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True Stories: A Cautionary Tale of Rebranding Gone Astray

by Liz Conlin  |  
December 22, 2009

Most of the branding articles that you read are happy, glowing tales of how an agency rebranded a client and turned that client into a superstar brand with double-digit growth.

Well, this is not one of them. We often learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I am telling this story as much for ourselves as for our future clients. It is our reminder to teach our clients that rebranding is a strategic process that involves commitment from all the key stakeholders.

It is more than writing new ads or developing a new logo. Your brand is an expression of your company's image and beliefs. For it to be successful, you need to believe in the brand's promise, and support it internally and to your customers. You need to look at it deeply, closely, and critically to find its best expression.

Through our experience with a particular client, we were reminded that without teamwork, perseverance, honesty, and leadership from our clients and us, a brand may never reach its true potential.

Take the case of the midsize service firm that came to us to rename and reposition its brand. The company was looking to demonstrate a new vision and commitment to its industry and to provide new focus, guidance, and discipline to its staff. The company identified early on that it needed a new name and a new way to talk about itself. Unfortunately, it turned out that its management team had only two people who were really convinced that the company needed to change anything, which brings me to our first lesson.

Lesson 1: If everyone on the team is not willing to seriously consider a branding exploration, then your efforts may be in vain

Branding is most effective when the key decision-makers are involved in the entire process. Everyone involved needs to take a vested interest in its outcome and be willing to make changes. It is not for the fainthearted.

Branding looks at how a company thinks about itself and how its constituents view the company. It takes an honest look at what the company is and isn't good at. The client team should be willing to embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly, and to have the vision to think differently about how the company presents itself, and go on to make adjustments if needed.

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Liz Conlin is a partner at re:group inc. (, a privately held, national brand marketing firm located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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  • by Chris Henneghan Tue Dec 22, 2009 via web

    Liz, Thanks for sharing your branding campaign nightmare. This is another example of "crowdsourcing" gone bad. Nothing good comes when a group designs creative. I blogged about my frustrations with this topic a few months ago. In my 30 years of B2B work, I have rarely seen the corporation willing to go out on a limb to have get a unique brand identity. It is a great irony that they initiate projects to stand out, but step by step eliminate any word or image that is actually distinguishing. They want "creative" without any risk. I'm pretty sure that combo doesn't exist.

  • by cg Wed Dec 23, 2009 via web

    This is absolutely true. I recently went through a similar situation with a client who wanted to do a rebrand overhaul, but the top decision makers ended up being one person who didn't believe in a team effort and didn't support the efforts of the marketing manager, who was my direct contact. All my efforts in interviewing key stakeholders and performing a competitive audit to find the company's unique value proposition from which to create an effective marketing message were not even considered. In the end, the client went back to sounding like everyone else in their industry promising the same thing using the same meaningless, banal descriptors. They spent a lot of money, and it was a shame for them.

  • by Dave Adler Tue Jan 12, 2010 via web

    We are changing our company logo- reason being? our company has grown by a factor of 45 over the past 8 years. With growth comes change- however our logo hasnt. We don't want the perception to be that we are "rebranding" but rather "refreshing". Rebranding generaly means changing identity. We don't want to do that- our company's health is fine (our customers are happy, our financial situation is stable).
    Question: should we let people know that we are "refreshing our logo" or do we need to say that we are rebranding but just slightly?

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