Time to rebrand. Or maybe not.

by Roger Sametz

Your brand–what your organization means and promises–is “out there,” and your job is to manage this important asset with intent. Sometimes that means embarking on a rebranding initiative. Sometimes not.

Even if people aren’t entirely clear what a brand is–much less what constitutes a strong brand–they’re pretty sure they need one. But before you embark on a process to re-define and re-articulate your brand, you first need to know where your organization is now (and where it’s going), the branding environment in which you operate, and what your competitors are doing. And to marshal appropriate resources, make good decisions, and ensure that the effort and time spent will actually make a positive difference, it’s important to understand why rebranding is necessary.

Following are five reasons to set about rebranding. Drivers for change can be external–or come from within your organization. And if within, different conditions, goals, and trajectories demand different amounts of work on your brand. Some of these reasons may be applicable to your organization. If none is, then perhaps your brand is not the problem–even if your CEO thinks it is. Read on to Rebrand is a “no.”

Rebrand is a “go”

The environment in which you operate has changed, and along with it, your customers’ expectations of how a brand in your space needs to look, mean, and behave

Worse, your competition is aggressively managing its brand to better connect with your customers. What you’re offering is still of value, but how customers and prospects think of you (and talk about you) is not what it needs to be for you to be competitive. Your brand is out of sync with the direction your industry is taking—and your customers don’t see themselves with your current brand. To not catch up with your competitors–or, better, leap over them–will take a toll.

Your communications—print and digital—just don’t look and sound like you

The competitive environment isn’t the problem, you’re on top of your offerings and operations, and your organization isn’t undergoing change. But the messages you’re putting out there aren’t telling your story and how you express yourself visually engenders more than a little embarrassment: you have to apologize every time you slide a brochure across the table or give someone your URL. Your print and digital materials–perhaps even your logo–are subtracting value from your offerings. A re-look at how you express yourself verbally and visually is in order.

You’ve evolved, but your brand hasn’t.

Your organization is in the forefront. You’ve continued to innovate, but how you’re understood lags, and those out-of-date perceptions are dragging down both mindshare and marketshare. The good news: your brand foundation is solid–you’ve a vision, model, and value that can inform new messages, new visual expression, and an evolved brand. Do it.

You’re transforming your organization

The change you’re undergoing is more revolution than evolution. You’ve identified new lines of business, a new model, new markets to serve—so your brand, down to its fundamentals–perhaps even your name–needs to be re-thought and re-built. While you’re not remotely a start-up, in some respects you are: you need to carefully articulate who your constituents are and what they care about and expect. You can then develop new messages–and your new visual system (and name and tagline) can be invented to be exactly in sync with your transformation. New print and digital communications can telegraph and bring excitement to this transformation.

You’ve grown through mergers and acquisitions, but does anyone understand who you are now?

You’ve assembled a great organization with the capabilities and people you need, but you’ve also piled up a raft of logos, taglines, brand promises, and competing visual approaches. It takes five floors to get across your elevator message. Time to look at your brand architecture, decide which accumulated brands will live or die, develop messages that will communicate and connect, and craft a visual system that will hold things together. Your almost-new-from-the-ground-up brand will present an organization that people will “get” and value.

Rebrand is a “no”

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. Just say “no” and head off change for ego’s sake. Perhaps a new marketing campaign (that also reinforces your brand) is in order. Your CEO / CMO isn’t a dog walking by a fire hydrant.

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 problem. Brands are comprised of offerings, communications, history, and behavior––and the meaning and value that these components have in your constituents’ heads. Fix what’s really broken, first.

Sweeping what’s really broken under the metaphorical brand rug might disguise the real issue, but only temporarily. And the dirt is still under the rug.

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.

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 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.

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 are selling 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 tried this––then that––and have not had 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 results. Brand-building is a process, not an event, and even the best rebrands take time to deliver results.