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Rebranding Your Business: Steps and Strategies

By: Christopher Heer, Toba Cooper, Daryna Kutsyna | Last updated: August 15, 2018
Consumer brand awareness and goodwill are crucial to business success. However, the brand that resonated with your target market when you originally launched is not guaranteed to continue attracting your consumer base in the same manner a few years post market entry. Rebranding can be a highly effective way to ensure that your brand stays current and competitive, and may present an opportunity for growth and evolution alongside your consumers.

While rebranding may be highly effective, choosing to rebrand should not be done lightly. There are pros and cons to the process, and generally, a substantial financial investment is required. Importantly, if there are intellectual property rights that your brand is entitled to (i.e., a word or design trademark for your name, slogan or logo), it is important to remember that those rights will not necessarily automatically transfer to your rebranded intellectual property and will likely need to be reregistered in all relevant jurisdictions.

When is rebranding a good idea?

The decision to rebrand may manifest itself in different ways. It may come as a result of slowly declining sales and brand performance, or it may be prompted by an external catalyst. Regardless of the specific reason, you should be able to concisely answer why your business needs a rebrand (i.e., customer profile has changed, competitors/industry has undergone a significant shift, pigeonholed in an outdated marketing strategy) and which problem the rebrand will solve.

Once you have identified a specific reason for the change that can be resolved with rebranding, consider what parts of the marketing strategy need to be altered and which can stay consistent. If possible, conduct focus groups that test the impact of the various components of your brand in isolation (i.e., separating the product name and slogan from your logo) to see whether some parts of your brand resonate more effectively than others. Through this process, you should be able to identify where change is needed.

It is important to analyze both your consumer base and your competitors in determining whether rebranding is a good idea. Consider whether changing your brand will attract consumers that were previously outside of your target market, as well as whether it is likely to alienate existing purchasers. Determine what feelings and associations you want the new brand strategy to evoke, and how it is likely to impact the loyalty of existing customers.

In making this decision, it is crucial to consider that rebranding will involve a high initial cost (designing the new brand, registering intellectual property rights, getting the word out to employees, customers and other stakeholders, etc.), and may result in a drop in consumer engagement at the beginning of the transition due to confusion.

Once you have evaluated these considerations, the decision to proceed should hinge on a positive answer to two key questions:

  1. Is the new brand conception likely to increase overall consumer engagement and positive perception of the business?
  2. Is the increase in revenues brought on by the expansion likely to outweigh the costs of the rebranding process and the potential for consumer confusion?

If you can answer the following questions affirmatively, rebranding your business may be a worthwhile endeavour.

Intellectual property considerations in rebranding

If your rebranding strategy involves changing any aspects of your business that are eligible for trademark or industrial design protection, it is key to investigate whether such protection is available (or whether the assets are already owned by someone else).

Make sure to conduct a trademark search on any words or designs that you are intending to use as part of the rebranding to check that they are available for registration within the jurisdictions in which your business operates. In a case like this, the trademark search should not be cursory; sometimes, it is best to employ legal help to conduct a comprehensive trademark search rather than rebrand and discover down the line that your new logo actually infringes another company's intellectual property. Moreover, you will want to ensure that the brand you have chosen is registrable. Availability and registrability are not synonymous. Engaging a lawyer to provide you with an opinion on both availability and registrability will ensure that you have not wasted time, money and energy on the re-brand.

When selecting the new branding strategy, ensure that you follow basic trademark guidelines. A logo, brand name, or slogan that is distinctive and not clearly descriptive or laudatory is significantly more likely to be eligible for trademark protection and garner a positive reception from potential consumers. Highly distinctive trademarks are also easily recognizable. Choosing a highly distinctive trademark could mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful re-brand.

Once you have ascertained that your proposed trademarks are available for registration, and registerable, it is key to apply for protection before publicizing your rebranding strategy. Otherwise, you may risk competitors attempting to capitalize on your trademarks or presenting an opposition to your application.

On top of registering intellectual property, consider filing for a trade name registration if you are changing the name of your business, as well as purchasing new domain names if necessary. Essentially, the goal is to ensure that there is no consumer confusion and that none of your marketing efforts are wasted.

Finally, do not immediately discard the intellectual property rights that you have obtained for your original brand name (slogans, logos, etc.). Even when consumers adjust to your rebranding, they will associate the old marketing symbols with your business. Thus, it is important to keep a monopoly on the name and symbols originally associated with your brand to ensure that you control the message that is conveyed to your consumers through them. This might require simultaneous use of the old and new brand to signal you as the source of goods and services while you make the transition.

Consumer strategy in rebranding

Introducing customers to your new brand is a key step of business rebranding. An immediate and synchronized rollout across all consumer communication channels can help decrease customer confusion and create excitement about the change.

The employees and stakeholders within your business are a key part of creating excitement about the change. Consider involving the internal team in the rollout by asking them to share it across personal social media channels, employee profiles, and, if possible, through team events based around the new product or service. This can create awareness of the change among a key component of the consumer base before the bulk of the public rollout.

It is important to be clear and consistent across all channels of communication. Once the rebrand is announced publicly, all relevant elements should be changed uniformly and ideally at the same time on the company website, promotional materials, social media, email signatures, etc. Allocate increased time to any customer service employees to answer questions about the change.

To get your consumers excited about the change and attract new market segments, consider running promotions during the rollout period such as coupons, discounts on bulk purchases, or loyalty program rewards that feature the new brand strategy. During this time, continue to solicit customer feedback and opinions on the change through methods such as surveys and focus groups to determine whether the change has been received positively, whether any confusion has been created that needs to be resolved and whether any new promotional elements may need to be added to the marketing mix.

After the rebranding rollout

At the end of the campaign, it is crucial to assess whether your new marketing strategy has been successful with consumers. Focus on obtaining tangible metrics of consumer engagement such as sales, revenue, number of leads and conversion rates. Further, calculate the total costs of the rebrand to evaluate whether the benefits from the change have outweighed the investment that you have made.

While you want to steer clear of changing your brand or other crucial marketing elements too often, as doing so may make it more difficult for consumers to identify and to form associations with your brand, remember that your business need not be locked in to the same marketing and branding forever. Keep evaluating your marketing and brand strategy on a consistent basis to ensure that it resonates with consumers, and consider further changes if you find that it is no longer reflective of your business values and goals.