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Nike, McDonald’s, Uber, Netflix: These companies operate in wildly different industries, but they’re all similar in that they’ve gone through a significant rebrand at some point. This type of transformation may eventually become necessary in your own business, simply because market demands are so fluid. But there are nuances to consider in how and when to rebrand, such as how competitive your market is. Even big brands, such as Capital One, Weight Watchers and Sears have suffered big rebranding failures.
Part of the reason so many companies fail with rebranding is that they approach it in a superficial way (e.g., new colors, slogans or logos). Successful rebrands, however, represent or are the result of deeper transformations that have already happened in your organization. They show that your business has questioned its identity and that you’re trying to close the gap between how people perceive you and the way you really are or want to be. Increasing curiosity, collaboration and confidence should be at the heart of this process and can reduce the risk rebranding presents.
Creating a safe space for the right questions
In my company, we decided it was time to rebrand as we looked to move into new markets and new revenue channels in a post-pandemic world. We initially thought that we had to start over and let everything go, including bringing in new leadership. We even brought in an imaging firm to crystalize the direction we wanted to take and pin down our value proposition.
But when we looked at the business, we still saw good bones. Many of our workers had been with us for years. They needed reassurance that we weren’t going to disregard everything they’d built and the effort that had gone into it. So one big gesture we made was to keep the original company name, a decision the team met with an ovation. We intentionally explained that the rebrand was about recentering together on a common mission and purpose so we could grow, not about tearing down everything we had.
Once the team had some security that we absolutely intended to acknowledge their legacy, we were able to let curiosity blossom. We asked ourselves good questions, such as what the business would look like if we explored different markets. We made a choice to be more inquisitive with our customers, as well, so that we could learn in real-time what their needs and wants were.
Building a transparent, more inclusive two-way street
As our team explored, we naturally started to question and analyze the way we were coming together. How were employees collaborating, not only with colleagues but with customers? We had to face the fact our inward-facing approach had been one of the biggest factors behind our revenue loss. In a more traditional way, we had been taking all our ideas and services and essentially telling the customers what was going to happen. Only the biggest clients really had much influence on the decisions we made. We realized that we wanted — needed — to be more external-facing, and that staying competitive depended on a much more balanced relationship with the customers we had.
So we built new ways for the team to share ideas and information. We shifted our model so that now, we ask people what works best for them and consider everybody, rather than just our “best” customers. We’re also transparent about our pricing and the margin we’re trying to get. That openness has become a differentiator for us within the market.
Pumping people up with the tools already in the box
Rebranding might be a sign of change that’s already happened or is in play, but shifts can still be nerve-wracking and stressful. People don’t always feel very confident through the transition even when they’re sure of what they want the brand‘s identity to be, just because they’re entering territory they’ve never been in before. In the back of their minds, they ask, “Can we really go from here to there?”
My organization had plenty of this doubt. But as we looked again at our effort and legacy, we saw plenty of success: Individual employees excelled, we elevated each other and rose to challenges. We reminded everyone what they had contributed and the results we had achieved together, and we connected their skills to the new identity we’d homed in on to show we did have what we needed to thrive. With a new jolt of confidence, the team was able to give the rebrand their full commitment.
For rebranding success, stand on these three cornerstones
Business stands still for no one, not even the richest of the rich. It’s thus not a matter of if you rebrand, but when. You will change, even if that means only adding new values to the ones you’ve already got, and in the sense that rebrands signify growth, they’re good things. The most successful transformations activate curiosity, get people to work together in new ways and reassure everyone involved that they are capable of truly living the identity you want. Make these areas your cornerstones and you’ll mitigate much of the risk rebrands admittedly carry.