What is rebranding? When is the time to rebrand?

|| July 22, 2014

Rebranding is when an organisation changes its overall brand identity. This is a major step, and would normally be a result of a change of ethos, loss of access to an existing brand, or an irrevocable loss of reputation. True rebranding means essentially starting again from scratch, and almost certainly loses residual customer brand recognition.

In many cases, a brand would be better off with some servicing or re-engineering. Opening up a second line with its own brand may also be the right solution.

A brand is a promise, and the principal reason to change the brand would be if the promise were to change dramatically. For example, a supplier of industrial chemicals becoming a beauty company, as happened when the 1919 Société Française de Teintures Inoffensives pour Cheveux (French non-allergenic hair dye company) changed its name to L'Oréal.

At times, an organisation may lose the right to its brand, or discover that its brand is misleading customers. A trade mark dispute could result in an organisation being required to change its name. A company splitting into two may leave one company with the means to continue to provide the goods or services, but without the right to use the established brand. A company may recognise that there is an element in the brand name — perhaps appearing to make a claim to being medically endorsed, or containing a specific ingredient — which misleads the customer.

In these cases, rebranding will not be starting from scratch, but will be able to build on established corporate ethos, reputation with suppliers and customers, and residual product names. In many cases, an existing sub-brand can be raised to the level of being the overall corporate brand, without loss of recognition among customers.

An organisation which has been inextricably linked with catastrophe may need to rebrand. This is a drastic step. Perrier, famous for the 1990 benzene crisis, never recovered as the dominating market brand in sparkling water, but continues to be a substantial brand in its marketplace. It is unlikely that it could have retained this position if the owners had abandoned the Perrier brand altogether and tried to establish a new brand. Equally, if the underlying issues have not been dealt with, the new brand will suffer the same fate. On the other hand, a brand name which, as an accident of history, becomes associated with catastrophe or crime will generally do well to act to distance itself. In the wake of recent scandals, a number of references to previously popular entertainers have been removed from community enterprises. The most famous example of a name change for such reasons is when the British royal family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor in 1917, following anti-German sentiment arising from the First World War.