Rebranding: The Ultimate Guide (+ Examples)
People love makeovers. From Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, to any “before and after” home renovation transformation, we can’t resist a good revamp. Just like the subjects of these classic glow up stories, brands are like living and breathing entities that carry their own persona, and sometimes, they also need a quick refresh—or a complete overhaul.
Even if your business has made good branding decisions up until now, many companies reach a point where their brand identity no longer aligns with their original vision, or their efforts to grow become limited. Whatever has led you here, it is clear that your brand is evolving, so it may be time to consider rebranding.
This strategic process focuses holistically on reshaping your brand identity and any emotional or psychological brand associations consumers have of it. In this article we will outline the steps you’ll take to rebrand, from the way your logo design to recalibrating your target market, and examples of brands who have re-worked their image successfully.
What is rebranding?
Rebranding refers to the process of establishing a new or differentiated brand identity in the mind’s and hearts of your customers. Many people believe that rebranding is simply designing a new logo, changing your brand colors, brand name, or adjusting your visual identity. While updating your branding collateral is a part of the process, rebranding is actually much more profound.
Think of rebranding as an emotional shift driven by any kind of change to your business. It's the process of pivoting in a new direction while maintaining the foundation of what your brand stands for. Whether your brand is growing into a new market, offering different types of services or undergoing any other kind of change, rebranding is a reaction to the growing needs of your consumers.
The road to rebranding is different for everyone, and there are a multitude of challenges and opportunities that may lead a company to consider this process. Rebranding can be a very costly process involving time, energy and resources, so it is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
Your rebranding strategy is not something that can be impulsively thrown together, either. It requires research, patience and vision to pull off successfully, and when done right—the results can be game changing for your brand.
Here are some of the reasons why you should consider rebranding:
Mergers and acquisitions: When two companies unite, they bring their own unique brand identities with them. The key to a successful merger is to find a new identity and build a brand that represents and encapsulates the values of both parties in one cohesive place, in order to avoid confusion. It is also worth noting that not every merger needs a total rebrand, sometimes a light refresh will suffice (we will cover that below).
New markets and locations: If your brand is growing within the current market or expanding into alternative markets, this presents a golden opportunity. For example, maybe your business has grown into international markets with different cultures and languages that may require a localized brand visual identity and tone of voice.
Target audience shift: When your brand is no longer resonating with your target audience, you’ll want to attract a new one, and rebranding can help you achieve this goal. Remember that even if you wish to appeal to a new audience, you must be careful not to alienate your current one. For example, trying out Gen Z branding strategies may be a new approach to reach a specific audience.
Outdated branding: Your brand no longer represents your current offerings, or alternatively it just feels outdated. Perhaps your company designed its logo over 20 years ago, and it no longer communicates the same message.
Technological advancements: Even if you’re staying on top of the game, there can also be external trends of technological advancements within your industry that can influence your offering. On this note, these advances can also bring new competitors to the field.
Revised mission: The core of your brand decisions is rooted in your business’s mission and vision statements, along with your purpose and values. If the foundation that your company is built upon is shifting or evolving, it is worth considering a rebrand to reevaluate your original goals and make sure they are still aligned.
Change in experience: Maybe you originally opened a brick-and-mortar storefront that shifted to an online shop. Or your restaurant only offers take away rather than dine-in eating. Big or small, these changes impact the experience for your customers and must be effectively communicated in your branding.
Poor original branding: Perhaps you dove in too quickly, or didn’t fully contemplate your branding right from the get-go. Oftentimes, newly established companies quickly throw together a logo and some short-sighted branding elements just to get started. Taking the time to revisit and re-evaluate these decisions can be a great rebranding opportunity.
With this in mind, there are a few reasons that on their own do not justify a complete rebrand:
New management: Sometimes a new CEO wants to make their mark with a new logo or redesign. Although new management can sometimes be the catalyst for change, remember that rebranding is not just based on superficial elements and must be a holistic strategy that involves reshaping the brand from the inside out. Furthermore, it should not be the decision of one new leader, rather a collective process that takes each aspect of the brand into consideration.
Band-aid solution: Good branding is all about authenticity and transparency, so using a rebrand to misguide your audience or distract them from a negative experience can appear dishonest and have major backlash. If your brand has gained a less than favorable reputation, simply changing your logo is a temporary, superficial solution that does not address or resolve the problem.
PR stunt: Sometimes brands will try out-of-the-box marketing strategies to draw attention to their product. However, rebranding just to get attention can be risky and ill-received. Having said that, there are the rare occasions when this strategy pays off. Just take a look at the IHOP rebrand strategy, where they renamed themselves “IHOB” as a gimmick.
Boredom: You may have grown tired of your brand identity and think it’s simply time for a refresh, but this isn’t a good enough reason to rebrand. If you haphazardly change your brand because you’re feeling blasé, you’re selling yourself short. Even though you may not like your logo, your loyal customers have grown to recognize and love your brand. Changing your brand without the necessary research and rebranding strategy can be detrimental to your brand trust and persona. You can think of the rule of 7, a marketing principle which states that it takes consumers approximately seven times before they recognize a brand. While you may see your logo on a daily basis, remember that prospective customers are seeing it with new eyes, and they need time to build connections and make associations with your brand.
