What we're talking about

Rebranding is an attempt to reinvent or innovate a business' identity in the eyes of its customers. It's a marketing or business strategy – and sometimes quite a radical one, because it involves changing elements of who you are and how you communicate it, ie, your brand identity and image.

Elements of rebranding can range from subtle changes to huge overhauls – it might involve changing your logo, website design, brand colors, typography, name, messaging, tone of voice or even your communicated values and who you're targeting. Although a brand is often thought of as something outward-facing, it can also be an internal change, as you make changes to your organizational structure or management styles. 

Why it's important

The correct timing for a rebrand is crucial to growing businesses. Perhaps you've moved into a new product category or territory. Maybe you're aware that elements of your brand carry certain negative associations. Or it could be you didn't think too much about branding when you started up and now you have the time and money to invest in something slicker. A strong and coherent rebrand will tell your story in a new way and strengthen your brand identity and equity with customers. It'll also mean an alignment with all stakeholders on your brand values, a refresh for staff and an injection of purpose, plus an opportunity to reflect on what's been successful so far.  

However, you need to rebrand for the right reasons and target the right elements for it to pay off. It also needs to be executed well – when Facebook rebranded to Meta, for example, public trust dropped by 5%. As a small business, you can't afford to damage your brand and lose market share. You also can't afford to waste valuable resources on something that doesn't achieve your aims – particularly given the high cost (generally around 10% to 20% of marketing budget) of a rebrand.

Things to note 

It's a spectrum. Rebrands come in all shapes and sizes. At the less intensive end, we have what's often called a refresh. This involves tweaking imagery, adding some new bits in and taking some away, but keeping the message conveyed broadly the same. This would suit businesses looking to stay on trend and remain a unique proposition in a competitive sector. At the other end of the spectrum, there's the option of total transformation – often a response to more tangible happenings, such as new ownership or a major injection of investment. You might be looking at changing your name, logo and overall messaging in this situation. 

You'll probably need expert help. It's pretty hard to bounce back from a rebrand if it goes wrong, but you can expect pretty revolutionary results if it goes right (take DesignStudio's rebrand of Airbnb). For that reason, you should definitely consider bringing in an agency to take care of some or all of the rebranding process – particularly if you don't have branding and design talent in-house. Good agencies are made up of individuals with diverse skill sets, who can approach the challenge with a fresh, objective perspective and deep focus. Agencies can be of great help if you're not so sure where to start, as they'll work with you to shape the direction and aims of the rebrand.

Don't get too obsessed with looking different.  A common problem with market research is that brands see what their competitors are doing and want a rebrand that stands out. Usually, this means agencies and designers focus too much on making your brand look different, instead of considering the purpose of the company they're rebranding and its customers.

Think about how you communicate it. Rebranding doesn't happen in a vacuum, and its success is based on so much more than how cool the visual identity you end up with is. It's crucial that you bring stakeholders (in particular, customers and employees) with you as you go. Sometimes this isn't so necessary – for example, if you're just freshening up your logo – but if there's a new message that you're hoping to project with your new brand, then it needs to be communicated straight away. Remember that customers include both your existing base and any new groups you might be targeting. You need an internal and external communications strategy for your rebrand – which will call for user research, emails, social posts, dedicated launch events, and so on. These should touch on what's changing and what it means for your customers.

How to plot a rebrand 

1. Get clear on who you are and who you want to be. If there are specific changes that have led you to consider a rebrand, note them down. Think about the values and perceptions you want to keep and the ones you want to depart from. Set some specific business goals for the process. 

2. Audit current assets. Take a close look at your brand as it is, from your logo, website and social media templates to your storefront. Pinpoint how these elements are a good reflection of how you're currently operating and how you're hoping to operate in the future. Then figure out how it's not. Get clear on what you should change and what you should save.

3. Do some research. Now to get some tangible insights. Ideally, your thoughts should be backed up by market and customer research. You should get a sense of where your market is going, any emerging trends and what your competitors are doing. Likewise, you should communicate with your customers to understand how they perceive you, their thoughts on your current branding and what they like to see from brands. If you're hoping to penetrate another market or target audience with your rebrand, channel your focus there. You may want to create some customer personas to understand this new group fully. 

4. Confirm rebranding is right for you. With this deeper understanding of your audience and your goals, ensure that a rebrand is the right step and decide how exhaustive you think it should be. This is a good time to start an informal conversation with an agency, if that's the route you're going down, as they can help tighten up the brief. Make sure you think about your budget, too – in terms of time, as well as money –  when making these decisions. 

5. Write a brief. Whether you're working with an agency or sorting everything in-house, a written brief will help clarify exactly what you want from your rebrand. It should include: a description of your business and the issues you're facing; your objectives; info on your target audience and market; anticipated budget and deadlines; the imagery you want to change; what you want to keep; and any design preferences you have. Be prepared to collaborate with designers or the agency on this brief – and be ready for it to be challenged.

6. Come up with a timeline. There are lots of moving parts in a rebrand and you want to have a handle on them before you get started. This should involve noting down any hard deadlines, setting soft deadlines and assigning ownership to key team members. Think about when you want each asset, but also think about how you'll implement the rebrand – whether you'll do it gradually or all at once. 

7. Nail your communications strategy. Alongside considering the nuances of design and implementation, you need to think about how you'll communicate the news to key stakeholders. Make sure you have capacity to quickly resolve any customer issues that might arise. 

8. Get going. Be aware that it'll likely take several iterations and rounds of feedback until you land on a rebrand that you're happy with. You should come away with all the new imagery you need, some notes on why this path was taken, some sample use cases and a set of brand guidelines. From info on image dimensions to brand color combinations, these guidelines will give your team members everything they need in the future. These will evolve over time, so be aware of how the brand toolkit is used by your team and try to align everyone at regular intervals (eg, every six months) by doing interim audits of the rebrand. 

9. Test it out. Before you publicize everything, it's a good idea to run a soft launch. You'll want to build plenty of testing time into your timeline. Get feedback from select groups of employees and people within your target market. What does your new branding suggest to them? What do they like and dislike about it? Does it have connotations you hadn't thought about? You don't have to take everything that these focus groups say as gospel, but you should definitely be open to making changes before you launch. 

Key takeaways 

• Although it can vary in scope, rebranding is a serious undertaking. You'll need to project-manage the timeline of it, the scope and your budget at the same time.

• You can rebrand in-house, or you can work with an agency or freelancers. But, given the potential impact on your brand identity, it's essential to do it only once and at the right time in your journey.

• How you communicate your rebrand isn't something to forget. You need input and buy-in from employees and customers.

Learn more 

Perspective. Joseph Devereux-Kelly of Cool Cold Brew drinks and Nikita Sun of Studio More, the agency that carried out the coffee company's rebrand, talk through when and how small businesses should rebrand. 

Example. Check out design publication Dezeen's top 10 rebrands of 2021, and also this blog on how employee management platform Rippling pulled off an in-house rebrand in four months. Case study site Brandstruck is also a great place to get inspiration. 

Tool. The Futur is a fantastic hub for all things branding – with accessible courses and lots of free articles and resources for everyone from beginners to design professionals. And here's a useful rebrand questionnaire from creative agency Column Five to analyze your current offering. 

A version of this article was published in the Courier Workshop newsletter. For more deep dives into essential business concepts, sign up here.

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