Rebranding: a how-to guide

From recognising the right opportunities to building up a network of ambassadors, we present a comprehensive guide to managing and reshaping your brand.  

1.  When should a rebrand be done? 

Rebranding will inevitably come to the top of the agenda at some stage of every communication director’s career. There is often an underlying issue of rebranding when a new communications  director is recruited, so it may be one of the first tasks to be tackled in a new job. In any case, as communications cycles, media channels and tastes accelerate, brands need to be reconsidered regularly.

"Rebranding will inevitably come to the top of the agenda at some stage of every communication director’s career."

Business to business companies generally revisit their branding every 10 to 15 years. Of course, the time to rebrand may also be defined by events such as mergers, acquisition, or reorganisations.

2.  Context and mandate 

Depending on whether the branding is perceived by top management as their priority, or as a “technical” need proposed by the communications team, the challenges faced in successfully carrying out the plan can be entirely different. If you are deploying a rebrand on your own initiative, your very first task is to get top management completely on board. That means constructing a business case built on the rationale for the operation, using the arguments from within your organisation, benchmarking and qualified advice. One convincing argument is to demonstrate where direct competitors lie in the branding landscape, another being to demonstrate potential gains from the rebrand (for example, measurable cost savings).

Any statistics will also back authoritative arguments: brand perception through customer surveys or through internal satisfaction enquiries, for example, or brand perception thorough third party market surveys. Another effective approach can be simply to illustrate the negative effects of “brand disorder”: when brand disparity is highly visible in the organisation and detracts from clarity and coherence. Whatever your business case, don’t be afraid to use your specialist skills to present it: take a step beyond PowerPoint and bring your story to life with a creative approach – for example try walking your top management team through a poster display.

3.  Plan and budget

Your plan will include measuring the status quo in terms of brand collateral and internal and external perception, as well as compiling a report and extrapolating the conclusions into possible brand scenarios. Approval of scenarios will be the point at which you actually do the creative work and then start to roll out the new brand approach. A preliminary idea of how much your management is willing to invest is one of the factors that will help determine your approach: a mid- to large-scale specialised branding agency who can take on the entire task, or specialist help from agencies and/or consultants on a step-by-step basis. Large specialised agencies often structure their costing as a function of the size (turnover) of your company whereas you may find you can get a good branding job done by local, less specialised agencies at competitive prices.

Base your choices on your purchasing capacity and on the scale of the branding issues. For a mid-sized international B to B company, a budget of less than 40,000 euros means you’re probably only getting a design-oriented brand on a local scale. If you’re paying over one million euros, you should be getting a full service from one of the world’s leading agencies. 

4.  Methodology

Determining where your existing brand stands is an important first step. All brand collateral (publications, advertising, websites, social media, internal communications, trade shows, point-of-sale displays, product branding, photography, iconography) needs to be collected and analysed. Semiologists can provide insights into the subtext of your brand and decode for you what is subconsciously understood by stakeholders. 

It is also very important to collect perceptions and opinions about your brand collateral. This can be done either though quantitative methods (surveys addressing a representative proportion of your target groups) or by qualitative methods (panels, individual interviews, phone survey and so on). The more this is delegated to a third party, the easier it is to collect neutral and unbiased opinions about your brand, including comparisons with competing brands or market references. It is important to select your target groups for qualitative analysis: for example, representative groups of each customer segment, shareholders, others stakeholders, and internal groups who are the most concerned by deployment of the brand (in general this will be marketing and sales).

Finally, it is always important to seek the opinion of strong influencers: these might be board members, CEO, Industry associations, or other opinion leaders. Qualitative surveys can often produce near-equivalent results to quantitative surveys, at much lower cost and often with striking verbatim insights. However it is important in all cases to include internal stakeholders, who not only have the most experience of the brand, but can also potentially be the biggest barrier to change. In every rebrand that I have experienced, the two main conclusions were that customer groups were surprisingly easy to convince about change, whereas internal users were the most difficult to convince. Involving them in the preliminary discussion panels is a way both to collect their opinions (which can have strong value in the rebrand) and to give them a feeling of ownership and involvement rather than feeling bulldozed by the project. 

