Rebranding a company sounds like an exciting project to most marketers. A rebrand promises a fresh new look, maybe a new logo, perhaps even a new company name. But, rebrands are also expensive, and risk alienating or confusing current customers. In short, when they go wrong, rebrands can be career-enders.
So when to rebrand or not to rebrand? And if you decide to pull the trigger, what do you need to watch out for? Read on…
To understand these questions better, I decided to interview some marketing experts who work for B2B technology companies from startups to Fortune 50 technology companies. Along the way, I learned a number of tips that can help any B2B marketer handle a rebrand the right way.
Rebranding a Company: When Is It Time?
After An Acquisition
One potential time to rebrand is after an acquisition. When Microsoft acquired Skype, and later LinkedIn, it faced a decision. Should they rename the acquired company something that incorporated elements of the Microsoft brand? Or should they leave the newly acquired brands as stand-alones? In both cases, Microsoft chose to keep each brand separate which, so far, has paid off.
However, there may be other cases where the firm you’ve acquired has better name recognition than you do. In these cases, it might make sense to take on the new company’s identity and retire your own.
Finally, you can merge two brand identities. This is what the B2B marketers at Plantronics and Polycom did when they rebranded both companies Poly after the merger was completed.
You Have an Entirely New Identity
Another time to consider a rebrand is when a product or solution extends its capabilities such that a new brand name makes sense. Perhaps Dropbox is moving this way today.
Dropbox is an excellent name for a solution that is all about file sharing. However, Dropbox currently pitches itself as “the world’s first smart workspace.” “Dropbox” isn’t the best name for a solution of this type.
The challenge in this scenario is always the same. Risk losing the awareness, consideration, and loyalty of the original brand or risk having buyers confused about what you now offer. It’s a hard choice.
For another example, task-tracking tools tend to grow over time into fully-featured project management tools. A name that would have made great sense for a simple to-do list no longer makes sense when the goal is end-to-end project management.
Your Customer Base Looks Really Different Now
Finally, you might have outgrown your brand. Perhaps you started by working with a single type of customer or industry, but now you’ve grown. Today, you’re working with five different industries and companies large and small. In this scenario, a company name that perhaps played upon an owner’s name or a physical location for your HQ may no longer work.
An example of this would be cybersecurity company Bomgar, initially named for CEO and Founder Joel Bomgar. Post-sale, the company eventually rebranded as BeyondTrust.
Rebranding A Company: Best Practices
Once a B2B marketer decides to rebrand, they still have to do it right. My interviewees shared a few tips for effectively communicating with stakeholders, how to lead a rebranding effort inside a large company, and how to focus on the future.
Should you rebrand at all?
Before you move into a rebranding exercise, every B2B marketer needs to ask, “Do we need to rebrand at all?”
Startups may believe the grass is greener on the other side of a brand redo when it’s really more of a shade of brown.
Mid-markets may feel a brand is tired because it’s been in play for 30 years. However, that might have been a great 30 years with 30 more to go.
Enterprise companies need to be wary of brand confusion by having too many different brands without a solid story to bind them.
All of this is why a messaging study or messaging upgrade is a better bet than a full brand rehab at times. On this front, one interviewee shared a story about a brand that was clamoring for a rebranding effort. Instead of embarking on this undertaking, an outside creative team provided an excellent idea for a campaign that created significant uplift for the current brand. Today, the original brand still exists, just newly invigorated by the revised messaging.
Communicate with stakeholders.
Communicating effectively with stakeholders is critically important during a rebranding exercise. Leaving them out of the loop and/or communicating poorly with them will only cause you troubles in later stages of the rebranding effort. Remember, many stakeholders have strong emotional connections to the existing brands and any new brand concepts you bring forth for review may cause friction and resistance.
So how should a B2B marketer plan their internal communication efforts about a rebrand? Your rebranding team, at a minimum, needs to include creatives, sales leaders, marketing leaders, product leaders.
Next, involve the entire chain of command. Don’t just limit your early conversations to those in the marketing organization such as creative and editorial leads. B2B marketers also need to include product teams, sales, customer support, and the senior leadership team of the company.