Types of rebranding
Once you’ve outlined the purpose, the specific rebranding strategy you choose will depend on your goals. With this in mind, you also have to consider the amount of time and money a rebrand will cost, which may impact the type of approach you follow.
If your business is already recognized and respected, and you’ve developed strong brand loyalty, a brand refresh is a great way to update your offering without minimizing awareness. Since brand refreshes are less cumbersome than a total overhaul, they also cost less and take less time to pull off. Also known as a partial rebrand, this approach is ideal for companies that want to make adjustments to stay relevant and attract new customers, without losing their hard-earned relationship with current ones.
A refresh is perfect for brands that have outdated branding collateral, or have shifted their vision and goals. Some things to consider when executing a successful brand refresh include creating a new logo, updating or creating a website and fine-tuning your brand voice and communication methods.
This can also include updating photography and images used in your branding assets, and revising your color palette to ensure that all the visual elements speak your brand message authentically. Furthermore, these changes must be consistent across all mediums, ranging from any kind of print materials to packaging design and retail environments.
A great example is the Apple logo, which only underwent one complete redo from its original design in 1976 to the iconic bitten apple we all know and love today. Every 7-10 years, the brand gently updates its logo, almost like a fresh coat of paint. Without sacrificing any brand recognition or loyalty, these refreshed logos are relevant, timely and keep everyone engaged.
Unlike a refresh, a brand overhaul refers to a complete metamorphosis and is much more thorough and complex. A complete overhaul brings its own diverse challenges and requires in-depth research and a strategic plan to fully understand the scope of the project.
Since this type of rebrand can be intensive and costly, it should only be considered when a company is shifting their entire purpose, including their mission and vision, and readiness to repair and rebuild the brand from the inside out.
A full rebrand can be provoked by a change in your products or services, or a company expansion into a new market. Regardless of what drives your rebrand, it is most commonly rooted in some kind of failure or misstep to effectively communicate with your target audience. It’s your chance to change the narrative, and tell a new brand story.
With this in mind, the goal of a complete brand overhaul is to re-establish your brand identity and perception in the market, reconnecting with your current and prospective customers. You can take a closer look at some impressive full rebranding examples at the end of this article.
How to rebrand:
Just as no two brands are the same, neither are the rebranding strategies that transform them. With this in mind, remember that your specific challenges and goals are unique to your business and should be approached accordingly. Understanding these nuances will lead to a more thoughtful and strategic result.
Define your reason
Research and determine your target audience
Decide what stays and what goes
Collaborate with your team
Share it with the world
Listen to feedback
01. Define your reason
Rebranding is an introspective process and one that requires self-awareness and vision. You must look inwards and ask important and sometimes difficult questions to determine your brand’s current issue or problem.
When your business first started, you likely outlined your purpose, mission, vision and values. However, in some cases these may have been overlooked and never fully established. If your brand does not have a clearly defined purpose, this is the time to figure out what it is.
Your vision, mission and values will set the foundation and serve as cornerstones of your brand. Creating a brand purpose, will serve to unify your entire organization around a single goal, ultimately enabling your entire team (employees, customers, partners and competitors) to connect better. These will help guide each decision along the way and keep your rebranding strategy aligned.
02. Research and determine your target audience
In order for your rebranding efforts to be successful, you want to not only target the right audience, but resonate with them. Taking a look at your competitors to fully visualize the playing field is an important part of this research process to figure out what sets your company apart, and what you can deliver to prospective clients, so they will choose your brand.
In order to establish your target market, you need to consider your current demographic and the one you’re attempting to communicate with. You must determine:
Income and financial status
Hobbies and interests
You also need to gauge:
Previous associations with your brand
Connections to competitors
Based on your findings, you want to dig even deeper to get to know your target audience. What are their experiences? What are they passionate about?
This is also the time to examine what the latest trends are. While it is not recommended to simply jump on the bandwagon of the latest fad, having awareness will give you powerful insights. This is particularly true for your visual assets—just because something is on-trend now, it might not be six months down the line, and you don’t want to rebrand again.
03. Decide what stays and what goes
Channel your inner Marie Kondo and think, does it bring you joy? If you answer yes, you get to keep the item, and if not—it goes. While rebranding is not as simple as cleaning out your closet, it is definitely similar in some ways. Before you eliminate all your branding assets, you need to first decide which ones are actually working for you.
For example, are you planning to change your brand name? In many cases, the brand name can stay the same and helps maintain brand recognition. Having said that, there are also times when you’d want to change it, like when two companies merge and form a new brand, this is a great opportunity.
Go through each of your brand touchpoints one by one to decide what you’ll keep and what you’ll refresh or eliminate. This refers to both visual and non-visual branding elements. Remember, you may want to hold on to some of your original assets to foster a sense of familiarity and continuity, so customers maintain the same positive associations and sentiments toward your brand.
