Navigating a rebrand? How to build something that will last

“Change is inevitable, growth is optional”

Nobody likes change. It makes most of us feel uncomfortable. But it’s not the word itself that troubles us – it’s the idea of the unknown. We’re creatures of habit. It’s a universal trait that we all share. Imagine if, for example you suddenly switched to a new brand of toothpaste with no prior warning, or someone sat in your seat at the kitchen table? Or, even worse, you were asked to add the milk in before the hot water to your cup of tea (yikes). The world would simply end, wouldn’t it?

And yet, as the well-used saying goes, change is the only constant in life. It’s unescapable and it will always, always happen. There’s no doubt about it – like it or not, we all have to embrace change.

When we apply the subject of change to branding, it’s no surprise that at one point sooner or later, the question around whether or not your brand might need to change will come up… Is it still fit for purpose? Will this new offer change how we need to speak about ourselves? Or the one we all tend to dread…how do we compete with these new competitors that have suddenly appeared? The list goes on.

So, how on earth do you go about answering these questions?

Here at Curious we spend our days doing just that – answering the questions that surround the changing world of brands. And interestingly enough, there tends to be a pretty robust approach to dealing with these upfront questions.

Written below are the key questions and top tips we’ve gathered over the years to help ease you into the process…

It all starts with why

Do we really need to change?

Acceptance is the first step toward change. But it’s also often the hardest step to make. Unless there is a clear and urgent need, it’s far easier to sweep things under the carpet. We always know when something isn’t quite right, but if we can’t easily fix it, it’s forgivable to admit to crossing your fingers and hoping everything magically becomes ok.

Businesses experience the same issues with their brand. The first question people will ask is “why change?” if they are comfortable and things are going smoothy. So spending time understanding the reasons behind needing to rebrand is without a doubt the first hurdle to overcome in the process. But sometimes it can be hard to pin it down to one thing – often companies sense a change is needed, and sometimes that’s steered by a very obvious shift, but other times it can be a whole host of small updates that add up to something needing to happen.

Source: Bulletproof via Brand New – Under Consideration

The main reasons to rebrand:

  • Your business has changed its offer
  • Your existing identity is out of date
  • An increase in competition
  • A shift in audience behaviour
  • You are entering a new stage of growth
  • You need to better reflect the values within your business
  • There is a market opportunity to take advantage of

Although the above list isn’t exhaustive, it certainly covers the majority of issues a brand needs to address. You can read more about these reasons here. From the above however, it’s possible to group the reasons to rebrand into two categories: proactive and reactive.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out what separates the two, but it’s worth clarifying in order to understand the initial motivations behind undertaking a rebranding project.

Proactive branding is driven by opportunity. It happens when a company realises a gap in the market that a new brand will help to fill.

Reactive branding occurs through necessity. Either because of a merger or acquisition, a shift in offer or a need to rebuild a reputation.

Both are valid initiations of change, but they take the form of different degrees of change.

Working out your appetite for change

How much do we want to change?

So, you’ve identified that your brand needs to change. That’s a big step in itself. If we’ve guessed right, chances are it’s likely because of one (or more) of the reasons listed above, and it’s either a proactive change or a reactive change. Either way, the next question to ask is “How much?”

Picture this. You’re in your local hairdresser. They’ve offered you a tea or coffee and you’ve even lucked out with a nice biscuit. Hooray. Next up is the classic question: “So, what are we doing today?” You take a sip and contemplate.

Will it be just a tidy up? Or are you feeling more adventurous?

Switch back to the world of branding and it’s a similar scenario. A full rebrand or just a refresh? Working this out might be very straightforward, depending on how you answered the previous question of why you need to rebrand. But getting an agreement on how far you want to change from all stakeholders of the brand is imperative. After all, nobody walks around with just half their head shaved off. Unless you rock a mullet. In which case, we salute you.

Always be prepared

Where do we begin?

When it comes to carrying out a rebrand, your level of success will be dictated by how robust your planning is. Diving straight in and cutting corners without taking stock of what it ultimately needs to achieve won’t do anyone any favours. Think about it in the same way as going on holiday. In order to enjoy that cocktail on the sun lounger, you’ll need to spend a bit of time sorting everything out before you take that first sip. Unless you like to plan your holidays similar to Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach that is.