Decide on a timeline and stick to it.
Sharing a solid timeline with all of your stakeholders is critical. Rebranding efforts can take months, and ensuring that everyone is patiently waiting for results and consensus is vital. Without a solid timeline in place, stakeholders can become restless. Then, they might declare the branding effort a waste of time and resources before it has time to bloom.
Be strategic about how you share progress.
The vetting of initial concepts requires some additional strategies.
- Start with the brand narrative instead of showing new colors or logos first. While the temptation might be to make a splash with visual assets, people can have very emotional reactions to new logos or colors. Without a clear brand narrative in their head, stakeholders might fail to understand the need for change.
- Make it clear that a robust methodology was behind any suggestions you are making. Any marketing team pushing for a rebrand is going to face entrenched opposition. One way to surmount any disagreement is to have excellent data.
- Ensure that suggestions that are offered by executives are data-backed. Or push for clarity in this area at a minimum. Otherwise, executives might highlight brands they like as examples of color, logo style, or narrative when they are a poor comparison for your organization’s brand.
If you work for a large company: make sure you consider everyone the rebrand will affect.
Large companies face unique rebranding challenges. Whereas a startup may be able to pivot to a new brand with a bit of overtime work by a few key employees, rebranding an enterprise takes a much broader coordination of effort.
For example, B2B marketers who work in enterprise companies tend to overlook the engineering cost any rebrand creates. A product name change might require changes to underlying code, new speech models to be generated if voice commands are an issue, and documentation to be re-generated with the new name in mind.
In other words, rebranding will require the efforts of a lot of employees, not just a few.
Education is also a concern when enterprises rebrand. Employees in a wide range of geographies must be efficiently educated about the change at the same time.
Finally, enterprise companies may have a vast partner network. Partner education is another crucial element of any rebranding effort so the old brand doesn’t linger in partner-driven marketing campaigns for too long.
Remember: every solution doesn’t get a brand.
Enterprise companies tend to develop a lot of different solutions all at once. All this innovation doesn’t mean that each answer to a customer problem gets a brand.
Sometimes a new app or tool has to live inside an existing brand for it to be viable. B2B marketers need to be savvy in this regard and push back against product teams who want every solution to receive the royal treatment.
Too many brands, too many product names, and too many campaigns only confuse buyers. This leads to increased marketing costs year after year as every brand needs care, feeding, and dollars to maintain.
Symantec, for example, ran into this issue. A number of years ago, Symantec purchased the backup and storage company, Veritas. Over the years, Symantec was unable to fully mesh the two brands into one, and both lived on to varying degrees. In the end, Symantec as a brand failed, Veritas was spun off to a private equity firm, and most of the company’s remaining assets were recently purchased by Broadcom. In the end, Symantec was unable to create a single brand that encompassed all that they offered and they were worse off for it.
When rebranding a company, focus on the future- not nostalgia.
Being future-oriented is essential. As a B2B marketer, you should have a clear grasp of your company’s product/service roadmap.
Yes, you need to avoid saying too much too soon. But, you also need to ensure your rebrand effectively encompasses where your company might be in 2-5 years.
Keep in mind: you don’t need to do everything in-house.
Marketers across enterprise and startup organizations stated that research vendors and marketing agencies have a big role to play in rebranding a company.
A research vendor can arm B2B marketers with data-driven arguments about what current and potential customers genuinely think about the company’s brand. Research vendors can also compare this insight with the competitors’ brand strengths.
Creative teams can be energized by unique ideas from marketing agencies who have background in their industry context.
Consider Carefully: To Rebrand or Not to Rebrand a Company
Rebranding isn’t just about the colors, a sense of style, or the right words. The best logo, color scheme, and storyline can be torpedoed by a failure to address the non-creative aspects of a rebranding effort. Make sure you also focus on the orchestration of people, processes, and resources. Then you’ll be sure to succeed.
Brands have a shot clock on them the moment they are launched. Before the shot clock expires, we can help with targeted brand research from our team of analysts and marketing strategy & tactics from our in-house creatives.