Here are just some of the brand assets you should consider when deciding what will stay and what will go.
Slogan or catchphrase
Employee communication and training
Social media posts
04. Collaborate with your team
The key to a strong rebrand is collaborating with a range of people associated with your company, both internal and external. However, it is recommended to follow a general order when you roll out your rebrand, starting from the inside out.
First, your rebranding strategy should be communicated inwardly with stakeholders, partners, employees as well as sponsors and donors. Ensuring that your team is properly briefed on the new brand identity and communication will ensure that everyone is on the same page.
For example, you may host a “soft launch”, which gives you an opportunity to share your newly rebranded business with your inner circle before unveiling it to the world. It is also a chance to stay ahead of any issues, so that when you do go public, you can do so with complete confidence.
05. Share it with the world
It can’t hurt to generate a buzz around your newly revamped brand. Before the big reveal, giving your audience a sneak peek at what's to come can be enticing and make your launch even more successful.
Now you’re ready to share your rebrand with your external audience, including your customers, the media, your social media community, influencers or brand ambassadors.
One of the most important aspects of your rebanding launch is to share the why behind your decisions, and keep your audience in the loop. Be sure to share your process and the goals of your new direction—transparency and authenticity are as good as gold for your newly rebranded business.
06. Listen to feedback
The driving force behind your rebranding decisions was based on the needs of your customers and their perception of your brand. So listening to their feedback is just as important a step as any. For example, one of the greatest rebranding fails of all time was back in 2010 when Gap tried to rebrand their 20-year longstanding logo, in a misguided blunder which has since been dubbed “Gapgate”.
It took Gap less than a week to eliminate the rebranded logo and return to their classic blue square. The Gap logo redesign fail was a learning experience not only for the clothing retailer, but lives on as a cautionary tale for other brands.
Velo by Wix
What could be worse than when a pandemic sounds like your product? When it comes to branding—not much. Originally called Wix Code, the full-stack development platform evolved and went through a rebranding process in 2019 to be called Corvid by Wix. Nobody could predict that a name that was inspired by the remarkably intelligent Corvidae birds, would later be mistaken for a global pandemic.
After constant, often comedic trolling and backlash from the online community, Corvid underwent a name change and a slight brand refresh, to become Velo by Wix. According to Wix CMO Omer Shai, “Velo comes from the word ‘velocity’, and is inspired by the accelerated development that users have on this platform”.
With the new name came an updated website, a lighter and more approachable tone of voice and brand message, and of course, a fresh new logo.
The iconic lingerie brand, most notable for their black, white and pink boudoir-esque stores, their sexy and empowering messaging, and their annual fashion show flaunting supermodels known as “Angels" has recently undergone a major makeover.
Victoria’s Secret has opted for a more diverse, inclusive and authentic onslaught of models including Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Megan Rapinoe and Paloma Elsesser, to name a few. These women are the embodiment of empowerment, inclusivity, gender equality and body positivity, basically a 180 from their previous figures.
In the wake of the #Metoo movement, controversy around women’s reproductive freedom and attention on transgender rights, Victoria’s secret not only paid attention to the social climate, but they finally listened. This after more controversy around misogyny, bullying and harassment towards their models, and backlash from the global community claiming it took the brand too long to make this change. Nonetheless, the time has come.
As a result, their bold rebrand is an effort to mitigate these missteps and rebuild a fresh new image, targeting a more all-embracing audience. The brand is revamping their stores along with the launch of their VS collection promoting new product lines and reimagined content that will challenge women’s causes, including a new breast cancer fundraising campaign. They’ve also made management changes, crafting a mostly-female board of directors.
While their brand name and logo will remain the same, this full overhaul is a risk the brand is willing to take to change perception and shift the way they fit into the market.
In 2019, the beloved American coffee and donut chain underwent a very successful and effective rebrand. This impressive transformation was a multi-level undertaking which included internal management changes to integrate new perspectives, updates to their visual branding assets including their logo and brand name (originally Dunkin' Donuts) and a fresh new language and approach.
What made Dunkin’s rebrand so strong is that they recognized after almost seven decades of service, they needed to revitalize their branding to not only communicate better with a new generation, but to also reunite with their original customers.
Through intensive consumer research and competitive analysis, they were able to not only find where they could fit within the market, they also understood where they didn’t fit. In a generation of minimalist and offbeat high-end cafés and coffee aficionados, Dunkin’ didn’t try to be something it is not. Rather, they leveraged their brand loyalty to attract lapsed customers, and built a relationship with new ones.
Even their rebrand launch was savvy and relevant, using a friendly approach to reveal their new name. Since most people already referred to the brand as Dunkin’, they invited their friends to “Call them by a first name basis”. This clever tweet shows the affable nature of their new brand language, which has been well received across the board.
Dunkin’ continues to expand their offering, selling trendy menu items like plant-based foods, oat milk and Boba to attract a younger generation, while still delivering the familiar cup of Jo.
By Kylie Goldstein
Branding Expert and Marketing Blogger