A Complete Guide to Preparing for a Company Rebrand (for real)
In this guide, we share practical tips that will save your organization time, money, and help you avoid the pitfalls often associated with large corporate rebrands.
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Hello! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re thinking about starting a company rebrand, and not sure where to begin. Or maybe you’ve started and gotten bogged down along the way. We get it. Rebrands are costly, time-consuming, and a lot of work. It’s why we’ve decided to write this guide. As a branding and web design agency, we come across several clients who have exciting and innovative visions, only to see them become overwhelmed and blocked by a variety of different factors. What starts out as a promising venture turns into a quagmire of internal confusion and disagreement. Good news! It doesn’t have to be that way!
A quick search will pull up hundreds of articles that tell you the 10 things you need to know about rebranding or 14 steps to rebranding your company. What they don’t tell you is that much of the work of a rebrand happens even before you get to an agency. That before you even get to a shiny new logo and fancy new business cards, the work lies in having an in-depth understanding of your brand and learning to work with internal stakeholders at your company.
If you can take care of these, you can save A LOT of money, time, and frustration. In design and brand projects, a big part of the agency’s time goes to figuring these things out. If you can beat them to the punch, you’ll look like a rockstar in a room full of Soundcloud rappers. We want that for you. We want to help. So feel free to use anything and everything in this guide, including our signature processes, and lessons from our experience working with clients. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone.
Do I Need to Rebrand?
The very first question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you actually need a rebrand. If you’re considering one, consider why you feel you need one. At the core of this reasoning is usually a dissatisfaction with the way your brand appears to be versus the way it actually is. These “pain points” are instances where your current brand just isn’t cutting it.
If you’re having a hard time nailing down what exactly isn’t working, you can do a brand audit. A brand audit is the exercise of investigating how your business is performing in the eyes of your consumers. There are a few ways you can do this. Try scoring your brand using Harvard Business Review’s Brand Report Card. Alternatively, you can also use Keller’s Brand Equity model or complete a branding pyramid. Going through these exercises can help you determine the positioning of your business, articulate your strengths and weaknesses, gain objective insight into how customers perceive you, and develop corrective strategies that align your offerings more closely with what people are looking for.
The three things you need to remember while doing a brand audit are:
- Go deep. It’s always better to have more information to work with than less. A healthy mix of qualitative and quantitative data will give you a better picture of your current situation. Some things you’ll want to include in your brand audit are:
- Customer surveys
- Employee interviews
- Online reviews
- Third-party evaluations
It’s essential to get an all-rounded perspective. Frequently, people think they have an understanding of what their brand is until they actually talk to customers.
- Check out the competition. A good temperature test is to see what your competitors are doing. First, it shows you what you’re up against, which is always useful. But second, it gives you a good idea of what people in your industry and target market are looking for. If you’re consistently losing to the competition, it may have something to do with your brand.
- Be vulnerable. Be courageous. Your brand goes all the way to the very core of your business. It’s the heart, soul, and life of your organization. Examining these can be difficult and challenging, especially if you feel like your business is stagnant or not performing well. Use this as an opportunity to reconnect with who you are. Brand audits are often great opportunities to breathe new life into your business, but they also require the courage to challenge the status quo and ask tough questions.
A perfect list of when you should and shouldn’t rebrand doesn’t exist. It really depends on each organization’s individual situation. However, we’ve found that the following conditions usually merit at least a rebrand consideration:
- You’re increasingly losing customers to your competitors.
- You feel out of touch with your market or industry.
- The last time you examined your brand was when you started your company.
- You’ve recently undergone a merger or acquisition that has muddled your company messaging.
- You pivoted or added additional offerings that are different from your company’s original mission.
- You want to access a different market segment or target audience.
The Forbes Agency Council recommends these “13 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start Rebranding”, which are super helpful.
Alternatively, you can use our handy Rebrand Checklist to help you get started.
Remember, a rebrand is not a panacea for all of your problems. Good marketing and sleek design cannot solve structural problems within your organization. Rather, these complement the material change that you want to make after having done detailed research on yourself, your industry, and your customers.
Here are some things you should watch out for:
- Rebranding because everyone else is doing it. Remember when your mom asked you whether you would jump off a cliff if your friends did? Same thing. Other companies may or may not have solid reasons, but you should always make your decision based on a thorough investigation and a concrete plan.
- Rebranding because you feel like you should. Gut feelings are good to listen to, but they should always be supported by well-thought-out and evidence-based reasoning.
