A different name or a flashy new logo might seem like just the trick for a business looking to freshen up its brand, but there are some important lessons to learn before you start picking out your favourite font or colour palette.
There may be a number of reasons you’re considering a makeover: feeling as though you’ve outgrown the old brand, taking advantage of opportunities to expand, legal teams knocking at your door with trademark concerns, or simply a desire for a new look.
But rebranding is a costly undertaking, both financially and potentially to your brand itself – if you get it wrong.
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Branding expert Michel Hogan tells SmartCompany she believes 90% of the time, a company rebrands for the wrong reason, sinking money and time into an unnecessary expense.
“Too often a company will go to an ad agency and say we need a new name or logo and they certainly won’t say no, you don’t need it, they’ll say how big and what colour would you like it?” says Hogan. “It can be very expensive – we’re talking tens of thousands of discretionary cash.”
So, before you start trying on a new name for size, SmartCompany takes a look at four important rebranding lessons, with some of Australia’s most successful rebranded companies.
1. Work out why you want to rebrand
“When someone comes to me and says, I need to change, the first question I ask is them is why?” says Hogan.
She says companies often use rebranding as a distraction to a bigger problem that isn’t as appealing to deal with. “It’s fun to sit around and pick colours, without dealing with the bigger problems,” she says.
“Typically, there’s something else really going on. We’re bored or stale, we need to refresh, we need a makeover. OK then, go buy a dress in the form of a new marketing campaign – don’t get plastic surgery.”
Hogan, who doesn’t like to use the word “rebrand” short of describing a company that has completely shut down and started again, prefers to talk in terms of changing your business’ visual identity.
For Hogan, there is only one reason to change an identity that your customers are already familiar with.
“The only reason to do it is for a competitive advantage. Is your name costing you customers or stopping you from getting more customers?”
Punters.com founder Luc Pettett, who last year successfully rebranded his online betting business from its lesser known iteration ‘Punter Paradise’, says he believes a business should only ever rebrand for strategy.
“It needs to be strategic, you need to know it’s going to be an improvement,” says Pettett, who gives an example of a rebrand gone wrong from inside the betting industry.
“There’s a firm in our industry that rebranded, going from a complicated name, to another complicated set of names because the partners changed,” says Pettett. “They then ran a competition with their staff to change the name again, but staff are not strategic experts.”
He says the company has subsequently rebranded three times since.
For Pettett, the strategic rebrand to the plain Punters name was a “no brainer”, which allowed the company to take advantage of its growth.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” he says. “When we started, we were a startup and it was hard to find a good domain. We had no choice when we began, we didn’t have the ability to secure the presence we wanted.”
“It doesn’t take a genius to work out why we wanted the Punters name. Our ambition is to be the biggest racing website and we can’t do that without a brand that screams ‘category leader’.”
Thanks to an advertisement agreement with British gaming company Ladbrokes, which owned the Punters name, Pettett was able to acquire the name with relative ease. But he says the biggest challenges lay beyond simply securing his name of choice.
2. Do the leg work
Rebranding is not just about a name or a logo, a company also needs to think about:
- Re-educating its customers through marketing activities
- Re-applying for trademark and intellectual property rights
- Changing its URLs
- Informing Google and dealing with search engine optimisation issues
- Changing its social media channels (don’t lose all your likes – Facebook only lets you change the name of your page once)
Hogan says these extra activities, and their associated costs, can be a strain on small to medium businesses because they generally only have the ability to focus on outlays that contribute to the bottom line.
“For any SME, it’s about weighing basic cost-benefits analysis, the intangible and tangible costs,” says Hogan.
For Jane Lu, founder of online fashion retailer Showpo (originally ShowPony), the decision to rebrand was forced upon her by legal concerns.
Lu says she never expected her small business would grow to where it is now when she originally chose the name ShowPony in 2010.
“I thought, why get the name trademarked, what’s the point? You should be focusing on making money when you start out,” says Lu.
“We never thought it would be that big an issue, until we started growing fast overseas and we found there were legal implications for copyright, and trademark was quite a serious issue.”
Lu says she considered keeping the name but decided “fighting the legal battle wasn’t worth it”.
“I decided to spend time on making a new brand,” says Lu, whose strategy to re-educate her customers involved making a video that could be shared across social media channels.
Hogan says a lot of startups run into a similar problem, where they don’t do the appropriate checks before registering a business name. She suggests searching the Australian Securities and Investments Commission database and IP Australia trademark database as a basic measure before choosing a name.
3. Make small, incremental changes
Hogan says one of the cardinal rules about changing a visual identity is “evolution, not revolution” and advocates making slow and measured “tweaks” to a brand, rather than fast and dramatic changes.
Pet Circle founder Mike Frizell, who rebranded his pet supply business from ‘Paws for life’ earlier in the year, says the company made sure its rebrand was carried out in a segmented way so its customers “didn’t get a huge shock”.
Frizell says Pet Circle first changed its name, URL and slightly tweaked its logo, while maintaining the website’s architecture and design so customers could still use the site the way they were used to. After three months, the company then implemented a full website redesign.
“The site is completely different from 12 months ago, but no one noticed,” says Frizell, who says he first realised the need for a rebrand when the company started to invest in TV, radio and print advertising.
“The business had outgrown the original name,” he says. “Paws for Life was very narrow, there was not a lot of optionality. We were no longer a paw business, we were a pet business. It became very clear the name was our biggest challenge.”
Frizell says Pet Circle gave the business greater flexibility and better potential for expansion.
“We constantly evolve parts of the brand, so this was no different. The company keeps changing and we need to represent who we are.”
But Frizell warns once a business has made the decision to change its name, there are some parts of the process that take longer than others.
“The main delay is finding a URL with availability in all the markets you’re looking at. Then you have to put forward applications for trademarks and IP rights, which can take 2-3 months before they’re granted,” he says.
Frizell also says dealing with Google before, during and after a rebrand is essential.
“There is a lengthy process, you can’t just switch URLs,” says Frizell.
Pettett agrees Punters saw a big decline in its organic traffic from Google after a rebrand.
“You can inform Google through some of its tools that you’ve done a rebrand and carry over existing rankings, but we had two months decline in organic traffic.”
4. Your customers will probably not care as much as you do
Although he says the rebrand was a significant step for Punters, Pettett says one of the most important lessons he learned from rebranding was that customers didn’t care as much about the name as he thought they might.
“We found when we sent an email that said ‘we’ve rebranded’, it was one of the least successful emails we’ve ever sent out,” says Pettett.
“You might think it’s huge for you, which it is, but what do your customers actually care about?”
Lu says ShowPo’s successful transition shows the name isn’t the most important part of the company’s brand.
“It shows there are more important elements, like social media,” say Lu.
For Frizell, Pet Circle’s strategic rebrand was about appealing to a new customer, and had little effect on those already loyal to the brand.
“As long as it didn’t resonate negatively with existing customers, then all we were looking for was something a bit clearer for new customers,” he says.
But perhaps Hogan puts rebranding into the clearest perspective for those of you considering the move.
“At the end of the day, there is not a person on the planet who decides to buy something because of a name and logo,” she says.
She says businesses often get the wrong idea when they begin to reach out to their customers to talk about their branding.
“All of a sudden, a company that hasn’t been talking to its customer goes to talk to them about a new name or a logo, and they see a spike in engagement. But it wasn’t the logo, it was the fact you had bothered to start talking to them.”