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Shawn Mak

What not to do when rebranding: An insider’s guide

So you’ve decided to rebrand. Terrific! Where do you begin? Let us give you an insider’s guide to help you along. There are enough articles out there that tell you what you must do. We thought we’d take a different track by pointing out pitfalls that can potentially derail your project. Ready? Great, let’s go!

Don’t: Assume you know it all

You’re the business owner. You’ve probably been steering its growth for the past 20 years to some (or great) success. You also probably think no one knows your customers better than you do, or that you have a deeper understanding of your industry than a brand consultant. This is likely very true, but also the wrong attitude to take.

Most successful business owners I’ve worked with take a humble approach to their business. Their secret sauce: Being open and always questioning. They don’t assume they know it all. Regardless where their business life cycle is at, they recognise the benefit of having an impartial 3rd party come in and be the alternate voice to give it a jumpstart or shake things up. The business owners we work with are almost always surprised by new insights our research yields, or when we challenge and provoke them to think of their business and customers differently. Their world to a new reality opens up.

So the lesson is this: Regardless how well you think you know your business, there’s always merit in investing in research and having an objective voice to bust previously held myths, question what you hold dear, and explore new opportunities that have become blindspots. This objective voice provides the needed impartiality and outsider perspective unencumbered by baggage or sentimentality. Rebranding can reward you with fresh perspectives and opportunities. Research is the best place to start.

Don’t: Make your brand personal

This is a challenge for SME owners especially. Particularly when it comes to brand identity. We have come across entrepreneurs whose 1st instruction to us is: You can change everything but please don’t touch the logo. This goes back to what I touched on earlier: Sentimentality. Their reasons: “I designed this myself when I started the company. It holds a very special place in my heart”, “Our staff and customers have gotten used to it”, “My friend designed it for free 3 years ago…I don’t want to appear ungrateful”, etc. We’ve also heard things like “You can change the logo but please keep the colour…I really like the colour”; or clients who say they are “open” but will always steer the choices back to where they started (“I still like my original colour better”).

Branding deals a lot with sentiments, but not sentimentality. The thing to remember is that you’re designing a brand for your customers, not for yourself. What works for you may not work for the customer. It’s important to make a distinction between the 2; take yourself and your personal preferences out of the equation. The question to ask is this: Who are you trying to attract with your rebranding project? Your customers…or yourself?

That said, we always encourage business owners to not accept a logo they cannot stand to look at daily. But we also ask them to assume the persona of their customers and judge the logo through those lenses instead. Will it resonate and create better engagement? Sometimes having a “cooling off” period helps too. Some clients come back with a fresh perspective once they’ve slept on it, talked to a few people about it (e.g., business partners or long-time customers), rather than having a knee-jerk reaction at the point of presentation and commit to a direction clouded by personal temperament.

Don’t: Do the rebranding all by yourself

Building a brand is a massive undertaking. Even if you’re doing it with an agency. There are information the agency needs. They may require access to your sales, marketing, HR and finance teams.  Some might want to have conversations with your customers and staff. Others might find it useful to conduct an audit of your past marketing and sales materials; and so on. As a business owner, your attention is likely split and you’re running a mile a minute; and the agency simply can’t do a good job when their level of access is limited, or if they’re busy spending time chasing you down for an audience than doing actual work.

Instead, you may want to assemble a project team for your rebranding project. Appoint trusted PICs with whom the agency can liaise or run some decisions by, so the project doesn’t come to a screeching halt when you’re indisposed. Once this is in place, you just then need to set aside periodic pockets of time and avail yourself for crucial checkpoint meetings with both your agency and your PICs.

Besides these very sensible reasons, there are benefits to involving staff in your rebranding exercise for softer HR reasons too. Building a brand is exciting and fun; and it is a journey. Done correctly, it can be a rallying point to improve staff morale and engagement as well. When you bring staff along for the ride, you not only fold in their functional concerns along the way, but you also draw them closer to the brand you will eventually build by giving them a sense of ownership and participation in the process. In so doing, you build not only a brand but also community, stewardship and staff loyalty.

Don’t: Stop at brand identity when rebranding

This is a mistake many SME branding rookies make. When they think branding, they think “logo”. Some may understand that it’s also about colours; maybe some will extend their branding reality to include also typography and how the logo relates to the whole identity system. (Or more specifically, a visual identity system.) So you may be thinking, They understand the importance of brand identity…what’s wrong here?

What many business owners need to understand is that a brand goes way, way, way further than a logo or brand identity design guidelines. It’s about so much more: Product strategy, pricing strategy, distribution strategy, partnership strategy, HR policy, marketing strategy, customer experience strategy, and how are you going to tell these stories. You need to approach branding as a package. Branding is a way of conduct, a way of being (not just seeing)

So when you’re thinking about rebranding, don’t commission just a logo or identity system. That’s just cosmetics and can only get you so far. Rather, you want to think more strategically: What the brand means to your business, your customers, your industry; and what’s the impact it can make. You want put in place a brand strategy to bring the brand to life. Which brings us to…

Don’t: Let nature take its course

Brand building is long term, and takes effort. Launching a brand is but the tipping point. Whether the rebranding is successful or makes an impact to your bottomline will depend on what you do after you’ve launched the brand.

So what do you do? First, recognise that a brand cannot grow organically. It needs constant steering and guardianship against brand guidelines and set strategy. Just as you wouldn’t stop tending to your baby once it’s birthed, or deny her an education and healthcare, you cannot abandon your brand once it’s launched. You need to continually nurture it, feed it, give it the right stimulation, environment and guidance to ensure healthy growth. And providing the right conditions for growth demands you to be ruthlessly strategic.

What does this mean? It means that you must be prepared to take a long, hard look at your business and make the necessary adjustments in line with strategy. This could include reevaluating the kinds of products and services you offer, reexamining your pricing and distribution structures, investing in new production techniques (maybe), educating and motivating your staff to live the brand values, working out an annual marketing budget and then putting it into play, putting an agency on retainer to deliver on-brand communications (if you’re not confident of doing it yourself), etc. It means not making excuses not to do certain things, or putting off marketing and brand building efforts until you have time. (Your baby would’ve starved to death!) So, be a responsible brand parent!

A rock solid brand can do many things: Let you stand for something in the market, establish an emotional connection with your customers, give you a price advantage…you can even use brand to shape product strategy (as it should) and define a formula for growth (as it should also). That being said, you must be prepared to stick to that formula and put whatever you can to ensure its success. Successful branding doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, and the necessary investments to make it work.

At this point, you may think rebranding sounds like a lot of work. Well, it is. But as a hoary saying goes, It’s not work when you’re enjoying it. And branding and marketing work is a lot of fun! The golden rule is not to think of it as work, but as a commitment to making it work.