- Rebranding because your brand’s visual identity lacks definition and consistency. Brands sometimes become diluted as they grow and/or increase their offerings. While this can lead to customer confusion and a weakening of the brand, that alone shouldn’t be a reason to engage in a complete rebrand project. In these instances, the solution often involves fleshing out aspects of your brand’s design system, standardizing it across the organization, and creating opportunities to train your team.
If this last point sounds familiar, check out “Brand Identity Systems Designed to Scale” or “Centralized Decentralization: A Model for Managing Design Systems Within Complex Organizations.”
No matter the outcome, the time and effort you put into examining your brand and asking the crucial questions is never a waste. Ultimately, your brand is how you communicate with your customers and key stakeholders. You want to be sure that they’re receiving the message you’re sending out.
Hiring An Agency Vs Doing it Yourself
So, after all of your investigation, you’ve decided you need to rebrand. Great! Now what? Well, there are two paths you can take. Either you can try to rebrand yourself, or you can look to a branding agency for help. Let’s quickly understand the benefits and the downsides to both:
Although this may be a valid option for some businesses, pulling off a successful rebrand internally is not without its pitfalls and challenges. A DIY rebrand may save money in the short term, but it also stretches your internal resources and adds a complicated, involved project onto your team’s already full plate. People within a company can also lack the necessary objectivity for a rebrand. It may be hard for internal stakeholders to let go of older elements weighing your brand down. If you’ve been with something for decades, it’s hard to think of a fresh approach.
Additionally, rebrands need creative talent. Does your organization have dedicated copywriters? Designers? Web developers? Social media managers? Even if you do, do they even have the time or the bandwidth to work on a rebrand?
If you are thinking about doing a DIY Rebrand, make sure to consider all of these variables before you make your decision. At Massive, many of our clients start the process by themselves and then end up hiring us once the project runs into issues or stagnates. In the end, a DIY ended up taking twice as long and costing twice as much.
Choosing how to rebrand is like fixing your car. While some people have the time and the skill to do it themselves, most prefer the expertise and ease of a mechanic. In the same way, hiring an agency can take away a lot of the guesswork.
Agencies bring expertise and experience to the table. They have the processes and the skillsets to assist you with your rebranding goals because it’s what they do day in and day out.
The biggest prohibitor to working with an agency is usually the cost. Understandably, the number at the bottom of a Scope of Work (SOW) can cause many a CFO’s heart to jump. We’ll teach you how to reduce those costs later on, but it’s also important to note that even DIY rebrands are expensive. The costs are just paid through your team’s time and through the potential risk you take on.
At Massive, we guide clients through several workshops and exercises. We know what questions to ask and what information to look for while understanding where you want your brand to go.
One of the most common reasons a company might hire a branding agency is to help achieve clarity and alignment amongst its internal team. But all agencies are not made equal, lest we forget the costly and misguided rebrands of GAP and Tropicana. Needless to say, choosing the right agency for your specific situation is EXTREMELY important for the success of your rebrand. We talk about the things you should be looking for in a creative partner further below.
Getting the Team Together
Finding the right internal team is just as important as finding the right external agency. Before you research agencies, you should gauge the internal climate and identify the key stakeholders for your project.
Having clarity and agreement within your team can immensely speed up the work of an agency and keep costs low. In 2000, Amazon decided to update its logo because, well, it was hideous.
The company hired Turner Duckworth, the London-based Design Agency, to redo their logo. After just three logo designs, Amazon decided to go with the iconic “smile” that is immediately recognizable today.
How did they do it so quickly? David Turner, co-founder of the agency, explains:
“It was one of the fastest, easiest branding projects we’ve ever done because Jeff Bezos was in every meeting personally, made decisions and just moved. None of the usual quagmire of approvals and market researching and all of that. The consequence was he got it for a great price because a lot of companies spend a lot of money going around and around with approvals and presentations as they work their way up the executive ladder.”
Alignment on your team can make a HUGE difference, especially when working with a creative partner. Here are a few tricks to build the best alignment within your organization.
- Have a point person. Keeping communications focused through one channel can ensure that balls aren’t dropped and that no one is playing a game of broken telephone. It also means that decisions have to be made and agreed upon before they are communicated outward. This person should be someone with enough internal clout to wrangle key decision-makers. We love working with everyone at an organization, but we also find that brand advocates without any sort of sway have little success in pushing forth their great ideas.
- Set expectations. Prepare your team by explaining to them what the process will look like. Make sure everyone understands their roles (decision-maker, internal project manager, content provider) and the amount of time they’ll need to complete them. Make this realistic! We know you can’t lead a team, write content, give feedback on a new logo, speak to investors, and have several meetings all in one day! This is also an opportunity for everyone to understand what the project is and what it isn’t.
