Every so often you hear that this-or-that company is working on a “re-brand”. But what is a re-brand, exactly? Most people use the term to describe a logo change, but a true re-brand entails a lot more than that. It requires changing some of the fundamentals of your identity. That’s no small job. No wonder so many smart marketers insist that “re-branding” is an illusory concept.
“If brand is the essence of you, the one thing you can never, ever change, then it’s nonsense to think a company re-brand,” a colleague from another firm recently said to me over coffee. But a brand isn’t an essence. It’s an idea — a feeling other people have about your company or your product. And feelings can change. No, they probably can’t change by Thursday of next week, but change they can, and often do.
Apple is a great high-profile example. This is a brand that has traveled over the years from creative upstart to hopeless cause to genius mega-corporation. If companies had fixed, unchangeable essences this sort of evolution wouldn’t be possible. The truth is that brands, being products of the human mind, are in constant flux. Car brands are stodgy one year and hip the next. Clothing lines are “in” in the spring “out” in the fall. Sports teams go from winner to loser and back again.
Ah, you might say, but most of these brand shifts are brought about by changes in business performance. Exactly. And a performance change is precisely what it takes to shift a consumer perception. Imagine for a second that you’re planning to go to your college reunion. An old classmate remembers you as a listless, partying slob. You show up with a new tie on, but otherwise looking and acting the same as you always did. You walk up to your old acquaintance. “Hi, I’m different,” you say. Her reply is quite understandably “Oh really??”
Now imagine you show up at the same reunion, only this time you not only have a new suit of clothes on and a new attitude, you back it up by stripping down to your shorts and running a four minute mile. This time your old acquaintance comes up to you and says “Wow, you’re really different!”
So yes, rebrands absolutely are possible, but they can’t occur solely in the realm of marketing or advertising. A company that attempts a “re-brand” by changing a logo and launching a marketing campaign — yet does nothing to change its behavior at the business level — is doomed to fail. I speculate this is why so many marketers believe that rebranding is impossible: because even genius marketing backed by Herculean execution can’t change a brand by itself. It takes the will of the entire enterprise.
This is why successful rebrands are tough and don’t happen every day.