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Rebranding has its risks. The greater risk? Ignoring these red flags.

Learn how to navigate the treacherous waters of rebranding by identifying and addressing the three most crippling symptoms.

Intro summary:

Rebranding? It’s not a game for the faint-hearted.

Here’s the kicker: not every change spells disaster.

There’s a disturbing trend showing up in companies that only gets multiplied when companies need to pivot or conduct an actual rebrand.

The underlying issue with these challenges results in three crippling symptoms that contaminate companies remaining nimble, staying observant and being ingenious.

Those crippling symptoms?

  1. Being overly cautious and tentative (and failing to accelerate the learning curve of what works and what doesn’t)
  2. Failing to know your audience (trying to please everyone internally while aiming at pleasing everyone externally)
  3. Ignoring micro-shifts in culture (that result in macro-shifts over years or decades. We must become hyper-observant of cultural micro-shifts.)

Rebranding. How to Own It.

Rebranding is the ultimate test of guts and survival in the business world. 

It’s where big players either soar or crash hard. 

And trust me, failure is an equal-opportunity employer with a graveyard of failed rebrands that has everyone from naive startups to the most legendary.

Just look at these brands that are no longer with us: 

American Apparel, Aeropostale, Barneys New York (where I bought my first suit), Bon-Ton, Brookstone, Claire’s, David’s Bridal, Diesel, Forever 21, Fred’s, Gymboree, Nine West, Payless Shoes, Quicksilver, RadioShack, Rockport, Sears, Sports Authority, and Toys R Us to name a few.

If It Happened to Them, It Can Happen To Any of Us.

THE GAP. thought (in 2010) a new logo would be fresh. Wrong. They slapped their loyal customers in the face with something that looked like it was made in Microsoft Word and watched as their brand love evaporated overnight. The moral? Brand equity isn’t just gold; it’s sacred.

BP threw $211 million at a rebrand, trying to paint themselves greener. Then, the Deepwater Horizon spill laughed in their face. Reality check: Your brand is what you do, not a series of promises you hope to fulfill.

UBER. They went all in on a logo that was ambiguous as the monolith in the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey. Confusion reigned supreme. The lesson here is simple: Know your audience. Without them, you’re shouting into the void (and remember, in space, nobody can hear you scream).

TROPICANA ditched their recognizable packaging for something new and “improved.” Sales tanked 20% resulting in a reported loss of $30 million. Why? Because consistency in your brand is not just important; it’s everything.

WEIGHT WATCHERS jumped on the wellness bandwagon, rebranding to “WW.” Spoiler alert: It flopped with a drop of 600,000 subscribers in six months and a 34% drop in stock valuation. Chasing trends without authenticity is like running on a treadmill; you’re moving, but you’re not going anywhere.

Trace each of these back and you’ll one or more of these symptoms were present:

  1. A culture of being overly cautious and tentative
  2. A failure to really know your audience, and
  3. Ignoring micro-shifts in culture and customer behavior, habits, and needs.

5 Steps to Nail Your Brand’s Evolution (and Survive a Rebrand)

1. Guard Your Equity Like a Hawk: Know what makes your brand tick for your audience. Mess with it without care, and you’re playing with fire.

Understanding what makes your brand unique and valuable to your customers is essential. This knowledge acts as a guide, informing the extent and nature of the changes during the rebranding process, ensuring that the brand’s integrity remains intact.

“Being cautious” will never be a substitute for being inquisitive and keenly observant.

2. Walk the Talk: If your brand promises something, you better be ready to deliver. People see through the BS. And it reinforces our skepticism since real actions that align with brands are rarer than that undercooked steak on Master Chef with Gordon Ramsay.

Rebranding is not merely about altering the brand’s appearance.

It’s about embodying the brand promises and values through actions. Authenticity in this transformation process is key to gaining and retaining customer trust.

3. Do Your Homework: Jumping into a rebrand without getting into your audience’s head is like skydiving without a parachute (and a mind is like a parachute: it works best when open.) Ignoring your customer’s values and preferences never ends well.

Insight into your target audience’s preferences, perceptions, and expectations is indispensable. 

This insight ensures your brand’s new direction aligns with your audience’s needs and desires.

But most importantly, paying close attention enables you to connect to their unspoken values and preferences, the things they’re not saying out loud.

4. Keep the Core, Tweak the Rest: Insightful evolution beats chaotic revolution in the branding game. Build on what works, tweak what doesn’t.

The most effective rebranding strategies often involve evolutionary changes that build on the brand’s existing strengths. 

Even radical changes work if you know why you’re doing them, like Liquid Death who chose a different distribution than ordinary water brands, choosing music concerts and festivals instead of shopping outlets.

This way, they didn’t dilute their core brand promise.

5. Authenticity Wins: Jump on trends very intentionally, not just because they’re hot.

Authenticity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s your brand’s soul.

Authenticity should be the cornerstone of every rebranding effort. 

Aligning the brand with genuine values and trends that resonate with the brand’s identity ensures that the rebranding is meaningful and sustainable.

The Roadmap to Successful Pivots and Rebranding Victory

Rebranding isn’t about slapping on a new coat of paint and calling it a day. 

It’s about strategic evolution while clutching tightly to the core essence that made people fall in love with your brand to begin with. 

It’s a fine line between bold innovation and respecting your roots.

Become the master of these three symptoms and you will eliminate short-term fixes and duct tape when you should be using cement and steel girders:

  1. Being overly cautious and tentative
  2. Failing to really know your audience, and
  3. Ignoring micro-shifts in customer behavior, habits, and needs.

Rebranding is an intricate, high-stakes endeavor that requires strategic planning, and a deep understanding of your brand’s equity and audience. 

By adhering to the principles outlined in this roadmap, your brand can navigate the rebranding process successfully, ensuring that their new identity not only resonates with your audience but also propels your brand to new heights of success.

Remember, in the branding arena, bold moves need brains and a strong conviction that doesn’t flinch or fold in the face of the inevitable confusion that will surface in the process. Stay the course and you’ll get to the other side with minimal collateral damage.

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David Brier

Bestselling author of Brand Intervention and world-renowned rebranding expert, David Brier’s rebrands have generated over $7 billion worldwide.

As one of Google’s top-ranked rebranding expert, David’s four decades of branding expertise are sought after by companies of all sizes and celebrated by the elite of brand building like Shark Tank’s Daymond John who calls him “brilliant with branding.” He is on LinkedIn.

In addition to David’s work being featured in ADWEEK, Fast Company, Forbes, INC, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Thrive Global, the New York Times and numerous blogs and podcasts the world over, he is the recipient of over 320 international awards including the rare honor of being presented the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship medallion and publishes a weekly newsletter, The Brand Liberation Journal.

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