- Have a tiebreaker. A rebrand kitchen is filled with a lot of cooks. The best teams have a head chef who can make clear decisions if there’s a stalemate. Collaboration is necessary for every project, but a decision needs to be made at the end of the day.
- Understand why you’re doing this. This goes back to the beginning. Once you get into the rebrand process, it’s easy for the original vision to get obscured by the details. Before venturing down this path, make sure everyone understands why they’re doing this, and that they wholeheartedly support it. Having these discussions early can prevent costly disagreements and changes down the road.
- Understand what you want out of the process. We’ll talk about this more in a bit, but part of building your team is having a clear understanding of what the final product looks like. There will always be unknown variables, but a clear direction makes all the difference, both for you and the people you choose to work with.
In Massive’s experience, we recommend having a “Dream Team” in place before you find an agency. A Dream Team is a collection of individuals from your organization who can provide input and insight into different aspects of a proposed project.
Your rebrand Dream Team may look something like this:
A CEO or Founder is usually the person who has an eye on the whole business. They know where it’s been and where it’s going. It might even be their baby, and so their input, vision, and buy-in is critical to the success of a project.
Chief Financial Officer
While a CFO doesn’t need to be involved in the full rebrand, having their input at the beginning of the process gives them insight into how a quote is developed and why it might be priced a certain way. This can speed up internal budgetary approvals.
Marketing Managers, Marketing Coordinators, and VPs of Marketing are the gatekeepers of a company’s brand. They’ve worked the most on your business’s messaging and its external image. Plus, they’ll be the ones who need to live with the decisions we make.
These are your customer experts. They are constantly in dialogue with existing and potential customers, and have their finger on the pulse of the market. They also likely have a good knowledge of what your competitors are doing.
The Objectives and The Visionaries
These two categories of people can sometimes overlap. These are people who put purpose over politics, who balance vision with pragmatism, and who usually don’t have an enormous stake in the project’s outcomes.
“We once worked with a university on a project that impacted its internal processes. In this unique instance, one of the internal team members was a person who had been with the organization for several years but was also close to retirement. She helped make sure that such a change wasn’t met with skepticism and opposition.”
- René Thomas, Creative Director + Partner
Anyone else in your organization or beyond with creative thinking, unique perspectives, and catalytic skills. The ones who can inspire new ideas and keep the ball rolling.
In this setup, a creative partner becomes one member of a smoothly operating team, as opposed to an external consultant trying to force change. It makes the process easier and much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Defining the Scope of Project
You’ve got the team and now you need to get clear on the project. Ideally, this is a process that you’ve started even before you start shopping for a branding firm. In discussions with agencies, or even internally, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of what you’d like to achieve by the end of a project. Much of Massive’s time spent with clients is sorting out what exactly they’re looking for even before we can start working on the solution.
Here are some key details that you should be thinking about:
If you work for a larger organization that requires you to put your project to bid, it’s helpful to have clarity and internal buy-in on the project’s budget. When scoping out a project budget, it’s okay to have a range, since there are usually variables that still need figuring out. That said, a $20,000 project is very different from a $200,000 project, so wide ranges don’t do much to help narrow the focus of a project. Make sure this number is agreed upon by your team. Having them agree on all the details of the project can help an agency provide you a much more accurate estimate of the total cost.
Are there any hard deadlines driving this rebrand? An event where you want to launch the brand or a target rollout of a new product line? The earlier your branding agency knows about deadlines, the more likely you are to meet them. Timelines need to be as realistic as possible to prevent future backlog, so it’s important to consider any moments where you can anticipate a constraint on your team’s bandwidth.
Ultimately, the scope of a project is defined by what you get out of it by the end. Does your organization need a new name, or just a new logo? A new website? All three, or maybe more? Each deliverable impacts the timeline and cost of the project, so it’s definitely worth defining what the minimum requirement for project success looks like before reaching out to a branding firm.
Brand Rollout Strategy
Once you lock down the final deliverables, how do you plan to implement them? Does your organization take a centralized or decentralized approach to marketing? Larger, more agile organizations often take a decentralized approach, where brand assets and templates are created and distributed to various teams and departments. In these cases, it may be wise to also develop a training strategy or create “guardrails” that protect your brand without your direct involvement. For created content, this may mean specific formatting requirements, guides on logo usage, and easy-to-use templates.
Smaller organizations often follow a centralized approach, where an individual or team owns marketing. Frequently, these people may have other duties as part of their job, so the creation of templates and the organization of brand assets can help them save time and energy.
