities; schools can better attract desired students; symphonies can raise more money; and all can extend and deepen constituents’ connections beyond the actual item or experience offered. Wrapping offering-focused messages within higher-level brand messages moves people from “I should do x” to “I really want to do x”––a good thing.

Organizations of all stripes have learned that when a brand’s promise combines both rational and emotional reasons to care, one can extend and deepen connections with constituents.

Brand went from being what differentiated cavity-fighting toothpaste from whitening toothpaste from all-natural toothpaste, and being the buzzword and must-have it is today. Organizations now focus both on their offerings, and the broader context of those offerings. They understand that the meaning, values, and affect transmitted by their brand can influence the choice between two offerings that provide similar features and benefits.

Organizations now focus both on their offerings, and the broader context of those offerings. Wrapping product- or offering-focused messages within higher-level brand messages moves people from “I should do x” to “I really want to do x”––a good thing.

Still, this exultation of brand does not mean it’s a panacea for all that ails, or that attending to one’s brand––or more significantly, rebranding––is a sure road to success. While there are good reasons to invest in rebranding (see the first article in this series, Five Reasons to Embark on Rebranding), there are an equal number of good reasons not to.

If any of the situations below sound like your organization, investing in rebranding may not be where your efforts should be placed…

1. You have a new CEO or CMO and he or she wants to make sure the world knows it.

Your brand meaning is in sync with your organization and its offerings, your constituents understand and remember it, you’re differentiated in the competitive landscape….but the new sheriff in town wants a new logo and look and feel. Just say no––and do your best to head off change for ego’s sake. Suggest that a new marketing campaign––one that also reinforces your brand––is in order. Just say “no” and head off change for ego’s sake.

2. What’s holding you back is a product or service that’s not sufficiently compelling.

If what you’re offering under-performs or doesn’t fill real needs, it’s unlikely that rebranding it, or your organization, will address those problems, and it could actually land you in more trouble. (Such rearrangement of the deck chairs is also likely to bring on ridicule on social media.) Fix what’s really broken, first.

3. You have operational issues in your marketing, sales, or communication areas.

Your brand, and branded communications, may be just what they need to be. But if those charged with planning and delivering your message, making connections, and following up are underperforming––or there’s dysfunction within and across these areas––expending resources to evolve your verbal and visual brand framework is not going to fix these internal organizational issues. Brands are organic frameworks that people have to continually live and execute to make them resonate.

4. You want to present yourself as an organization that you can’t credibly be, or become.

Your brand needs to be an honest, authentic representation of who you are, credibly informed by your aspirations. But your brand can only get so far ahead, or to one side, of reality: disconnects take a lot of time to repair. Years ago, Haagen Dazs tried to own the granola-fed, Birkenstock-shod Vermont brand attributes of Ben & Jerry’s. It didn’t work. To thine own self… Your brand needs to be an honest, authentic representation of who you are, credibly informed by your aspirations. It can only get so far ahead, or to one side, of reality.

5. You’re looking for a successful “Hail Mary!” pass: other things you’ve tried haven’t worked.

Whether you’re an arts organization, financial services firm, institution of higher education, or retailer of vacuum cleaners, it’s a competitive world out there. You have to get the word out, make connections, resonate with constituents, create positive buzz, and deliver something of value. It’s hard. If you’ve tired this, that, and the other thing, and haven’t seen success, your brand might need tuning up. But beware of digging in to what could be a very substantial project just because you’ve checked off all the other boxes and they haven’t delivered the results you were looking for.

Brands are comprised of your offerings, communications, history, behavior, and promises––and the meaning and value that these have in your constituents’ heads. Brand-building is a process, not an event, and brands–– certainly the strong, recognizable ones––take time to build up and gain currency in their competitive environments. Brands that have their genesis in reaction, desperation, manipulation, or provocation rarely find a positive footing—and even worse, can create more of an uphill battle for organizations seeking to connect with their constituents, clients, and customers.

Brand-building is a process, not an event, and brands take time to build up and gain currency in their competitive environments.

So be extra cautious before taking your brand apart. So be extra cautious before taking your brand apart, or reinventing it, for the wrong reasons. It may take a lot of time and money (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears) to get back to where you started.