Rebranding is one of the most misused terms I have heard in my career. Agencies often use the term in their sales pitch to convince potential clients to hire them. The pitch promises a significant improvement in bottom line performance. But, more often than not, these exercises end up being little more than creating a new logo or a set of branding guidelines. They fall way short of the client’s expectation of revitalized business growth. Why is that?
In large part this is because rebranding is a misnomer.
Rebranding means to break with your existing brand promise and embrace a new (presumably more effective) brand promise. It means walking away from the investment you have made to communicate your current brand promise because you believe so strongly in the new brand promise.
Do an online search of successful rebranding examples and you will uncover discussions on updated campaigns, redesigned packaging, new logos, and the addition of new target audiences in a marketing plan. None of these examples represents rebranding. All the examples you will find build off an existing core brand promise and potentially do a better job of communicating it, bring visual consistency to a product line, or introduce the brand promise to a new group of people.
So, why do agencies call this work rebranding? Because it allows them to charge for walking your brand through their existing process.
If you contacted them to simply create a new promotional campaign, or develop a set of brand guidelines they couldn’t charge as much as promising to rebrand the business.
Don’t be fooled by the promise of a rebranding exercise, and certainly don’t set a false expectation on the business impact you will get.
Are there any examples of true rebranding? Admittedly, there are not many examples of where rebranding was successful. But here are a few.
- Coca-Cola is a great example. It was originally brought to market in 1886 as a nerve tonic to relieve exhaustion. Cocaine was removed from the product in 1903 and it was successfully rebranded as a soft drink.
- Listerine was originally marketed as a general purpose antiseptic in 1879 and then successfully rebranded in 1895 as a cure for bad breath.
- Bubble Wrap was introduced in 1957 as a textured wallpaper. In 1959 it was successfully rebranded for the purpose of keeping products safe in transit.
- Frisbee was actually a tin pie plate made by the Frisbie Pie Company (note the spelling difference to avoid trademark patent violation). When college students began tossing the tin plate around, Wham-O decided to successfully rebrand the plate as a toy.
- Play-Doh was originally marketed in 1933 as a wallpaper cleaner. Then, in 1956 it was successfully rebranded as a pliable modeling clay.
In each of these examples, the original brand promise was left behind for a new brand promise. If you are willing to walk away from your existing brand promise to pursue a new brand promise, then investing in rebranding makes perfect sense. In fact, you could argue it is mandatory for success.
Before you contract an agency to do a rebranding exercise, you should be absolutely certain you are willing to walk away from your existing brand promise and you have a clear idea of what the new business opportunity looks like for your product/service. Otherwise, simply contract for what you really need (e.g. new campaign, new package design, a set of brand guidelines, etc.). Don’t pay a premium for a rebranding effort, and don’t set unrealistic business impact expectations for the end result.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Ed Burghard and excerpted from his book Building Brands: What Really Matters
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