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Why Not Rebrand?

If any of these are your reasons for a rebrand, don’t do it!

In my previous article, Why Rebrand? I outlined a small set of reasons that are sufficient on their own or in combination to justify the effort and disruption of an organizational rebrand. In this follow-up, I’d like to highlight some reasons I’ve experienced that do not pass muster. I have seen all of these serve as the primary reason for a rebrand. If you happen to see them, please take it as a warning that the question of “Why” needs closer examination.

1. Boredom

One of my favorite bad reasons is the simplest: “Because we are bored with what we have now.” I understand this emotionally. You have had the same brand for 10 or 20 years. Isn’t it time for a new one? This reason often gets much more power than it should. It’s a concept I call brand fatigue. Brand fatigue develops inside an organization long before it does on the outside. In fact, one could argue that it almost never sets in on the outside. When was the last time you heard a loyal customer of a brand say of that brand, “I think it’s stuck in its old ways. I want it to throw off everything it stands for and try something new, starting with the logo because it’s so old-fashioned.” My guess is never.

Odds are your new brand will not make your customers happy.

Odds are your new brand will not make your customers happy. People are naturally averse to change and your customers are emotionally attached to your brand and all of its markers. They are happy with it; that’s why they are your customers. Changing it is like swapping out the rug they are standing on. The change will be disconcerting for them, so the reasons must be good enough for them to forgive you for having done it. The reasons need to be real and make for a good story on the outside and inspire a sense of purpose and urgency on the inside. Rebranding because you are bored is selfish.

2. New leadership

New leadership is helpful in considering when to rebrand, but it should not be the reason in and of itself. If a new organizational leader lays out an ambitious vision, works through the strategy that is going to take the organization there, and then sees that the brand is inadequate to support this strategy, that is good reason to take up the enterprise. But a new leader intent on leaving a mark may see the brand as an easy and obvious way to do so. This is misguided and dangerous because any rebrand is a risk.

The reasons for a brand project should be able to outlast those who initially set it in motion.

We were recently working with a large organization that had brought on a new CEO. He was adamant that the organizational brand needed an overhaul starting with the logo; he thought it was out of date and did not like its color. Parts of his critique were valid, but had we started the process then for the reasons he put forward in the absence of a strategic foundation for the work, we might have endangered the entire process because four months later, he was gone. If the foundation for the brand project was (as it would have been), “because the CEO wanted it,” the whole thing could easily have been scrapped like a lot of the other things he had initiated. This would have been costly and disruptive without any benefit. The reasons for a brand project should be able to outlast those who initially set it in motion.

3. Peer pressure

Peer pressure is not just for teenagers. Institutions feel it as well, and it should not drive action on branding. A brand should be deeply rooted in an organization’s mission and values. While it should be sensitive to what the customer (visitor, donor, advocate) values, it should not oscillate with the fickle whims of fashion.

Visual brands do need to be updated periodically, but visual brands are not brands. You are not the clothes you wear. Your clothes certainly affect how people think of you, but there is a lot more to you than your clothes. So it is with brands. Rebranding is about a lot more than the visual brand (see 360 brand), and the pressure to update your visual brand may mount because your logo is old and therefore, by definition, off trend. But this should not be confused with the need to rebrand. A logo refresh is not a rebrand.

Your visual brand can and should be somewhat responsive to the demands of current taste, but what matters most are the inner workings of the brand. What are its core values? What is its reason for being? These are things that should not change without potent justification or extraordinary circumstance. (See Why rebrand?)

A brand should be deeply rooted in an organization’s mission and values and should not oscillate with the fickle whims of fashion.

When we are doing the values section of our discovery workshop, there are a couple of consistent questions that come up. One is “Which of these alternatives will be most appealing to our target audience?” In this situation, I usually have to remind the workshop participants that this part of the Brand Pyramid is not about the outside. It is about codifying your most deeply held organizational convictions. What would you keep even if it hurt you? These are not things you revise based on analyzing trends.

The other question that comes up sometimes emerges at the end when we are looking at a final set of unearthed values (preferably three) and someone comments, “But aren’t these everyone’s values?” I love this question because it suggests that the person asking feels these values so deeply that they assume them to be universal. The answer is invariably no. They are never, as a set, shared by any other organization we work with. Organizational cultures are naturally different and this difference is an important element in aligning the brand around things that matter. Peer pressure is an invitation to sameness, but brands are strengthened by deep and meaningful differences that can and should be authentic.

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Photo by the author of Leopoldo Maler’s Hommage in The Hess Collection

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