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The Fear of the Rebrand: 4 Steps to Overcome it and Rebrand Right

Just one of the different Shell logos over the years.

Imagine: You’re driving down an empty stretch of road, low on gas, scouting the horizon for a gas station. You’re just starting to get nervous when suddenly, in the distance through the trees, you see it – a bright, golden yellow and fire-truck red sign. You feel an instant sense of relief, recognizing the famous logo for Shell. You know you can take the exit and refuel your car.

What you’ve probably never noticed is that Shell’s iconic logo has changed many times over the years. Through these changes, the brand has remained immediately recognizable, a prime example of a successful rebranding of a company. Yet, for many organizations and business owners, the idea of rebranding is often met with fear and anxiety.

A change in brand represents a shift in how you present who you are as company to others. Naturally, you might fear not only what it will take to make such a radical change, but how it will be received by others.

  • Are you making the right changes to successfully attract a wider consumer base, or will the rebrand fail to catch attention?

  • Will the changes communicate the message you intend – or be taken a different, unforeseen way?

  • If you change too much, will you lose brand recognition or alienate your original, loyal customers?

Jennasis and Associates found itself asking similar questions last year, contemplating how to approach a logo refresh, says founder and president Jennifer Malcolm. It wasn’t a project to be taken lightly.

“Our brand is a representation to the world; it represents our culture, our values, our professionalism and much more, from the colorations of our logo to the details of the font,” she says. “Brands emote a feeling and bring our consumer and client closer to us. Our brand is essential, so the idea of a rebrand can be daunting.”

Why rebrand?

Facing such fears, there are many reasons why a company chooses to undertake the effort of a rebrand. But ultimately, you have to consider if the potential rewards outweigh the risks.

For Jennasis, Malcolm was looking to better reflect the organization’s evolving culture and expanding service capabilities with a more modern, sexy and fun logo. A similar look to the old logo ensured the brand would remain recognizable, but a new tree graphic and updated colors gave it the fresh, forward-thinking feel her team was going for, she says.

Other common reasons that prompt companies to rebrand include:

  • Change in leadership: With new leadership often comes changes in image, mission and/or company direction. A rebrand can help communicate this new vision and shake up perceived notions.

  • Changing markets: As the saying goes, companies that don’t adapt, die. A modern overhaul communicates to customers that you’re keeping up with the times, adjusting to an every-changing market and its evolving needs while potentially attracting new demographics.

  • New product lines: As your company’s offering evolves, you might find your definition of who you are and what you do evolves, too. Tweaking your brand to fit these shifts and underscore the evolution of your product can provide a fresh perspective on your company.

  • Company merger: When merging with another corporation, especially one that is well-known, it can be expensive – and confusing to customers – to maintain disparate brand identities. Easing into a fresh rebrand can help acclimate your consumers to your new, cohesive identity.

  • Competition: If you’re struggling with market share, your current branding strategy may simply be off the mark. Investing in research to find out where there’s disconnect with your consumers – and how you can adjust to overcome it – can increase your competitiveness in the market.

  • Company scandal: Sometimes, an image overhaul comes into play to combat a sullied brand reputation. Scrubbing your brand not only distances yourself from negative triggers associated with old brand visuals, but reaffirms your efforts to resolve issues and realign company values.

Even the most iconic brands – such as Apple, McDonald’s, and Starbucks – go through metamorphosis periodically to remain relevant. But just as important as their “why,” however, is “how.”

If done well, a rebrand can revitalize a business. If done wrong, it can be catastrophic.

How to successfully rebrand your business

There have been many successful rebrands over the years, typically backed my thorough research, ideation and teamwork. When done right, it can increase your company’s profits, improve brand awareness and create a new audience.

But where do you start?

Malcolm recommends following a practical, 4-step process to ensure a successful rebrand:

1. Know your ‘why’

As mentioned, there are many reasons a company may choose to rebrand – and you need to understand yours before you can start strategizing. Be clear about what your key problem and/or goal is, and why a rebrand is necessary.

Ask your customers, business partners, employees and other experts their thoughts on your business: what works and what doesn’t, as well as what they would suggest.

2. Do your research

With your ‘why’ fully developed, you’re ready to do the research necessary to educate your next steps. Research your competition and measure the total market. Discover what has changed, both inside and outside the industry, and how consumers have reacted and adapted to those changes.

Ask yourself: Is your product or service still relevant? Are you prices still competitive? Is your mission clear? What new markets could you break into or new distribution channels could you utilize?

3. Formulate a smart strategy

Armed with this knowledge, determine the scale of necessary changes. Will small updates to your brand be enough to reposition your business, such as a logo tweak? Or is a massive rebrand needed, from developing a new product line or service to overhauling your website?

Once your needs list is determined, you can begin outlining steps and who will own them, as well as project timelines and budgets. Depending on your resources, you may need to narrow your priorities or approach the rebrand in phases.

