Strategies for successful rebranding

This article was originally published on the Fast Company Executive Board series.

There’s no shortage of folklore about a couple of founders scrambling for an available domain late at night, scribbling potential company or product names on napkins and whiteboards, and finally grabbing something available that they can live with.

Sometimes it’s brilliant. It stands the test of time. But often, where you start doesn’t reflect the evolution of your company or current market conditions. Even the most thought-out, carefully named companies may face this tipping point. The company has grown and expanded solutions, and a new brand is needed to align better with a new direction and the value you’ll bring in the future.

I’ve lived through at least five company name and brand changes in my career. I’ve been one of more than 100,000 employees who get alerted via a mass email. I’ve seen product names become the company brand. And more recently, I actively worked hand-in-hand with the senior team to create a new brand that represented new aspirations.

Each of those experiences holds valuable lessons. Here’s a quick look at some things I’ve learned that may help in establishing a new corporate identity that reflects your company’s rapid growth and new market opportunities ahead.

BRAND MUST EMBODY VALUES

You should be very clear in your mission, values, and market so the rebranding accurately reflects—and elevates—your name to embody those higher aspirations. Employees, partners, and customers want to believe in the values of the brand they work with. Your actions and brand represent the two primary manifestations of those beliefs. This is an opportunity to build a brand that embodies your team’s ambitions, energy, and commitment to stakeholders.

WHAT ARE YOU KNOWN FOR? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE KNOWN FOR?

In addition to what you stand for (values), look to what you are already known for (reputation). A rebrand, in most cases, should not be a completely new “blank-slate” exercise. There’s value in carrying forward something you’re known for. I spent four years at Chef, which was originally called Opscode. The company’s open source solution, Chef, was beloved and had enormous gravity. Logic may dictate that naming the company after its most popular product doesn’t reflect a whole portfolio of solutions. But, in some cases, the product name has so much recognition that amplifying that brand makes the most sense.

This is not to say that your brand should always be product-oriented. The brand may also be aspirational and define a new path for the market, serving as a rallying cry for moving forward. Either way, the new brand should be broad and strong enough to reflect more than the company’s current state. It should encompass the journey that lies ahead.

WEIGH THE IMPACT OF THE NAME OVER TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Bad branding starts with “What’s an available URL?” Don’t get boxed in by the technical limitation or availability of web names. It will only hamper your efforts to be bold and creative. Of course, those technical things (URL, trademark, etc.) are critical steps in the process; however, they can often be dealt with later or help you narrow down a great list of options.

EVERY EMPLOYEE IS THE BRAND

A rebranding is not solely a marketing exercise. It permeates the company. A brand is in the code, the product, every email, and every presentation and it persists in everything you do. Bring together employees and gain insight, secure buy-in, and establish ownership to help operationalize across the company. Senior leadership should be actively and intimately involved in not only the rebranding journey, but in deploying and amplifying it across the company. They are often the most visible faces of the company, both internally and externally.

EVERY FUNCTION AND GEOGRAPHY NEEDS INPUT AND THOROUGH REVIEW

These are perspectives beyond marketing that can evaluate the impact (good or bad) in specific areas of your operations and business. Each function should pass the brand through key advisors (public relations, legal, social, digital advertising, etc.). Geographic review is also critical. A name can mean different things in different regions; even the sound of the name may invoke something that you don’t want to be associated with in another area of the world.

COMMIT AND CARRY THROUGH

Once you’ve locked in the voice, message, and visual identity that each reflect the future of your brand, fully commit and carry through on the brand’s promises. Rebranding doesn’t stop with a new logo and website—the process is ongoing. It’s a marathon that requires commitment and constant care, maintenance, and integration. The company voice and value should be pervasive across the business, from social content and marketing campaigns to product design and customer support. It should be evident in your product roadmap, future expansion, and commitment to follow through for stakeholders. The brand isn’t where you start—it is what you will become. The value of the brand is your ability to deliver on its promises.

IT WON’T EVER BE WITHOUT RISK

Like all things in business, rebranding will always carry some level of risk and unexpected outcomes. Don’t let this sway you from your commitment to carry the brand through. There will be hiccups in the synchronization of assets and communications, random (and sometimes troll-like) social criticism, and other events that could make you start second-guessing choices. When you look back, these will often be forgotten speed bumps on the journey to an exciting new identity for your business.

If your company has reached an inflection point, these recommendations can help foster a more successful rebranding initiative. Remember: A brand is more than just a name. It is the embodiment of your company’s values, the team’s collective voice, and the benefits your products and services will bring to the industry for years to come. It should be authentic, developed with input from all business lines, and representative of your future journey. Good brands, with ample fuel and commitment, will overcome any challenges along the way and remain strong through growth and future expansion.

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