Don't call it a rebrand

by Shachar Meron

rebrand and brand transformation

I thought writing about rebranding would be easy. But I learned the word “rebrand” can be fraught with peril. That’s because it means different things to different people, and it comes loaded with preconceived notions and high expectations. 

Recently I was speaking with a few brand strategists on the topic of brand transformation and rebranding. We’ve all been directing, consulting, writing, teaching and speaking on it for years, and have run dozens of such projects in our careers. We were reminiscing. 

Then I asked the question of “what constitutes a rebrand?” and was surprised to learn we all had very different definitions – there’s no one inflection point where everything past this is a rebrand. 

One strategist felt it was only rebranding if the logo changed. Another said it only counts if the name changes! 

We all agreed brand transformation is not just defined by one thing. So being the strategists that we are, we started imagining charts with different criteria and quadrants. And I was surprised by where this took us.

First take: a rebrand is defined by depth and breadth of change

This was my starting point. I knew rebranding could happen at the surface level (just a reskinning of look and voice) or go down to the heart of the brand (architecture, positioning, sometimes mission and values).

Then there’s the extent of change: is it just a step forward from where it was, or emerging as a different brand? Design could change drastically while strategy stays the same. Similarly, a brand could have a strategic shift behind the curtain, while barely changing the way it presents itself.

They countered that strategy and design aren’t two poles on an axis, but should go hand in hand. A purely cosmetic change may feel shallow or even dishonest without a more substantial change to strategy. But you typically need some design change to make people notice (and show the company is committed). 

A purely cosmetic change may feel shallow or even dishonest without a more substantial change to strategy.

And damn it, they were right. Swing and a miss. 

Take two: rebranding ranges from evolution to revolution

Then we talked about terms used in past projects, and evolution to revolution came up. This felt great at the time, and could cover a lot of areas, especially if supported with examples (“you want the FedEx or the KFC?”).

The problem was we had different interpretations of evolution/revolution too. For some, it was about extent of change (small tweaks thru totally new). For others, it should reflect the level of impact on the business.

Same goes for strategy-vs-tactics. We each know what we mean by these terms, but everyone’s line is somewhere slightly different. And don’t get me started on "brand refresh."

So in the end, avoid terms that require an extra round of conversation and definition. But if everyone’s on the same page, hey, knock yourself out.

brand transformation at AMA BrandSmart
See Shachar presenting at AMA BrandSmart with Rachel Klein on the topic of brand transformation and rebranding.

Take three: a rebrand is about which things and how many

One strategist also had a POV as a global brand director. She has to oversee launch and implementation over time, which is so much about logistics: number of items changing, number of people involved, coordinating communications, global rollouts with staggered schedules and resources, etc. 

She didn’t suggest that quantity was all that mattered. But ignoring it entirely would be unrealistic and irresponsible.

In the end, we agreed that any transformation in brand strategy needs to reflect (and often affect) the business strategy. A disconnect there is a nonstarter. 

Before you undertake a rebrand: align, don’t define

What I learned is that there’s no one definition for rebranding, nor is there one tool or spectrum to analyze it. And that’s ok! What matters is that you discuss it with your team – to make sure people are aligned on what’s changing and how much, and how it connects back to an comparable shift in business strategy. 

Showing is better than telling: cite examples of equivalent brand transformations (“give me the 90’s IBM repositioning with a Starbucks-level logo refresh”) to get people on the same page. To convey what it means for your own brand, prototype products and communications to leave less open to interpretation. It takes time, but far fewer resources than redoing it all later.

So you may be wondering: if we shouldn’t say rebrand or rebranding, why do I say it so many times on this page? Because as much we differ on what it means, it’s still the term we all agree on most. (Also: SEO.)


by Shachar Meron


Love your brand

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Bluegreen provides brand strategy consulting for ambitious B2B brand marketing leaders, specializing in tech and finance. Together with our network of expert partners, we’re engaged for branding, rebranding, brand identity and naming, brand messaging and communications strategy, corporate narratives and writing, logo design, marketing plans and launch campaigns, sales tools and training, digital strategy and website design, creative ideation and thought leadership.

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