4. Publicize and communicate the rebrand clearly

Understanding the what, why and how of your rebrand internally isn’t enough, however. You also must explain these elements to your customers and the general public.

Be clear about your story, leveraging tools such as social media, press releases, media contacts, and customer and industry email updates to help people understand your rebrand and the benefits behind it. Ultimately, your messaging should communicate why they want or need your product or service, and why they should get it from you – or continue doing so, in the case of a current customer.

A real-life success story

Recognizable worldwide, McDonald’s rebranding process has been ongoing for years as the brand continuously adapts to maintain dominance within the fast food space. And it’s done so successfully – with the highest brand value of any global quick service chain at almost 100 billion U.S. dollars.

Facing increasingly negative press around its menu selection and employee relations as public values have shifted, the company has worked to change with the times – focusing its efforts on improving its food offerings and communicating more corporate responsibility. You’ve likely noticed or heard of many of the big changes, such as:

  • Healthy menus items, including more fruits and vegetables

  • Sustainable beef production

  • A more modern dine-in space with complimentary WI-FI

  • Support for diversity initiatives, such as flipping the iconic golden arches into a ‘W’ for International Women’s Day

The company’s strategy goes beyond simple, visual updates to its marketing and advertising assets, and is helping McDonald’s to evolve into a "more trusted and respected brand" with consumers, says McDonald's chief executive, Don Thompson.

Learning from UNsuccess stories

Of course, for every successful rebrand, there are several rebrands that failed miserably. Notable examples serve as cautionary tales among marketing professionals and company owners on how changes can miss the mark – and what damage can be incurred as a result.

  • BP: Prior to its 2010 pipe leak in the Gulf of Mexico – which would go on to be recognized as the worst oil spill in US history – the global oil and gas company underwent a logo change in an attempt to be seen as a more eco-friendly organization. However because the logo update wasn’t effectively publicized at the time of its release, the logo update had little impact on the brand… that is, until the spill. At that point, the public not only picked up on it, but decided to take the redesign into its own hands to highlight its irony in the wake of the disaster.

  • SCI FI Channel: Formerly known as the SCI FI Channel, SyFy clearly skipped the thorough research stage before undergoing a rebranding campaign that saw the spelling of its name changed. Intending to be more modern and hip, the brand instead became the butt of many jokes – as “SyFy” is also a slang term used for syphilis in some countries. Dubbed one of the worst corporate name changes by TIME, the magazine asserts the new spelling also failed to resonate with consumers simply because the genre the channel covers isn’t spelled ‘syience fyction.’

  • Tropicana: In 2009, PepsiCo – which owns Tropicana – decided to update the packaging on its juice cartons. It changed from the nearly-iconic, definitely recognizable image of an orange with a straw inserted into it, to a glass of orange juice with the lettering on the side. The idea wasn’t tested, though – and failed upon launch. Not only did customers not recognize the product, they assumed it was a generic brand. This led to a 20 percent drop in sales in less than two months. The company quickly bowed to consumer demand and scrapped the new packaging.

Rebrand failures such as these drive home the point that change for the sake of change isn’t enough. Any potential adjustment to your brand should be thoroughly assessed along the four steps Malcom recommends to ensure successful results.

But when change is called for and done right, it can help you grow – both in your business, as well as in your private life.

Shaking the fear – and moving forward

In Malcom’s case, she’s experiencing both. In addition to Jennasis’ rebrand, she’s undergoing a self-described personal rebrand.

“As I started Jennasis & Associates in 2011, I did it under the name Jennifer Chernisky,” she explains. “As I migrated forth in life and fell in love with my best friend, I couldn't imagine not taking his last name, Malcolm, when we got married this year. But the fear arose immediately of no longer being known in the business. How will I still fit? What will people think? Will people find me?”

Fortunately, facing her fears, Malcolm has been as adaptable as her company.

“The beautiful part about Jennasis is that it's spelled with my first name and not my last,” she says of an unintentionally forward-thinking branding decision.

While some elements have changed within Jennasis & Associates, what hasn’t is the team’s dedication to helping organizations create and execute effective branding or rebranding strategies. If you need help facing fear or uncertainty around brand decisions, contact our marketing experts to discuss your company’s needs at or fill out a request here.

Jennifer Malcolm is the President and Founder of Jennasis and Associates, a team of designers, writers, developers, and strategists who help brands create more meaningful relationships with clients and consumers. Jennifer is an expert Marketing Consultant, Social Media Strategist, and Brand Developer. Her dynamic business savvy and cross-disciplinary thinking takes individuals, businesses, and speakers to the next level.

Marcia Hudgel has been writing stories and poems since she was very young, and has honed the ability to write in a variety of styles, which she has done for a number of websites over the past few years. When not writing, she enjoys practicing and teaching yoga, mindfulness and meditation, especially to women in addiction recovery.

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