I found an article by Inc. magazine on rebranding a company and when it makes sense to do so that I tweeted and amplify’d. I liked the article enough to post the amplify.com note to my blog, too. If you’re a regular reader, you know I almost never “reblog” anything. Bottom line, I thought it had merit. It garnered more retweets on Twitter than anything I’ve posted in recent days, too, so it seems others saw the merit, too. And that made me wonder WHY it struck a chord with so many, right now.
Here’s what I think: It’s a new year. It’s an evolving economy seeking a new normal. As business owners, we are all striving to make the best start, seeking to leave behind the angst and difficulty of the recession and looking for authoritative answers to our questions on just how to make it happen. In some of the discussions that happened about the article (Twitter, Amplify and here) several people commented that new packaging won’t fix a bad company. Very true… so the question becomes, “How do I know if we’re a company with a branding problem, or with a deeper problem?” Before you scoff and tell me that is an easy one and list off all the things obviously unhealthy companies get wrong, let me tell you why this question is harder to answer than it seems for most businesses, and what I mean by “branding problem.”
Brand does NOT equal the logo, name, colors, style of letterhead, signage (physical expressions of a company’s visual identity). Brand DOES equal the perceived attributes, ideas, relationship, expectations and direction of a company, as expressed by external viewers. Not just customers, either. Apple’s brand is shaped by both customers’ and non-customers’ opinions and expectations. This is why people can say they “love” or “hate” a brand. They are in relationship with all the things they associate with that company. Therefore, rebranding doesn’t mean changing your logo (although that may indeed be part of the tactical steps taken). It means examining dispassionately the perceptions of your company in the marketplace. It means looking at market potential with existing perceptions in place (current brand) versus market potential with changed perceptions in place (successfully rebranding) and any number of potential new sets of perceptions or brands. It means looking at your business as an organism that must make conscious choices and that can foresee, with some degree of accuracy, the outcomes of those choices. It means doing the hard work to understand the marketplace, consumer behavior and drivers, trends, costs and long term financial impacts.
So, that’s what I mean by branding.
If you’re a small business (one or a few employees), the company’s identity is often so closely associated with your own that changing the brand can feel like a betrayal of self. Having or acquiring the market knowledge to accurately reflect and then predict your company’s trajectory based on brand A, B or C can be difficult at best. Being able to set aside the hopes and dreams you had when you launched to look carefully at the future, especially if you’re doing fine right now, is often the hardest part of all. The upside is that the vision is usually strongly shared and employees (if there are any) are committed to it and tend to start from a cohesive point. Changing a brand is impossible if the company only concentrates on external packaging, advertising, marketing, PR etc. Changing how the business operates, what it produces, how it produces or delivers, how it interacts with the marketplace… those things are often easier in a smaller company once the commitment to changing is set.
If you own or work for a larger business, the difficulty often arises from that lack of shared internal vision and perception in the first place. Many larger businesses have the resources to model their marketplace and make some educated assessments regarding what might happen if… what’s ofeten missing is the internal commitment to real change, since the starting place for the many employees is so varied. If, for instance, a large consumer goods company wants to change how they interact with the marketplace so they are perceived as more community-minded, more involved in social issues, more caring… but their employees feel neglected, unimportant, like expendable resources… I submit that the rebranding will ultimately fail. Advertising can say whatever it wants, but products and service delivered by employees who feel like the company doesn’t care are not going to deliver on the advertised promise of caring.
How do you know if your business would benefit from a rebranding effort? You don’t – without doing the hard work of figuring it out. The best thing about the process may be how it forces us to look at our businesses from a clinical perspective… examine the DNA and look for mutations that may signal a problem or may herald our next big thing.