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Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Rebranding?

How fear gets in the way of leadership embracing true 360 rebranding initiatives

While rebranding initiatives are often perceived as promotional gestures with little substance, at Tronvig we continue to witness their potential to spur organizational transformation and behavior change. Most rebrands undoubtedly fall into the facelift category, but those that are approached as a true 360 process have the ability not only to elevate a brand’s public perception, but crucially, to boost employee morale and performance by enhancing the organization’s internal culture.

With those benefits in mind, why is it that true 360 rebranding efforts are so few and far between? Limited resources aside, what often gets in the way is fear. More specifically, leadership’s fear of change.

What often gets in the way of true 360 rebranding efforts is leadership’s fear of change.

The difference between a hollow revamp and a rebranding à la Tronvig is introspection. In our role as facilitator, we hold a mirror up to our clients and guide them through uncomfortable conversations that need to be had in order for real, lasting change to occur. We make sure representatives from all levels and functions across the organization are given a seat at the table, and do the difficult work of untangling entrenched practices and behaviors that are holding the organization back from embodying their values, living up to their mission, or reaching a competitive position in the market.

rebranding initiative

As a client once said, our process is “painful but inarguable.” That client was a CEO, a leader who understood what was at stake for his organization, who was willing to take part in collective introspection, and further willing to assess the role he personally played in perpetuating a sub-optimal status quo. That’s a lot to ask of a leader, but putting ego aside in service of the organization’s best interest is the hallmark of true leadership.

Fear of getting one’s ego bruised and disrupting a functional status quo is often what prevents leaders from fully leaning into the internal dimension of a rebranding initiative.

Beyond fear of change, the fear of getting one’s ego bruised and disrupting a functional status quo is often what prevents leaders from fully leaning into the internal dimension of a rebranding initiative. We’ve witnessed this firsthand on several occasions, none more telling than a recent experience whereby a rebranding effort was squelched in its infancy by the director of a nonprofit cultural organization. The director’s fears ran so deep that he ultimately fired the employee who had proposed the rebrand, because the initiative sought to review the institution’s mission, clarify its values, and better align the organization’s practices with its calls for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.

This instance is an extreme case, but like many others, it was a missed opportunity for the kind of introspection that leads an organization to actually become what it proclaims to be. When your policies, practices, and behaviors are consistent with your Core Values, you don’t need to talk about them so much because they speak for themselves. This was also a missed opportunity for the director: a rebranding initiative is an effective vehicle through which to strengthen one’s leadership skills, and to demonstrate one’s commitment to the organization’s mission and the morale of the employees whose contributions are essential for the success of any such endeavor.

Transformative change not only needs to be sanctioned by, but also modeled from the top.

As social psychologist Kurt Lewin suggests through his Force Field theory, there’s no doubt that 360 rebranding efforts can be undermined by non-executives or bystanders as well (after all, change is stressful and difficult), but time and again, our client engagements remind us that transformative change not only needs to be sanctioned by, but also modeled from the top. There’s nothing more demotivating than to be asked to uphold a set of Core Values that seemingly don’t apply to one’s superiors. Core Values are meant to undermine arbitrary authority by providing a set of shared principles to guide decision making and resolve disagreements. If those values are not upheld by an organization’s leaders, they shouldn’t be expected to apply to everyone else. And while it’s natural for leaders to be intimidated by the thought of losing some of their undisputed executive authority, they should be able to move far enough beyond that fear to recognize that Core Values are not about stripping authority but rather about fostering autonomy, and thus, distributing leadership responsibility deeper into the organization for everyone’s benefit, not least of whom the leaders themselves.

Fear perpetuates a scarcity mindset, which hinders an organization’s ability to operate as a healthy, highly functioning environment where employees can thrive. Overcoming fear (of change, of losing authority, of disturbing the status quo) is one of the most meaningful endeavors a leader can take, and a true 360 rebranding initiative is a great place to start.

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Photo by Marina Vitale

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