When you hear the word “rebrand,” what comes to mind?
A new logo, perhaps? New colors. Different tagline. Typography.
But a rebrand is so much more than a new icon, a different font and a deep dive into color psychology. Actually, sometimes it doesn’t even mean any of those things.
Instead, it’s a promise you make to your customers.
And it’s the story you tell. A new story.
Inevitably, there may be certain events over a brand’s lifetime where it might make sense to tell that new story.
• Your offering/product/service has changed. When Bill Rosenberg opened the first Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950, he probably didn’t envision selling anything other than donuts and coffee—much less items with fancy names like the Cosmic Cotton Candy Coolatta, Banana Split Swirl Frozen Coffee and Egg & Cheese Wake-Up Wrap. But that’s exactly what happened, so the company rebranded to DD in September 2018 to place less emphasis on the donut since its product offering had substantially increased and diversified over several decades.
And then there’s this other under-the-radar company you may not have heard of: Amazon. When the company launched in 1994 under the name Cadabra (which morphed into Amazon a year later), it was coined Earth’s Biggest Bookstore. Because that’s all they sold: books. That tagline eventually met its demise once Amazon began selling more than just books, and the logo you see today is the same as it was 19 years ago when Jeff Bezos highlighted his company’s “A to Z” offering with the design of the curved yellow arrow under the name.
• The world has changed. Remember when the term “fried food” didn’t have the same negative connotation it does today? When it was perfectly fine to stop for a bucket of fried chicken on your way to your buddy’s house for movie night? Times have changed, and we’re more health-conscious today than ever before. That was probably the conversation (or at least part of it) that Kentucky Fried Chicken’s executive leadership likely had one day in the boardroom when they decided to rename the company KFC.
As other cultural shifts have occurred over history, we have seen similar outcomes with other brands as well. Who can forget the rugged Marlboro Man? And the very un-rugged Joe Camel? Again, this was a different era, when cigarette smoking was more commonplace and anti-smoking campaigns weren’t as prevalent. The Marlboro Man campaign expired in 1999, just a couple years after Joe Camel trotted off into the sunset after the brand settled out of court due to accusations the company was targeting minors with its cartoon mascot.
• A troublesome past has tainted your brand or industry. You know the Marlboro Man we were just talking about? That brand—Marlboro—belonged to the manufacturing company Philip Morris International, which is historically synonymous with (you guessed it) tobacco. Years ago, a decision was made to keep U.S. operations under the name of PMI’s operating company, Altria. Because that brand isn’t nearly as well-known as Philip Morris, it doesn’t have the same stigma as “that company.”
Other brands have made similar decisions based on crises that damaged their reputation. Take ValuJet, which acquired—and rebranded to—AirTran Airways a year after one of its planes plunged into the Florida Everglades and killed all 110 people on board. That company was later purchased by Southwest, which further separated it from the 1996 disaster.
• To differentiate from another brand with a similar name/offering. I can still remember watching Hulk Hogan bodyslam Andre the Giant during WrestleMania III. So when the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) rebranded to the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), a lot of wrestling fans were left scratching their heads. But since the real WWF—that would be The World Wildlife Fund—had been using WWF before the other WWF started using it, the terms of agreement had been violated and the wildlife fund won in court.
And then there are companies that want to stand apart from competitors in their arena that may not have a great rep. Such is the case with Target, which had a reputation for “low quality goods at low prices” like those other discount retailers. But once the bullseye brand started bringing in popular designers in 2011 that appealed to a younger demo (and their wallets), it kept to the script that made it successful and hasn’t looked back since.
• Your old(er) brand needs a shot in the arm. Even if your product offering has stayed the same and you haven’t been on the receiving end of a PR nightmare, you may still need to reinvent to stay relevant.
Take Old Spice, for example—yes, the cologne your grandfather used to wear. Who was even thinking about Old Spice 10 years ago? Certainly not me. But the company (which was first introduced in 1937) likely saw the writing on the wall when newer brands entered the market and started stealing their market share. So when Old Spice introduced the Swagger campaign in 2010 (who can forget “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad that aired during the Super Bowl that year?), you could say it got its swagger back—and then some. Today, it’s one of the most popular men’s grooming brands in the biz.
It’s very likely that your company—your story—will change over time. A rebrand is the opportunity to proactively write a new story that will carry your brand into the future, long before that story is written for you.
David Ralls is president of the Chandler-based Commit Agency.