The last time I headed up an internal rebranding initiative, it took a total of 4½ months—from the day we said "Yes, we're doing this" to the day we unveiled our new Workfront website and replaced the sign on the building.
Fast? Undoubtedly. Every branding firm I've talked to says it's a process that typically lasts 9-18 months. We cut that lowest estimate in half, without cutting any corners, by keeping nine key tips in mind.
The biggest driver of this accelerated pace was that once we decided we needed a new name, every single dollar we spent on our old brand was wasted money. So we paused all branding efforts and put the right resources toward building and releasing our new corporate identity.
If you're planning a companywide makeover, here's what to do to achieve the results you want on a reasonable timeline.
1. Perform a brand audit
Only fools rush into brand reinvention. Though we certainly moved quickly through our rebrand, we did not skip any of the essential steps. And the first, most important step is to calculate how much brand equity you have to begin with.
We sent a 14-question poll to employees, current customers, and target customers, asking them about everything from brand recognition (Are you familiar with the company's name?) to attributes (What three words would you use to describe this brand? If this brand were a person, what kind of person would they be?).
From the results of the audit, we discovered our hunch was right. We had an ill-fitting name, and the timing was right for a change.
You might perform an audit and discover the opposite—that you have really high name recognition and strong customer attachment to your current corporate identity.
If after an audit you're still on the fence about whether to make the brand change at all, see Part 1 of this article series: "Should You Dump Your Brand Equity?"
2. Employ experts
Even if you have the savviest CMO around and a great creative director, and even if both of them have spearheaded internal rebranding efforts in the past, rebranding is, still, not likely their primary area of expertise.
Choose a firm that specializes in brand building and reinvention, so you can benefit from their depth of experience and many years of trial and error. These people have gone through this process dozens, if not hundreds, of times with other clients.
They'll save you money, they'll save you time, and they'll help you do it right.
3. Pick the right-size naming agency
It's easy to become enamored with, say, the agency that helped name the iPad—for the bragging rights alone. But if your company is closer to the $5 million or even $50 million range, you'll be a tiny little fish to an agency of that size. You'll never spend enough money to be its top priority, and overall it'll be a bad fit for you.
Look for a naming agency not only with clients of your company's approximate size but also with experience in similar industries. It'll be more affordable, and you'll likely to get better results.
4. Limit your decision-making group
Even with a team of experts on your side, presenting you with dozens of options for names, logos, and colors, at some point decisions must be made. You need a small, close-knit group to talk through the options, evaluate the fit, and make a final ruling.
If the group is too large, you're going to spend a lot of time debating personal opinions, because everyone will have an opinion (qualified or not) and everyone thinks he or she could be a marketer.
For our recent rebrand, the decision-making council consisted of the CEO, the CMO, and the creative director. That's it.
I can't say the exact right number for your organization, but I will say that 10 is too many. Sure, the CFO and the VP of HR are great people, but they don't have a background in branding, and they most likely won't contribute meaningfully to the process.
5. Separate the name and the visual identity
During the name-selection process, you'll be looking at trademarks, copyrights, and URLs, on top of the nuances of pronunciation, spelling, capitalization, and more. There are plenty of variables to deal with during that phase of the process as it is, so don't throw logos and fonts into the mix as well.
Look at your list of name options all in the same font, in black text, on white backgrounds. Otherwise, you'll get stuck on how the different options are stylized, and the visual identity can unduly influence your name choice.
These are two distinct processes. Once you've settled on the perfect name, let the fonts, colors, and icons fly.
6. Test, test, test
Even though you've limited your decision-making group to just a few people, it's still important to gather nonvoting opinions, just in case there are perspectives you're overlooking.
Reach out to other stakeholders, prospective customers, internal team members—yes, even the CFO and the VP of HR—to see what reactions you get. (Just don't expect to get positive feedback from everyone.)
7. Be bold
When rebranding, almost everyone tries to play it safe. They may come up with a wonderful, unique, provocative, memorable name—and then get cold feet well before launch.
The goal cannot be to pick a name that no one will complain about. Such a name does not exist. Your name choice may really resonate with 80% of people, while 20% react with, "You're naming it WHAT?"
If you truly want an identity that stands out from the crowd, it has to be bold and provocative, and that means some people aren't going to like it. Be OK with that.
8. Find everything that needs to be changed
For our transition from AtTask to Workfront, we logged 412 individual tasks in our work management software of branding items that needed to be changed. And we still didn't find everything.
Having an online project management system in place is essential for a project of this size. It allows all stakeholders and participants to see what's been done, what's left, and whether you're on track for launch.
Some things will be easy and obvious (website, business cards, sign on the building), but other things won't be noticed until well after the switch (an obscure auto-responder email or a seldom-used accounting form, for example).
9. Divide your list into pre-launch and post-launch activities
To move through the process as quickly as possible, separate the items that must be complete before you launch, such as the website, and which items can be tackled after the announcement, such as adding the new logo to every old brochure and whitepaper.
The sooner you can launch your new name, the less time you spend wasting money on a soon-to-be-obsolete identity.
Add a "formerly Old Name" tag to your new logo to get you through this transition period. If you wait until every obscure "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed, it will take you two years to unveil your new look and feel—and that's not time you can afford to waste.
* * *
The decision to rename and rebrand your company is no small undertaking. Our 2015 transition from AtTask to Workfront went uncommonly fast, but we're in a fast-paced industry. If you have planes to repaint or otherwise transform 150 retail stores around the country, it's going to take a lot longer.
But as long as you recruit the right kind of expert help and keep these nine tips in mind, your corporate makeover can go more smoothly (and more quickly) than you think.
Next it's time to promote your exciting new brand, but that's another article.
Part 1 of this series: "Should You Dump Your Brand Equity?"
Part 2 of this series: "So You Need a New Identity... Now What?"
Part 3 of this series: "Six Tips for Successfully Launching Your New Brand"