Here are a few steps that cover the basics…

  1. Brand audit – This is needed in order to understand everything you’ve currently got going for you and address any non-negotiables upfront.
  2. Research – Understanding the landscape in which you operate is essential. This should cover both competitors and audiences.
  3. Strategy – A fundamental step to working out how the brand should be positioned, this stage involves translating your business objectives and company culture into a creative brief for the brand.
  4. Creative –Sometimes referred to as ‘the exciting part’, this can only happen after the previous steps have been carried out. It involves exploring a number of possibilities in order to answer the creative brief in just the right way.
  5. Guidelines – We all need to abide by some form of ‘rules’ to make sure we don’t go crazy. The same applies to brands. The guidelines should be looked at as the most sacred handbook for your brand, mess with them and beware. (In fact, we think these are so important, we wrote a little more about them here)
  6. Implementation – At the end of every branding project, the question ‘what’s next?’ often gets asked. This is where every element of the brand toolkit gets brought to life and applied across the brand in any number of assets including website, brand videos, literature and other communication materials.

Doing your homework

What do we need to know?

Turns out your teachers from school had a point. As with any investment, undertaking solid research before ploughing ahead is essential to know what lies in store…

What’s already out there? What’s performing well? Change to ‘Which of our competitors are we envious of and why? How are our customers behaving? Is this likely to change in the next few years? What is driving that change? How can we get ahead?

These are just a few questions we hear from clients on a regular basis. They naturally come up at the beginning of projects and if they aren’t fully investigated then, when it comes to further down the line, issues will likely arise. If you spend the time to carry out consumer research, you’ll ensure the new brand speaks directly to the intended audiences.

But above this, keeping an eye on the competition is just as important. Beyond the obvious need to avoid anything that could be considered ‘too close for comfort’ from a visual perspective, identifying what the opposition does well can be just as beneficial. Instead of letting this annoy you, why not work out what it is that they have going for them and find a way to use this to your own brand’s advantage?  After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, hey?

Getting to the heart of the matter

What’s the big idea, anyway?

We’ve touched on how important getting the right approach and doing the research is for a successful rebrand, but what needs to happen between that and doing excellent design work?

The answer to that is simple. We need to work out why you exist in the first place.

…ok, so perhaps it’s not so simple to answer immediately – it is a pretty big question. But while most companies wrestle with the latest way to describe ‘what’ they do, it’s the businesses that can articulate ‘why’ they do it that ultimately win.

The reality is, until you can answer this, you won’t have a meaningful brand. Because that is fundamentally what your clients will be asking of you. They need to know why they should buy into your offer, instead of the countless other companies they could choose from. And they need to get this message translated to them fast – unfortunately we as a collective aren’t naturally blessed with patience. So, the brand proposition needs to be sharp enough to get their attention.

The good news is, it can be relatively easy to reach the answer. By working through the overall goals of the business, assessing the research, understanding where you’ve come from and most importantly where you need to get to, it’s possible to define an incredibly strong brand positioning.

Reaching this does require a level of open mindedness and ensuring you involve the right people in the company, but with the correct approach it will become a very effective piece of work which can then be used to guide the creative process.

Bringing it all to life

How do we know what’s right?

The question on everyone’s lips. Knowing what the finished brand will look like is always the thing you will be most anxious to find out. But the truth is this won’t be revealed until the creative stages start to shape it. However, so long as the previous steps have been followed and we have a strong brand positioning, the creative will fall out of this. All of the work that will have been carried out leads to this point so that your business objectives, client messages, company culture and future ambitions are translated into a visually compelling and strategically sound brand.

Two Brand Guidelines

However, there’s never one approach for the visual identity. When you enter the creative stages of a rebrand, the aim should be that you’re spoilt for choice. Multiple ‘levers’ need to be pushed and pulled in order to test and examine the right tone and direction of the brand. As well as taking guidance from the previous strategic stages, the visual style will also have a lot to do with those closest to the brand – the internal audience. So, cultivating a close relationship between branding agency and client is crucial. After all, how can you expect to get a brand that taps directly into the heart of your company if you don’t believe the people attempting to do so ‘get you’? Like walking into a new home, it has to feel ‘just right’.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

As much as the creative output is the main deliverable of a rebrand, it’s merely the result of a long stream of steps leading up to launching it – get these wrong and risk having a brand that just doesn’t hit the mark. But, get it right and you should have a brand built to last.

If you’re thinking of taking another look at your brand, why not get in touch. We’d be curious to learn more.