How to decide when to rebrand and when not to


What is rebranding anyway?

Brand identity is sticky. You can’t create it overnight but it also can’t be wished away on a whim.

It is the core identity of a business and cannot be metamorphosed easily.

But that does not mean it is permanent.

Rebranding is the art and science of detaching a product or service from an old identity and moving it to a new one.

Case in point

Old Spice has been making aftershave since 1938. After seventy years, it had become a staid brand with dipping sales. Brands such as Axe and Nivea for Men had for years been nipping away at its heels.

The basic issue with Old Spice was that grandpa wore it at Thanksgiving Dinner. If you were listening to Bieber on an iPod, circa 2007, something like Calvin Klein was a bit more assuring.

P & G, the owners called in Landor. They are the global leaders in brand consulting.

Together with Wieden+Kennedy, Landor launched the famed marketing campaign “Man you wish your man could smell like” with Isaiah Mustafa, a retired NFL star. The commercial hit the airwaves in 2010 during Super Bowl and won a Golden Lion at Cannes and an Emmy.

Needless to say that the brand trajectory underwent a huge transformation thanks to this exercise.

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Old spice perfume branding

When to rebrand?

1. Go for a rebrand if there is a lack of differentiation

When what you sell is the same as what everyone else is selling, it is time to go in for a brand identity overhaul.

The key to survival in any marketplace is to offer a Unique Selling Point. The customer has to find daylight between what you are selling and the competitors.

Without differentiation, with help of a creative branding agency, it is hard to survive, let alone grow your revenue.

Rebranding can often do the heavy lifting and bring out how and why your product is superior.

2. Go for a rebrand if the existing brand is fading

If your brand is lost in a lot of noise, go for a change.

That can happen at times. The brand can become so enmeshed in different products it loses its identity and forget what made it all happen in the first place.

A brand strategy agency has to untangle the mess.

It happened to Facebook. After acquiring WhatsApp and Instagram, the group grew steadily for a decade.

But what was the overarching brand identity? Was Facebook a social media business or a messaging service that also sold Oculus gear? Or was it a mega advertising company that had over $100 billion in income?

Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue. Where did Facebook belong?

That is why Facebook went for a complete transformation and made Meta the mother ship from which all forays would happen.

facebook meta


3. Go for a rebrand if the target audience has changed

To grow sales, it is necessary to broaden the market.

If you were selling apparel for men, maybe you now want to sell for women too (or opposite). Perhaps your product targeted those who were young adults (18-25) and you now want to make it for mature adults (25-35).

Here, rebranding is not only necessary but also the most critical aspect of the expansion. There is no fundamental change in the product mix. All that is done is a change in messaging and reaching out to a larger client base.

But at the same time, product design has to accommodate a new demographic segment.

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When not to rebrand

1. Never go for a rebrand because you have a gut feeling

A gut feeling such as this can destroy a business.

Never fix what ain’t broken. That holds true for everything, especially a brand.

It takes years and a lot of effort to build a brand. Do not go for change because it feels as if you need a change.

You need to have a compelling reason to rebrand. It is driven by external factors, not because you can afford it.

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2. Never go for a rebrand if sales are rising

If your sales are falling, that is worrisome. It might mean the market is disappearing (e.g. market for cassette tapes slowly declined from 1985 to 2005) or that competitors have better and more affordable options to offer.

If your sales are rising, then find something else to fix. Maybe there is a minor glitch in the supply chain, or you can buy raw material for slightly less. Whatever you do, don’t fix branding when it is chugging along fine.

3. Never go for a rebrand unless you have help

Rebranding is a tough task.

To rip apart an old brand and substitute the product in a new niche is not an easy task. It is not as simple as getting a new logo, a nifty jingle, and maybe a new social media page.

There is far more to it.

A carefully calibrated shift is required so that the product does not lose customers (in the old segment) while gaining customers (in the new segment).

The product might need careful tweaking to make it more appealing. Dior Sauvage and Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme are exceptional products that crossed over from being a male perfume to being unisex thanks to successful product management.

You need help from a branding design agency. Otherwise, your business might be taking a deep dive off a cliff without a bungee cord.

Read More: The difference between Amateur VS Professional branding

A word of caution

Just as we change, a brand also evolves. It is mistaken to believe that a brand is static when everything else—taste, trend, fashion, technology, target audience—is changing.

What also matters is that a businessperson recognizes that a change in brand might not be necessary (or that it is not only necessary but critical).

A fall in sales because of an economic downturn is not the reason to go into a huge brand revamping exercise. It is akin to having bypass surgery to cure pneumonia.

A solid product that retains its fundamentals but has a subtle change in messaging is the ideal rebranding exercise.

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