Agency leaders must clearly understand, embrace and communicate a brand direction for their firms. When is it time to develop or reconsider a strategy?
Sometimes there are obvious reactive reasons. For instance, you want to maintain market share even when confronted with perceived smaller and weaker competitors. Rebranding provides an opportunity to focus on your commitment to the clients.
Or how about bad PR? That can be the death of a brand. Finding a new way to present your firm gives your client base an opportunity to rediscover your positive attributes.
Finally, you may face legal issues. There are a number of reasons to rebrand for legal reasons; trademarks are most common.
But being proactive is a whole different story. This requires reflection, a bit of pride-swallowing and action.
Here are six clues you might be ready for a proactive brand refresh:
1) You’re taking your people for granted. Brand and culture are intertwined. You simply can’t strengthen one without the other. Are your employees coming to work only because they have to? They’ll be uninspired, and far less productive, compared to their cohorts at innovator brands.
Listen to your ambassadors. Remember your “why”—why is everyone here at this firm, anyway? What is the better world or state of affairs you’re trying to achieve?
2) You’re basking. Success can breed complacency. It may not be readily apparent, but the factors that landed customers and revenue in the last 10 years likely will be drastically altered over the next 10.
That’s why well-run companies have their feet on the gas, even in down times—effectively looking out the windshield, not the rearview mirror. They’re paranoid about their brand. They question. They experiment. They take risks. They say, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”
3) Your place feels like a rummage sale. It’s obviously time for a refreshed brand strategy for firms facing a merger or acquisition. But other times, you just accumulate various assets and then have to wrestle with them.
Sometimes a corporate event will prompt the need for a strategic review of your brand. That could take the form of a merger, acquisition, loss of a key customer, financial pressure or drop in stock price.
But most times there isn’t one obvious event driving a need for a refreshed brand and culture strategy. What if you’ve simply accumulated a series of sub-brands or introduced products and services that aren’t cleanly connected in identity or culture? In that case, more actually is less.
Let’s say you just moved into a new house. The garage is fairly empty at that point. But a few years later, what happens? The garage is where stuff that used to be in the house goes—and the future of that stuff isn’t very promising. The next stop is a charitable donation, rummage sale or the curb.
One of our clients amassed 26 different subsidiaries and programs. The cost of maintaining that many distinct brands was significant. The brand marks looked nothing alike in terms of tone, font color or personality. When we put them all together on a sheet of paper, the result was quite striking—and not in a good way. The cleanup process is now underway.
Even innovative brands get into trouble with this. In their exuberant or frenetic growth, they’ll launch new services or absorb weaker competitors. Many times, the owners of these divisions will free-lance with brand and culture. Here, for example, you might see the cultural clash of “Wild West” versus staid, old-fashioned thinking.
When organizations merge or acquire other companies, rebranding is often necessary to help employees and clients better understand what the firm is and how they are there to help them. This does not always mean the parent brand takes precedence. Best practices ensure the culture and brand is revisited. Again, the signal to the marketplace is that the new entity is not only bigger, but better as well.
A methodical brand strategy process will ask the right questions about the growth and positioning of the business and its culture—then answer them [see sidebar]. If you follow that up with the development of a well-structured brand architecture, your firm will have a clear roadmap for growth through brand extensions, and customers will have a clear idea of how all your different products and offers work together and relate to each other, easing the cross-selling process.
4) You’re “too busy.” Like a child tinkering with toys, is your organization moving from one ultimately unsuccessful tactic to another? Is strategy exhausting to think about?
Innovator firms develop a strategy that optimizes every aspect of their brands, using multiple touchpoints to engage with customers and partners to build loyalty. Every contact reinforces the brand promise. Every piece of messaging—from the way phones are answered, to the elevator pitch, to the website, to the way the office looks and functions, to the LinkedIn updates—is tied directly to the lexicon of the brand strategy.
5) You’re feeling stale. When a firm detects slipping relevancy in the minds of its customers, prospects and talent, a rebrand can bring new energy.
Maybe it’s been eight or 10 years since you’ve looked at your brand and culture strategy—assuming you even have a strategy that has been written down and shared with employees. Are the words, such as your core values, still relevant?
Your identity—name, logo, tagline—is the physical manifestation of your brand, which is the intangible set of expectations and memories that reside in the minds of all stakeholders.
Ask: “If this brand identity were an employee, is it pulling its weight for this firm?” If the answer is “No” or “Not sure,” consider an employee evaluation—and maybe a firing.
Moreover, that process should trigger a broader, strategic, forward-thinking look at your brand. Traces of stale pieces could be everywhere. How about Times New Roman font on your website?
6) You’re predicting growth or new lines of business. When an organization is preparing for growth, it might rebrand products and services into a consolidated brand for consistency and to save money over time. This is also done when a firm needs to create a greater sense of brand unity across different lines of business.
When an organization enters a new line of business or market that is not cohesive to its existing brand identity, it’s time for reflection. How about the need to appear to a new audience? This might not require an actual name or logo change, but rather a way to broaden the brand to target a new demographic.
Often it just comes down to the obvious: A new CEO may wish to elucidate a new vision for the firm, and seeks to engage customers and the workforce in this new vision.
Your brand is like a house. A fresh coat of paint will look nice for a while. That’s a tactic. But consider the foundation and the framing underneath the paint: Are they weak or even crumbling? Addressing those is strategy.
When it’s time, firms must go through a thoughtful process of defining and codifying brand attributes and personality. What are those brand elements today? With the proper strategy and investment, what should and will they be?
This piece is adapted from Peter van Aartrijk’s new book, “The Powers: Ten Factors for Building an Exponentially More Powerful Brand.”