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Three questions that will help you know if you need to rebrand (and a bunch of reasons you don’t).

Peter George on Nov 28, 2023

Marketers: Your company might not need a rebrand – here’s why.
It seems that many marketers feel that a new logo, look and feel will change their business fortunes. Not true. Rebranding is often an expensive and comprehensive proposition. And if you don’t know why you want to do it, you should probably rethink it.

Case in point: I had a small business owner in my office a couple of weeks ago who wanted my advice on changing his company’s brand. He’d been in business for about 10 years and had built a loyal but small group of brand enthusiasts.

My first question for him was, why do you want to rebrand? What’s your business objective? He answered that he was going into some product line extensions, and that his existing brand didn’t represent those lines.

Valid point. But as we talked it through, I was able to help him understand that there was no point in throwing away the equity in his ten-year old brand. Instead of a new brand or refreshed brand, a new narrative and broader positioning may be all he needed.

The Essential Rebrand Toolkit by The Show and Tell Agency

When it’s the right time to rebrand, this 10-step toolkit will help get your project started. From internal process tips to launch ideas and more, use this free document to keep you on top of the messy – but oh so worth it – process of rebranding.

Here’s another case in point: ourselves.

You don’t need to sacrifice brand equity to signal change (but we did)

Our agency went through a seismic shift in our offering as a result of a merger. And though jettisoning our own brand equity – more than a century of it – was not something we took lightly, there was a business case on the table for it.

Some background: The McKim brand (the side of the merger I owned) has gone through multiple revisions over the 134 years the agency had been in business. You could build an entire logo-garden with past McKim wordmarks. But all of those logos were simply tweaks to signal things like new owners and a broadening market as the agency grew.

When my first company, TaylorGeorge, merged with McKim in 2006 (then McKimCringan), we did what any respectable old-school agency would do. We added my last name to the door and operated as McKim Cringan George for a few years, finally reverting to the original brand name of McKim in 2013. And through all those tweaks, the brand — what our audiences thought of us — stayed consistent: Excellence in advertising ideas and execution.

Our rebrand to Show and Tell was obviously much more than a tweak. Unlike the TaylorGeorge/McKimCringan merger, mine and Marty’s businesses had different-but-complementary core competencies. Together, we offered more than either of us had been previously able to, to our clients.

We rebranded because our merger didn’t just make either of us ‘bigger’ with the same capabilities: we had created a new agency, and the way we thought about our offering and our clients had fundamentally changed. Our legacy agencies were so different, that using either of our existing brands as our shingle made no sense. It was a business decision to retire our legacy brands in order to build equity in what is a completely reinvented entity.

Of course, beyond the name change, a new logo etc., a complete rebrand often requires a shift in culture and in the way that customers are treated. Ours started with our first strategic plan – one that described not only our business metrics, but the philosophy and values-based commitments behind them. And besides obvious operational benefits, the plan serves as a galvanizing narrative that articulates who we all are at Show and Tell, rather than who we each (as legacy agencies) were.

Internal rebrand activities: change that starts from within

Our internal rebranding efforts were aided by the fact that we’ve done significant brand work for our clients, a number of times. These internally-focused efforts are designed to inspire changes, attitudes and behaviour not only with external audiences, but also with employees.

We’ve helped many companies, in many industries consult with their internal teams to uncover insights that can help them refresh – or redefine – their brands. We’ve built ‘brand literacy’ assets to help team members understand a company’s new story and positioning. We’ve developed and shared guidelines for both the visual and messaging aspects of a brand’s new lexicon.

And of course, we’ve designed a lot of merch.

The reps we’ve gotten in our client engagements certainly helped us navigate our own change over the last year (and especially the months/weeks leading up to our rebrand announcement). And it gave us even more empathy for our clients who are looking to refresh or redefine their brands – having now down both in the last decade.

“If there isn’t a significant need to rebrand – don’t do it.”

But more than anything, it reinforced to us that if there isn’t a significant, fundamental need justifying a rebrand – don’t do it. Because often, it’s like using a bazooka as a flyswatter – it might work, but at what cost?

So how do you know if you need to rebrand? First, let’s define the terms.

Defining the difference between a rebrand and refresh

Brand is what your customers perceive about you. It lives only in their minds.

Branding is the deliberate actions and tools that marketers use to evoke and mold that perception. Branding encompasses things like logo, narrative, advertising, content, website, look and feel, tone and voice. It’s also expressed through your corporate social responsibility, your associations and memberships, your media and podcast appearances: your actions. But – these are not your brand. See above.

A brand refresh is the process of helping an existing brand become more relevant and appealing to its target audiences by altering the branding, and sometimes the delivery of the customer experience.

Rebranding is a complete realignment of a brand to inspire some kind of fundamental shift in thinking about the brand. “We used to stand for that. Now we stand for this.”

Triage time: Three questions to determine whether it makes sense to rebrand

So how can you tell if you need to change or refresh your brand? Beyond the obvious (like you’re changing your restaurant from Chinese cuisine to Indian), here are three things to think about. 
1. Does my brand still fit my customer? 
Often, customer groups outgrow their brands, just like you outgrew the clothes you bought pre-Covid.  
For example, the early 21st century saw the demise of many legacy retail brands as customers outgrew the department store experience and the tired, old house brands that their grandparents loved. Eaton’s, Sears and JC Penny come to mind. As more youthful big box retail brands with a singular focus (GAP, IKEA, Uniqlo) gained traction, these stodgy old everything under one roof brands were not able to change their fortunes despite multiple attempts to alter their branding and appear to be relevant to the modern consumer.

2. Does my brand reflect my customer’s values?
Many brands — particularly those with a social purpose — need to evolve to reflect the changing values of society and the communities they serve. We’ve found this an important part of our work in place branding and higher education marketing.

An example: the near-ubiquitous shield that many universities use as their logo has colonial and Eurocentric roots. Focuses on inclusion, diversity and Indigenization have challenged these institutions to consider whether their branding reflects what they want to stand for.

3. Does my brand reflect my team’s values?
Our agency has found that internal brand is just as important as the customer-facing branding. Working with large organizations and small, we have found that if your brand is not based on the values of those within your organization then it will not be mirrored in your customers – regardless of how sophisticated your branding is. If your employees and stakeholders don’t hold the values of your customer as their own, they must be inspired to think and act differently so that the brand perception and experience match, whether someone’s inside or outside the organization.

Remember: there are other ways to signal change than a brand overhaul

There’s an undeniable appeal to the idea of rebranding. Especially when a new C-level leader comes on board, looking to define a new direction for a company. And we get it: rebranding is often a sexy, bold, and headline-grabbing endeavour.

It’s also a ton of work. And can cost a ton of money. And in the process of rebranding, you can severely tarnish your brand (remember the distinction) if you do it hastily, or for the wrong reasons. 
Wondering whether rebranding might be right (or wrong for you)? We’d love to help you figure it out.