Managing a corporate rebrand, part 2: success begins at home
by Charlene Gervais
A corporate rebrand is a high-stakes move. To come out on top, plan for a deep internal engagement well before your external launch. Because the most important part of your brand is the team that reps it.
One doesn’t rebrand for the heck of it. The trigger for a corporate rebrand is usually some significant event – a major merger or acquisition, a new market entry, a shift in business strategy. It often involves new direction that justifies a signal to the world: we’ve changed!
So how to make the most of this momentous occasion? When launching a new brand, many organizations focus heavily on the customer experience and other external stakeholders (as they should). But to fully capitalize on the opportunity, the real work starts well before the world meets the new you.
Bring it home by starting inside.
In B2B, employees are often the most direct representative of the company. In many ways, they are your brand. And according to an HBR study on successful corporate transformations, how companies engage their employees can be the difference between success and failure in this type of initiative.
That’s why successful corporate rebrands launch from the inside out. The company takes time to engage the internal team and get everyone rowing in the same direction. The best of them go beyond the basic internal communications, to instill a sense of importance in the work and pride in the brand.
There’s no “one size fits all” approach, but we have seen some techniques that work well. Here are four tips that can help make your rebrand a success, along with some specific ideas you can act on:
1. Instill your strategy early on
Don’t assume everyone knows why the corporate rebrand is necessary, how it aligns with business strategy, or why it’s a priority. Communicate early and often: both the why (reasons for change, tied to company mission) and the how (tailored as needed to their personal roles and responsibilities).
And while you should always be candid about the challenges and hard work, stay focused on the upside. The team looks to leadership to set the overall tone – sometimes you just need to talk less and smile more.
In action: Teaser campaigns and infotainment
If confidentiality is a concern pre-launch, keep your team in the know with a teaser campaign. This may include videos, presentations, interviews, posters, swag, and more. A sneak peek can get them excited for the possibilities.
Be creative, just stay on brand. One client had a strong internal side to their rebrand (mission, vision, values) to go with the new strategy and visual identity. So they brought in an artist to create a mural in their HQ lobby, where he wove it all together over a live stream to employees worldwide. To build anticipation, they even had countdown clocks in their offices leading up to internal launch.
Another company needed employees to understand that customer pain was a big reason for change. So they staged a “walk in the customer’s shoes” theater skit that showcased everyday client issues in funny ways, a multimedia “truth booth” with video clips from customer interviews, and other ways of bringing the customer’s voice to life. Making it fun and original really made it stick.
2. Tune your corporate rebrand to your culture
When employees hear “corporate rebrand,” many think it’s a marketing thing: a new face for the public, some new materials and swag at the office. But a rebrand that only exists on a surface or silo is doomed. So show how it runs deeper than that – a companywide transformation that expands possibilities while staying grounded in your culture and people. Sometimes, that means identifying and leveraging the little things that make you, you.
In action: Everyday touchpoints with a personal touch
One client, Antron carpet fiber, had a tight-knit, high-energy employee base. So when working with them to rebrand inside and out, we knew any internal launch had to be equally collaborative and fun. That arrived in the form of Fiber Force Bootcamp: a two-day retreat for all employees nationwide, with creative experiences, activities and giveaways tailored to their team and brand.
Another company had a tradition of attending a monthly matinee as a group. We explored different ways to tap into their love of movies, like creating a mini-feature film for in-house viewing, complete with popcorn and Junior Mints. It’s those little touches that show the corporate rebrand is about putting forward your best self in new ways, not changing who you are. (And candy never hurts.)
3. Address employee concerns proactively
Yes, this rebrand is a wonderful thing and should be met with optimism. But change is hard. There may be trepidation. Or skepticism. Or fear. Try to understand what people on your team are experiencing by asking and listening, and the address it with empathy. This can be as simple as having a FAQ cheat sheet ready, but is so much more effective as a two-way conversation.
In action: Internal brand ambassadors
Activate a team of “brand ambassadors” from your organizational influencers. (How do you find them? Here’s some guidance from McKinsey).
This group should reflect a cross section of respected voices within the company – often from varying regions, disciplines and seniority – and be invited into the development of the work. Once they’re feeling the strategy and equipped with the right language, your internal ambassadors can address employee questions, and help keep the excitement up and the team engaged.
We once worked on complex global merger that felt like a turf war, with opposing factions digging in to retain their own brands. (What they had in common: disdain for the idea of a new corporate brand.) Activating a brand ambassador team helped us effectively articulate the strategy in casual (water cooler) and formal (team meetings) settings. This made it possible to cool heads and bring sides together, resulting in increased buy-in for the new brand.
4. Play the long game with brand stewardship
Brand stewardship is the clear and consistent presentation of your brand. This ranges from marketing pieces and sales conversations to how it’s lived in the workplace (e.g. values, hiring, processes, incentives). Companies that invest in brand consistency often increase competitive advantages and market share on the external side, but also increased morale and productivity internally.
In action: Core values program
If the rebrand has meant redefining (or just better articulating) the business’ values, consider a formal program that recognizes and rewards individual behaviors that are in line with company core values. For maximum impact, connect values with hiring, job performance reviews, compensation and promotion.
We’ve worked with (and at) multiple companies who live their values in clever, substantial ways. At one, a popular “Action Hero Award” program had employees nominate their peers with written shout-outs, specifically describing how their actions supported one of the 10 brand values. Submissions were read aloud at weekly companywide lunches, often met by cheers and gift cards. And at the end of the year, a drawing for an all-expenses paid international trip.
TL;DR A successful corporate rebrand begins at home. If your internal team is engaged, trained and bought-in, you can head into an external launch with the wind at your back. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But here are are four techniques to get your rolling, with some actionable ideas to help you get there.