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The Desire for Change

Wayne McMaster

31 January 2013

“Should we rebrand?”—It’s a question many premium home interior and lifestyle companies may wrestle with as they review what the previous year and strategies have delivered for them, and what their future plans and built upon. The answer is, “It depends,” and it hinges largely on how you define your terminology.

If you equate your 'brand' with your company’s 'reputation,' then to 'rebrand' would mean you intend to reshape people’s opinions about you in new ways. They think 'X' about you now, and you want them to think 'Y' about you tomorrow.

Rebranding terminology

Unfortunately, 'rebranding' is a loaded term, open to a number of interpretations. Some may use 'rebranding' as a synonym for a 'new advertising campaign', equating it to a new strapline, or a new call-to-action. For others, it could suggest something much deeper and intensive, something that impacts the core of every part of the business on a foundational level.

Whatever definition you choose, 'rebranding' implies your business had a brand strategy to start with, when in fact most home interior and premium lifestyle businesses do not. While many companies in the home interest industry have a particular look and feel — even strategies — for their advertising campaigns, few have sat down and deliberately crafted a long term plan for their brand.

What do we want people to think about us today? Next year? How do we want to be perceived 5-10 years down the road? What is our encompassing message/promise? How do we differentiate the delivery of our products in meaningful ways? What is the common thread that unifies everything we do — marketing, advertising, sales, service, products, etc.?

When many home interest companies say they need to 'rebrand', what they really need to do is develop an initial, comprehensive brand strategy.

The term 'rebranding' suggests a refinement or other similar adjustment to an existing strategy, but a company can’t refine what it hasn’t yet defined.

Brand Strategy

If you never articulate a formal, written brand strategy, your company’s advertising will always be controlled according to the whims of a handful of individuals — namely the Marketing Director and/or the owner, or even the creative agency. If you hire a new Marketing Director, you’re likely to wind up with a new look and feel for your business. Same thing if you hire a new creative agency. Without a defined brand strategy, someone can always create some new rationale, a new reason to pursue a new visual direction.

As a creative agency we love to use a tool called the Creative Brief. This is a document that typically lays out the parameters of your company’s marketing communication project (e.g., objectives, audience, message/offer and media to be used). In a very real sense, your Brand Strategy could be viewed as your company’s 'über creative brief', the overarching Creative Brief for all creative briefs, that helps to clearly define your relevant differentiation in the marketplace, gives your brand a unique, ownable, desirable brand position; informs the strategic and creative expressions of your brand; helps to establish clear goals for the future and sets guidelines for getting there.

With a brand strategy in place, you can strip away all the subjectivity and replace it with deliberate intent, measuring creative outcomes against the über Creative Brief. You have clarity of purpose. You know why you exist (Purpose), what you stand for (Values), where you are going (Mission and Vision), what you should be saying (Communication and Message) and to whom (Focus and Audience).

Rebranding vs. Changing your Brand’s Identity

There are two basic types of rebranding projects: (1) those that impact staff — what they do, sell and say, and (2) those that have no impact on staff.

With the first approach to rebranding, you look at retooling all aspects of your business. You’re hoping to align everything around a new, cohesive position.

With the second approach to rebranding, your company is usually only changing what it says, not what it does, who it is or what it stands for.

So the answer to the question, “Should we rebrand?” is “It depends.” It depends on whether you have already established your company’s brand strategy. It depends on whether your brand strategy is outdated, inadequate or no longer relevant. Or maybe your brand strategy is solid and the identity is the only thing that needs to change. Either way, the term 'rebranding' is so slippery and ambiguous, it’s best to avoid it unless you are doing a deep dive into your strategy.

Our Rebranding Checklist:

  1. Do we have a formal, written brand strategy? (If not, you need one.)
  2. Is our brand strategy relevant and enduring? (If yes, be careful about how you use the term 'rebranding', as it might imply you are abandoning your position/promise.)
  3. Are we changing who we are or what we stand for at a basic level? (If yes, you are truly rebranding.)
  4. Are we delivering a message consistent with those we’ve marketed in the past? (If yes, you aren’t really 'rebranding' so much as evolving, refreshing, updating or extending your brand.)
  5. Do we change the underlying promise and messages in our advertising campaigns regularly? (If yes, you probably would benefit from a branding project.)
  6. How will staff be impacted by changes planned for our brand and/or its execution/delivery? (If staff are affected, you are most likely rebranding. If staff aren’t affected, it’s most likely a brand identity makeover.)
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