5.Brand values

Once you have defined a clear picture of your perceived brand values, you are ready to compare that perception with your intended brand values. Most well-constructed strategies include definitions of company values and these can easily be expressed in a simplified brand value statement: 

For  define the customer target group(s)
(Brand)    define the unique selling proposal
That define the added value for the target group(s)
Because define the reasons why the brand can achieve (the unique selling proposal)

The next step is to develop from this a Brand Value pyramid (see illustration below). This will often be an iterative process, moving upwards from the bottom of the pyramid. This can be conducted with working groups taken from various populations of the company until a consensus is reached, in particular the three key words to define brand personality.

"Most well-constructed strategies include definitions of company values and these can easily be expressed in a simplified brand value statement."

The top of the pyramid may be refined by iteration but when I took my most recent example to the CEO along with the best few ideas for the brand promise, he was immediately able to give me his own one-word brand promise, which has worked perfectly for the organisation. 

A useful tool that can be deduced from the work on brand values is a list of attributes: what the brand is (this will be the three key brand personality worlds), what the brand stands for (these may be already explicitly defined for example as company values) and what the brand is not. The beauty of listing attributes that must be avoided is that it provides a checklist for verifying the compliancy of any new brand collateral,  making it extremely easy to dismiss any proposed advertising material that reveals any ‘off limits’ attributes. 

The next step in your process is compilation: a summary of the attributes of your existing brand, identifying all the points that do not correspond with your intended brand values. The key question here is “does it fit?” and you should keep in mind all the possible attributes of your brand 

  • Do the shape, size and color of your logo fit? (if your intended values are modern or futuristic or top end or low end…)
  • Do your brand colors fit? (semiologists can give you all the subconscious attributes associated with various colors and combinations of colors)
  • Does your typeset fit? 
  • Does your photography fit? 
  • Do you have coherency for your typesets, photography, iconography? 
  • What is the existing and intended territory covered by your current branding? (are there areas that are branded, but should not be, or areas that are not branded, and should be?)

  • Map out the sub-brands and check the justification for each one and whether it needs a separate existence. 

6.  Proposal 

Based on this compilation you are now ready to prepare proposals. Ideally, you should have several alternatives – but be sure you can live with all of them. The proposal should not yet be fully designed but should present a schematic solution of how the branding could work: how the design and ranking of the logos works out, how they are positioned in relation to one another, if and where distinguishing features are used for sub-brands, and an idea of how branded collateral might look using each solution.

The top management team should make a clear and informed choice of the brand scheme that they feel is most appropriate to the deployment of their strategy. Ideally, their decision is given with a brief and clear explanation so that it can be shared throughout the organisation as part of the preparation for change. 

7.  Design

Once that choice is made, you should move into the design phase. A brand designer can now work out a revised version of your logo, along with color scheme, photographic choices, typography, iconography and so on. It is best to chose samples of whatever collateral you use most, for example web page, stationery, annual report, internal magazine, truck tarpaulin or point-of-sale display. 

At the same time, the designer should compile the underlying rules to cover all cases of future deployment. Such rules are known as brand guidelines or a brand rulebook and should provide clear and simple instructions for layouts for each family of collateral. At the same time, it should be clear that the brand rules apply in all cases and that exceptions are dealt with and not ignored. You should be ready to answer enquiries and if necessary, adapt once the guidelines are published. 

Traditionally, these are compiled into a rulebook that is carefully placed on shelves throughout the organisation and never consulted again. Recent experience has demonstrated that digital tools are far superior, in that they are easily accessible, can be constantly updated and completed as needed, and that they can be accompanied by sets of templates that allow anyone throughout the company to create power point slides, basic advertising, stationery, leaflets, and so on. Another great advantage of a digital platform is that you can include a library of approved photography, icon set, colour code references, typography references – even lists of approved agencies or suppliers. 

8.  Change management

While this preparation work is ongoing, it is useful to begin releasing various sections of the new branding gradually (for example, on stationery). Typically, full deployment will take around six months. A new brand newsletter or webpage are minimalist solutions to accompany the change. Far more effective solutions includes circles of influence. I currently facilitate a network of brand ambassadors representing all the main sites and business units, who are also extremely useful in perpetuating brand awareness after the launch and in keeping branding tools and collateral alive.  

9.  Conclusion: success factors

The success of your rebrand will depend on having a rigorous process, good external advice, a brand that really reflects the true values of your organisation and on continuously checking and correcting after the brand launch.. 

Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith is Director of Group Communications at Umicore. He started his career in translation and copywriting before moving into communications, firstly with CGG (Compagnie Générale de Géophysique) before moving to Umicore in 1994. He held various positions in business unit communications before moving to corporate functions in branding and communications three years ago.