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What Companies Must Consider When Weighing a Rebrand

Years ago, I worked with a client who sold software with the brand name of Isis. They were enjoying strong brand awareness in their target market. However, as the terrorist group ISIS started making the front page for beheading journalists, the company had to make a tough decision. Was ISIS having a negative impact on its product? Was it time for the company to seriously consider a change to distance itself? 

After a careful market analysis, the company did decide to rebrand its product. It proved to be the right call for them. But it required a massive education campaign with its customers, partners, and the media at large.

Why Change?

There are several reasons for a company to consider rebranding. A rebrand may be a necessary response to a major event within the company or the larger industry. For example, a merger between two companies may require a unified corporate image that better reflects the values of the newly merged venture. Other times, the brand just feels stale or outdated and the company needs a refresh so they can better articulate who they are.

Then there are the companies who view a corporate rebrand as a way to escape bad publicity or dispel negative associations with their current image. Of all the reasons to rebrand, this may be the worst. Running away from your brand’s bad reputation won’t solve the problem, and you’ll spend a lot of time and money only to find that the baggage you sought to leave behind is still at your doorstep.

Not a Magic Wand

It’s important for marketers to know that a rebrand doesn’t magically make all your problems go away. Changing your brand is not a quick fix to a bad image problem. If your company has many unhappy customers, a deserved bad reputation due to unethical behavior, or a sub-par product or service, then it won’t matter how you change your brand. Instead, focus on working to improve those things.

Perhaps the most current and relevant example of this is the announcement last week from Facebook regarding its rebrand, Meta. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released an awkward video explaining that while the company name isn’t going away completely, it will now be a singular product under the umbrella of a larger parent company, Meta. 

Many companies undergo these kinds of changes as they grow, such as Google and its parent company, Alphabet. But in Facebook’s case, the timing of this announcement is highly suspicious. Just weeks ago, a Facebook whistleblower came forward in a bombshell 60 Minutes interview and testified to the U.S. Congress about the company’s questionable ethics.  The whistleblower provided documents that portray a culture of profits over people at any cost.

If Mr. Zuckerberg thought that the rebrand would cushion some of the blow, he miscalculated. Since the announcement of Meta, trust in the troubled company has eroded even further. A recent Harris poll reveals that consumer sentiment about Facebook has slipped even lower than the week of the bombshell interview. While Zuckerberg insisted that the rebrand is unrelated to the latest whistleblower controversy, it appears that the public isn’t buying it.  

And neither are the industry influencers. For example, Forrester VP and Research Director Mike Proulx expressed in USA Today, “If Meta doesn’t address its issues beyond a defensive and superficial altitude, those same issues will occupy the metaverse.”

As New York Times Columnist Kevin Roose points out, “If it works, Mr. Zuckerberg’s metaverse would usher in a new era of dominance — one that would extend Facebook’s influence to entirely new types of culture, communication and commerce. And if it doesn’t, it will be remembered as a desperate, costly attempt to give a futuristic face-lift to a geriatric social network while steering attention away from pressing societal problems. Either possibility is worth taking seriously.”

At the very least, Facebook should have considered pushing out the rebrand to address the serious issues it has internally and externally. As it stands, the rebrand faces a tough uphill battle with the public.

Ask the Tough Questions

This could have been a moment of great learning for Facebook. While rebranding a company or a product is a huge and stressful process, it is also a great opportunity to do some soul-searching and ask the tough questions:

  • Who are we, as a company, right now?
  • Who do we want to be?
  • What kind of lasting impression do we want to project?
  • Who do our customers, partners, and the media think we are?

I often suggest that clients execute a customer focus group to kick off a rebrand project. This helps marketers get a better idea of what customers think of the brand right now. Understanding where the brand stands with current customers will help inform the strategy for getting the brand to where you want it to be. You can either do this on your own or bring in a consultant, an unbiased third party, to conduct the focus group for you.

If a rebrand is done well, it can go a long way toward improving your company’s visibility and getting people talking about you. It can also boost the confidence of your internal team.

Gaining Buy-in

If you have asked the tough questions and have a clear idea of what your new brand needs to be, it’s time to start building a consensus. Gaining internal support is vitally important as a first step. Make sure all your company’s stakeholders have access to your new brand’s style book – colors, fonts, and the inspiration/messaging behind the new brand. They need to understand its evolution and why you chose it.

As for unveiling your new brand to the public, consistency will be key. Everything externally facing must look and read the same. That includes your website, social media channels, Google Ads, and any partner materials. Any signage, print collateral, company vehicles, uniforms, merchandise – it all needs to be updated. Business cards, too.

As for externally announcing the change, it’s best to start with your customers and partners. They’ve probably grown accustomed to your brand the way it was, so they’ll need an early heads-up about the change and why it’s happening. This can be done by sending your customers a personalized letter from your CEO, explaining the change and what it means to them. Focus on benefits to them. Next, a blog entry and social media campaign can inform the general public about the change. 

Need more advice from an experienced brand image consultant? Drop us a message.

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