When should we rebrand?

When do you bring up this question? Perhaps you just made some substantial changes to your messaging last year. Perhaps you did an update to your photography style a few years ago. Or, maybe you just rebuilt your website, all the way down to the last pixel. But, when do you make larger changes?

Brands are living organisms and members of our community — they require constant observation, feeding and attention. Appropriate to the human nature of brands, more care is needed when it is young or old, the middle years take care of themselves. Brands age at the pace of the sector, category or industry; digital brands age faster than insurance brands, typically. Yet, in today’s economic turbulence, all brands face an age issue if they don’t keep current.

Back to the question, when do you gather the leadership team and start talking about a comprehensive rebrand or at least a refresh?

The historical patterns we’ve seen can be categorized as proactive or reactive. In reactionary form it takes place after an acquisition or merger; after a management shakeup; or in response to some negative perceptions surrounding reputation.

The less common, proactively it happens five years in advance of selling; because your brand name isn’t appropriate anymore (Federal Express to FedEx); a response to trends in your category or industry (see: all of retail); a need to infuse new energy into the brand (see: Mn Orchestra) or because you’re planning for growth, new markets, new audiences.

Yet, you’re still wondering, when is a right time for our situation?

And, the best answer is ask your customers to give some feedback on the current state of affairs. They can help you see yourself in a mirror, and a mirror can be magical device. Consider using a mirror that magnifies, not the hall mirror, but an extreme close up on your brand’s beauty marks and blemishes.

There are methods that go far beyond the standard aided and unaided awareness studies (metaphorical hall mirror), to understand the implicit associations built into your brand language. These are the associations customers can’t articulate, but have proven to hold them back from bragging about you, sharing your name with others or being the great advocates you’d hope. Yes, these findings can be gathered and understood — as blemishes or beauty marks only visible with some magnification.

Starting with research gets a team out of their own perceptions and opens up a new view of the world. If you know you want to reach new people, understanding who they are, what they want and what they expect from you grounds a rebranding effort and emboldens your team for change. Because perception is a fickle thing and about as easy to pin down as a greasy piglet — use a variety of methods to understand your brand and the direction you want to go (or need to go). By doing this you can see how the changes in your organization or the outside world are impacting the perceptions your customers have of your brand.

This refines the question to this; when should you contemplate a refresh of your brand?

The answer, is once a year, as you conduct an annual examination through the eyes of your most important customers and prospects. This doesn’t mean a brand change has to happen each year, but knowing how you’re doing in the perceptive eyes of customers is a healthy activity. And, yes, you can stop and glance into the hall mirror, but don’t linger, you’ll be better off with closer examination.

Start a new healthy habit, a close examination of what your brand means to those most important to it.

Aaron Keller
Columnist, TCBmag.com
Co-Author, The Physics of Brand
Co-Founder, Capsule.us

About The Author

Aaron Keller

I am an author, strategist, researcher, cyclist, reader and consummate entrepreneur. When an interesting idea crosses my path, I find any way we can bring it to life. Earning an MBA from the Carlson School and numerous valuable credits at the school of hard knocks, I’ll sit at a boardroom conversation with anyone. Want to talk business strategy, consumer behavior and design? Oh, it’s on.


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