How and why rebrands fail

When companies look to rebrand, there’s a whole range of reasons why. They may be looking to market to new audiences or update their image to stay relevant. Sometimes it’s due to a merger or even to try and put distance between a brand and negative publicity – famously, Accenture was born as a rebranding effort in the aftermath of the Enron scandal.

From small refreshes to root-and-branch reworks, rebranding is a normal part of any business’ lifecycle. But sometimes things don’t go to plan.

Here are three of the most common reasons a rebrand can go awry:

1. When you veer too far off course.

Unless you’re intentionally trying to make a clean break from the past, branding should have a sense of continuity. Why? Because diverging too strongly alienates and confuses people. Drastic shifts in visual styles or tone of voice risk seeming forced or inauthentic.

A notorious recent case was the long-awaited overhaul following the merger of Aberdeen and Standard Life who rebranded as ‘Abrdn’, a move that left many commentators scratching their heads.

It’s easy to see what they were shooting for: a revitalised, more modern image that showed them as a future-facing, digital business. But by embracing the look and feel of a Silicon Valley start-up, they strayed so far from their current identity and historical roots that they appeared desperate and to be trying too hard.

Any company considering a significant rebrand must remember there’s a gap between how they wish to be perceived and the extent to which everybody else is willing to accept it. The more established and well-known the brand, the more difficult moving away from it will be.

Our advice: “Gauging the distance between how you see yourselves and how others see you is often a big sticking point in the rebranding process. This is a key part of our process when we do the groundwork on strategic direction.”

2. When you fail to be distinctive.

The oldest crime in branding is being generic. But following the herd is a common pitfall: a business sees competitors find success with new looks and wonders if they shouldn’t follow suit. While peering over at someone else’s notebook is a time-honoured tradition in creative industries, hinging your entire brand identity on emulating what others are doing can backfire spectacularly.

Royal Mail committed this particular cardinal sin back in 2002 when they attempted to rebrand as ‘Consignia’ – a name and logo that wouldn’t look amiss for an anonymous hedge fund shell corporation. The public understandably boggled at the abstract nature of the redesign, while the press raked them over the coals for destroying the identity of a venerable institution.

What’s the lesson? Beyond being smart about taking the most iconic elements of your branding with you, when you rebrand, you need to understand how you intend to differentiate yourself from your competitors and the positioning of your brand in the wider market context.

Our advice: “While businesses often have a good overview on what their competitors are doing, they aren’t always aware of trends across the market. What may look fresh in their niche can end up looking derivative and uninspired to a wider audience.”

3. When you try to solve a problem you didn’t have.

In 2018, Weight Watchers changed their name to WW (intended to capture ideas of wellness and wellbeing) with a complete brand overhaul. They accurately assessed the rising interest in wellbeing and the trend towards body positivity, and felt the time was right to ditch their out-of-touch name. It made a lot of sense – in theory.

Yet, the rebrand immediately fell flat. They have powered onwards, but their sales and stock price still haven’t recovered. Even bad rebrands tend to create a short-lived spike of interest, so what went wrong?

Businesses often want to hop on board and take advantage of trends. But the problem for WW was that ultimately, ‘watching your weight’ was, and always had been, the core of their business. Their rebrand took them away from their central value proposition and replaced it with something vaguer and less recognisable, alienating their clientele and making them stand out less, not more.

Our advice: “If three years later people still refer to you by your old name, you’ve seriously undervalued the impact of your original brand. Understanding your value proposition and what elements of your brand you can lose and what you should keep is one of the first pieces of analysis we perform. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Take-away

Whether a business is just looking for new lick of paint or a complete facelift, rebranding is one of the most delicate challenges there is, with potential damage far greater than one misjudged marketing campaign.

Whether you’re working internally or engaging an agency, to pull it off right requires careful research and a clear strategy (plus a healthy dose of creative thinking).

In other words, look before you leap.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash.

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