Even though we spend most of or time working with mid- to large-sized companies, we also work with many startups and small businesses. We’ve been asked a few times about whether or not the big-boys have to go through the same issues as the startups. Our answer: Yes. They go through all the hoops the startups do, and then they add more to address the existing brand identity, changes in the marketplace, changes in corporate policiy, and more.
This leads to two additional lines of questioning. First, why would a company ever need to go through branding after the first time? And second, does this mean that my company is going to have to do this whole thing again?
First part – Companies are rebranding every day, and most of ’em do it unintentionally. The ones that rebrand with intent are responding to changes in the market (like how KFC has over the last decades gone from a company that focused on Fried as a key part of their brand to one that never really mentions that their chicken is boiled in oil – until recently when they mentioned that it is boiled in oil, but that the oil is healthy.) So a change in the marketplace – like the public awareness of the unhealthiness of partially hydrogenated oils – can result in two rebrands, not just one. (The first was the name change, the second is the recent change in oils.) One wonders if a third rebrand will occur if they find a way to make fried food healthier than baked.
Companies intentionally rebrand to keep their brands current. This doesn’t mean they reinvent themselves completely – they usually just steer their brand to ensure that they still own the position in the market that was intended. An edgy brand must continually redefine what “edgy” is if they wish to be seen as on that edge. If they don’t then they’ll soon be seen as boring, staid, or dated. (On second thought, this might not be a great example – since staying on the edge may be a part of the original brand. Better, perhaps, would be a reevaluation of the effectiveness of staying on the edge.)
Unintentional rebranding is usually not good, but happens more often than intentional rebranding. Small companies often do this after they go through their initial branding process. They establish themselves as one thing when they launch, but don’t stay on message. Rather than being the best at what they do they lose control of their brand and become whatever will help them make the sale in the near term. This results in companies that start as vintage clothing stores specializing in 1960s apparel becoming generic used clothing stores, and then adding in a section of brand new mass-market imitation vintage clothes, and then a section with just regular new clothes. Even though it wasn’t a formal process the end result is a new brand… but one that doesn’t serve any real purpose. For an example, look at what Amazon.com has gone through in the last decade. They went from being the undisputed answer to the question “Where do I buy books online?” to being one of thousands of places that expect you to search for anything you could ever need. Along the way they went through selling just books, to books and music, to books, music, and retail items, to books, music, retail items, and used stuff, to books, music, retail items, used stuff, and services, to… well… everything. I certainly hope this wasn’t an intentional rebranding – because if it was it wasn’t very well thought out. Even Wal*Mart doesn’t sell everything (you can’t get industrial computer consultants from the big W.) How can you create a brand that encompasses every other brand on the planet? I suppose Amazon.com will let us know when they get there.
Enough companies rebrand every year to support a competition on the matter. Check out Rebrand – an organization that rewards the top 100 rebranding efforts of the year. You will note thatAmazon isn’t on their lists.
As for the second line of questioning: Is your company going to have to rebrand? If you wish to survive you must adapt. If you want to excel rather than just survive you need to anticipate adaptation. You need to be ready for it. So we suggest that you always keep your brand in mind and measure the effectiveness of your core identity. Every three to six months you should revisit your core to ensure that not only are you still living by the standard, you’re also following a standard that is still relevant.
When should you consider a rebrand? When your existing brand no longer has the impact or relevancy that it did when it was successful. That could be six months after you launch your company (if you didn’t correctly identify market trends) or fifty years later. The key is to be aware of the effectiveness of your brand and to be prepared to revisit it before your brand has lost its goodwill in the marketplace.
We’ll talk another time about how rebranding can be done without destroying the values and purpose of the company founders – and when it might be desirable to take the extreme step to just do a rip-and-replace and start over again.
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