By Any Other Name

Three important tips for navigating a rebranding
Illustration by Tony Healey

Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency.


“We need to rebrand.”

“Should we rebrand?”

“Did you see so and so? They rebranded.”

For several reasons, businesses will eventually reach a point where the discussion is about rebranding.

Although a rebranding is most visible through the use of a new name, logo, tagline or some variation thereof, an actual rebranding should begin with a strategy meant to communicate a change in the business. The visible elements codify a differentiated identity in the minds of customers, employees, competitors, investors and other stakeholders.

Social media has made these changes highly visible. Most of the “rebranding” we read about is not much more than a logo tweak or what I like to call a brand refresh. This open channel to companies has allowed everyone to judge the slightest efforts companies have undertaken, but unfortunately, the audience can often be more critical than appreciative. The reason is simple: They are being exposed to a visible change and not an experiential difference (which hopefully exists).

As marketers and business owners, you must understand WHAT you ultimately want to accomplish, the steps to reach your goals, and frankly, if you want to or need to rebrand at this time. These points need clarification before you fall into a vortex of commentary.

Rebranding should not be your go-to simply because you’re tired of your logo. However, if your target audience has or is changing, you’d be smart to change along with them. If you’ve made significant changes in your operations, rebranding might also be the right strategy.

However, if you’re thinking of simply changing your logo and calling it a rebrand in the hopes of saving a business, I beg you to stop right now. Radio Shack’s failed “rebranding” effort should be a cautionary tale for us all. The 98-year-old consumer electronics chain announced a rebrand during a Super Bowl, but the problem with “The Shack” was one of strategy. The retail technology leader lacked brand focus, which would have allowed them to see and react to consumer changes. Fundamental operational changes were never made to support the rebranding.

You have to go “all in” when you rebrand, but there are specific steps that will help you navigate the process.

1. Know your goals.

An essential first step is to set meaningful, measurable goals and determine a baseline measurement. Conduct research to understand the brand from both an external and internal perspective. Evaluate existing marketing strategies, materials, media and communications.

2. Lather up!

A SWOT analysis is a great way to understand the market, but I’ve started working with a new approach borrowed from a friend called a SOAP Note. This tool — used by healthcare providers to document notes about a patient in a consistent way, allows you to rethink the market because it forces you to look at it in a very different way. The process will enable you to review Subjective inputs (such as the ones you collected in the previous step) as well as Objective observations to formulate Assessments and Plans.

3. Get creative.

While this portion of rebranding may seem like the “fun part,” it can also be the most difficult, because strategic development requires solid business-based direction. You must first clearly understand what you’re trying to communicate with your new graphics and language. Use focus groups during the development stage to glean stakeholder reactions and interpretations of your new look and feel.

This type of process can be quite eye-opening, but it also requires more than sitting behind a two-way mirror. As you work through focus groups, your creative team will be adapting the graphics and language to reflect the most appropriate input. The next group will see something slightly different, and so on. Within a handful of groups, you’ll have your new look and feel.

Finally, ensure you have developed a proper brand style guide that will assist your staff and vendors in the appropriate application of the new brand elements.

Rebranding takes many moving parts to go from considering rebranding to a successful launch, but with careful planning and attention to detail, the benefits can be significant.