Many design or brand agencies also offer management services for ongoing work such as content creation, social media, website updates, and ongoing brand strategy. Using the same agency for both creation and management ensures a consistent voice and application that aligns with your vision. It also saves time and money by skipping any need for training and briefing.
Knowing how you want marketing and brand management to be handled within your organization will give you a much clearer picture of the kinds of brand deliverables and standards your team will need to succeed moving forward.
If you need help nailing down some of the details, a creative agency can always help. Even so, a little bit of pre-work can make the process more collaborative and even keep costs lower. It also means that when a Scope of Work (SOW) is finally presented, there aren’t many surprises because you were part of the process.
Identifying the Right Brand Agency for Your Organization
There isn’t really a perfect agency out there. There’s only the right agency for you. In general, however, agencies that are flexible, adaptable, and have a clear passion for their work will likely be great partners moving forward.
A client-agency partnership is like any serious relationship; it should be built on a foundation of shared values, goals, trust, and courageous vulnerability. Even the smoothest projects have their hiccups, so it’s critical you find an agency you’ll be able to work with when things get crunchy. You want an agency that’ll be with you in sickness or in health, til death—maybe not that last part.
At Massive, the collaboration begins right from the get-go. We work hand-in-hand with prospective clients to define project requirements and scope before we even get to a proposal or a Statement of Work.
But collaboration is just one of the many things to consider when selecting your branding agency. Here are a few other things you’ll want to keep an eye out for as you conduct your search:
Experience isn’t everything, but it sure does help if an agency isn’t learning on your dime, knows common pitfalls, and knows how to successfully avoid them. It’s worth noting that you’ll want to determine the KIND of experience you’re looking for in your brand agency partner. If you have internal designers that are strong on the implementation front, you may weigh implementation less importantly than something like their ability to wrangle and align a group of stakeholders.
A brand impacts all aspects of a company, from marketing and sales to web and UX. It’s hard to overstate the importance of working with a branding agency that understands these areas of the business and factors their importance in the decision-making process.
Unlike the socks you get at Christmas, when it comes to an agency, one size does not fit all. Each comes with pros and cons that once again, depend on your needs.
Large agencies have experience and formalized processes. There are also big advantages of working with a large agency because they usually offer additional services. The downside is that they’re often more expensive and tend to be less flexible and dynamic in their approach.
Conversely, small agencies are more nimble, efficient, and can tailor their processes to a client’s specific needs. Consequently, saving on some cost may come at the price of working with fewer structured processes.
A common mistake is to look for a branding agency that specializes in your industry. While industry experience is helpful, selecting an agency that specializes in just one area is a sure-fire way to recreate what’s already been done.
At Massive, we believe that to be best in class, you must define best in class. This requires boldness and a willingness to look beyond your immediate surroundings. Rather than looking for an agency with a ‘rinse and repeat’ portfolio, we encourage people to seek agencies with a diverse portfolio and a proven track record of defining the industry they’ve worked in.
Let’s be honest, there are a lot of fakes out there. Thankfully, you don’t have to just take an agency’s word for it. Online agency directories like Clutch will actually call an agency’s clients, ask them about their experience, and rank that agency against others in their space. It’s always helpful to ask for references.
Even if the above boxes are checked, there’s still something extra that makes an agency partnership feel right. Chemistry. The feeling that they could complete your sentences, or that if you were to dance with them, no one would step on anyone’s toes. Agencies need to have cultural values that align with yours, and you want to make sure those values are shared by the entire agency, not just the salespeople.
How do you do that? Make sure to connect with multiple people at the agency, especially those that you’ll be working with during your rebrand project. You can get a great read on the culture this way and help to mitigate the risk of getting stuck with a project team you don’t gel with.
Like any good partnership, the relationship works best if everyone involved is honest with each other. If your organization is rather conservative and reluctant to change, an agency with a reputation for transformative outcomes may seem appealing, but may not be practical. Be sure that the level of boldness and creativity matches yours, and never settle for less!
If you’ve been following this guide so far, you’re hopefully going to blow the minds of the people at your selected brand agency. They may even hug you with tears in their eyes. That’s okay.
It was a lot of work to get here, and I’m very proud of you.
You might also be a shoe-in for a nice bonus or promotion thanks to all the time and money you have saved your organization, not to mention the fact that you’ve probably elevated the entire brand process.
When everyone is prepared and ready to go, the focus shifts from untangling messes to discovering untapped potential. We’re excited to create and build amazing things with our clients, and we hope that with this guide, so are you!
Check our blog regularly for more content on design, branding, and advice for organizations looking to freshen themselves up.
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