In recent years we have seen a number of companies undertake a rebrand, from AirBnB to Microsoft to PayPal. Some have done this because they simply need a refresh and some do it to change the way they are viewed, and some do it because they have a new Marketing Director or CEO who wants to stamp his mark on the business.
I was recently asked what I thought of their rebrand by a company that I know well. I really like this company, the people who work there, their vision and the way they operate. However, the truth is that from a personal point of view I didn’t like the way it had rebranded itself.
I felt I had no association with it. The Shoreditch shtick made me feel a bit, well, old and corporate, and to be honest, I felt a bit put out to have my nose rubbed in it!
But it got me thinking – regardless of the new logo and colours – about what exactly were they trying to achieve by going through this process. And then I started thinking about the rebranding projects I have worked on and those I have experienced as a consumer.
As a junior marketing and communication executive working my way up through the ranks at one or two of the world’s biggest agencies, we were always under the impression that a rebrand was often a great excuse to raise a company’s profile. -You know: ‘we have nothing else to talk about so why not rebrand…?’.
As an agency, all we saw were dollar signs and the opportunity to run some big budget activity. But it wasn’t until I started working with Philips in 2004/5 who at the time were and arguably still are one of the biggest and best known Consumer Electronics companies in the world, who decided that it was time for a rebrand.
Much to my surprise, the rebrand was driven by hard-nosed strategic thinking. Factors like an awareness that the consumer electronics market wasn’t what it was. Margins were tight and growing competition was making it increasingly difficult to demonstrate success – even for a company as innovative as Philips.
They decided to rebrand and shift the entire focus of the business to medical devices and consumer health. While they continued to be a big player in consumer electronics, they were looking to drive more sales towards where they were leading the market and were therefore increase revenues.
Under the guidance of a very forward thinking CMO Andrea Ragnetti, they successfully made this transition. It taught me a very important lesson, that even the most creative of marketing activity, or eye catching and gripping campaigns had to be focussed on delivering clear business goals.
Not every rebrand has been a success. One of the most high profile debacles I have ever seen was back in 2001 when Royal Mail decided to relaunch as Consignia.
Clearly, the business needed to modernise, but to change its name to a something that barely rolls off the tongue and certainly does not resonate with anyone was a big, expensive risk – and one that had cost it a substantial amount of money too.
Despite the money spent, the rebrand failed and after just one year they went back to calling themselves Royal Mail. I once spoke to someone who worked on it who told me the thinking behind the rebrand had been all wrong. They tried to give the company a facelift with no substance behind it.
Apart from the name and logo, the business had not changed, essentially, they were just trying to deflect the attention away from the issues they had – after all Consignia was now a brand new business! We as marketers must remember that our audiences are very savvy and won’t be fooled easily!
But it’s not just Royal Mail that made these mistakes. In 2010 the retail giant Gap, during the run-up to Christmas, changed their brand completely – out of the blue. They got rid of the strong blue box that had become such an iconic part of the brand over the previous 20 years. With no explanation, it was replaced by a new small fading cube logo. Such was the confusion and backlash, that in under a week they had dropped it and gone back to the original brand that remains today.
Both of these examples demonstrate a lack of conviction and clear storytelling behind the rebrand. They did not have a clear business reason and were not bold enough in their intentions to make it a success. In the case of the Royal Mail / Consignia they may have ticked the boxes in the activity they did, but the audiences were just not convinced.
Which brings me back to my starting point. The company I was talking had a very clear business objective behind the rebrand. They needed to get people feeling that they were part of a larger network. This would not just add value to their clients, but also to the business as a whole.
Traditionally they had a number of brands their audiences associated with, but by putting everything under the one brand all their clients suddenly felt part of something bigger. They started recognising a familiar brand, received consistent communication with the same tone, look and feel and company story.
From a business point of view, the business community that had been carefully nurtured over the previous 12 years, now had a wider sense of belonging as it came together under this one brand. Obviously, it is not just down to the success of a smartly rolled out re-brand, guess what? The business has just been sold for around £500 million.
A successful company rebranding exercise is more than just a design facelift or something to announce in the absence of any substance. A company needs to tell its story, it needs to communicate a vision and goals, and the most successful ones use a rebrand to help achieve and support this. Audiences, customers, employees – all stakeholders – need to buy into any rebrand and it is the story behind it that makes this happen.