When Is the Right Time to Rebrand?
by Bill Kenney
A rebrand does not need to throw out years of hard work and brand equity. Rebranding is as much of a refinement exercise as it is a reinvention; it all depends on the project.
Keeping the elements that make you special and are actually working is part of the process. During the strategy phase of every new engagement, we set out to define what needs a complete overhaul, what evolves, and what stays. Having said that, here is my perspective on when to rebrand.
Do your company mission and purpose ring true?
When a customer experiences your brand, do they just get a list of features and products in a silo, or do they gain a deeper understanding of what you stand for and why you are right for them? Do you appeal to them beyond the surface? A brand can be right for a customer for its values just as much as its product. Simon Sinek said it perfectly: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
If you find that your mission and purpose are hard to decipher, or even worse, don’t align with your current brand, you need to correct that. Stand for something and make it clear through the entire brand. This is a powerful way to resonate with your target audience. Clarifying your mission and purpose and aligning your brand with them is equally powerful and invigorating to your internal team. That will help you build a stronger, more enduring company from the inside out.
Are you clearly positioned and differentiated in the market?
Positioning clarifies your brand’s place in the market and, most importantly, in your customers’ minds. If a customer has no idea how you are different, how do you expect them to select you? I can clearly tell you how Tesla is positioned differently than Ford, and I bet you my 11-year-old son can as well. This allows Tesla to effectively capture the lion’s share of customers who align with its position.
If you find yourself unclear on how you’re positioned, you better believe it’s even more unclear to the market you serve. Regardless of whether your position was never truly clear in the first place, or you have evolved and gained new clarity over decades in business, this is always an impetus to consider a branding exercise. Positioning in today’s world is make or break.
Are your brand voice and visuals misaligned?
Consistency across your brand is paramount. The resulting harmony builds loyalty, recognition, and ultimately trust. Maybe your vision, mission, and positioning are compelling but your brand visuals and voice don’t translate it appropriately. Similarly, have you ever experienced a brand where the visuals look best-in-class but the writing feels completely off or vice versa? A lack of consistency critically erodes the customer’s perception of the brand. Imagine TOMS shoes writing in a snarky, unempathetic voice, or Apple using a childish font. Those inconsistencies would damage the brands and how they’re perceived. Your situation may not be as stark, but closing this gap—no matter how small—will pay for itself. If a brand wants to be successful, it cannot afford inconsistency.
Have you simply evolved, or are you evolving into a different company?
Businesses grow, they adapt, and they change. The brand should evolve with it.
It’s almost hard to remember, but Netflix started as a mail-delivered DVD service. When Netflix transitioned to a digital-first platform, Netflix as a brand did too—but it didn’t stop there. In 2013, the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, released a memo detailing how Netflix would move from being a content distributor to a content creator, stating, “For us to be hugely successful, we have to be a focused passion brand. Starbucks, not 7-Eleven. Southwest, not United. HBO, not Dish.”
Each of these evolutions requires brand rethinking—some small, some large, but all equally important. This is probably one of the best reasons to consider a brand engagement: to capture the new vision and how that is portrayed.
So, when is the right time to rebrand?
There is never a magic beacon to signal a rebrand is necessary, but if you nodded your head to any of the points above, it’s a strong indicator that brand work is needed. Regardless, with brand being such a keystone element in any business, reviewing and reflecting on your brand regularly is always a good practice. If and when you think you have areas of opportunity, reach out to a brand expert and see what they have to say—outside perspectives can be very revealing.