You feel like it’s time for something new. Maybe your business has grown out of its initial bounds. Perhaps you want to spice things up, or merely leave some bad decisions behind and start fresh. Rebranding is the right answer. Right? The truth is, rebranding can be a slippery slope even for well-established companies.
Before you decide to go down that road, you should ask yourself a few questions and answer them honestly.
Depending on that answer, the same strategy that works for one brand, fails spectacularly for the other. So how do you reduce the possibility of a fallout? Let’s look at the examples of well-known rebranding fails compared to successful campaigns, including some of the best rebrands of 2018.
1. Challenge: Reinventing your image
Question: Does your rebrand reflect who you are, or who you want to be?
If you are looking to leave the bad times behind, it is perfectly understandable why you may want a clean slate and why you want that second chance. However, merely changing the visuals associated with you won’t make people forget who you are.
Yes, your brand is supposed to shape your customers’ perception of you. But a brand is a two-way street and the way people see you cannot change with a simple redesign and a few catchy slogans. Your rebranding has to have substance – otherwise, people will see right through your refurbishing attempt.
In the early 2000s, Nigerian Ministry of Information and Communications tried to do something about its bad international image. Ironically, the process of several failed rebranding attempts was constantly hindered by all the things that led to the country’s bad image in the first place.
Controversy plagued the ill-advised project from the get-go. The team in charge of the rebranding complained about the lack of support and finances. Sporting a slogan “Good people, great nation,” Nigerian government had trouble convincing even its own people that these words did not ring hollow.
The rebranding saga reached dark humor territory when a member of the rebranding team had his mobile phone stolen minutes before the ceremony dedicated to the new logo and slogan.
Now enter one of the best 2018 rebrands, according to Rebrand.com. The Bhutan Department of Trade and the United Nations Development Program developed the ‘Made In Bhutan’ strategy to promote the goods and services that are produced or originate in this south Asian country. The task was not the easiest.
Although Bhutan regionally ranks first in economic freedom and ease of doing business, it is still underdeveloped and lacks infrastructure, losing the competition for visitors and investment to its larger neighbors. So how did Bhutan overcome this?
“Bhutan is a small country with a simple idea that can change the world – the Gross National Happiness Index,” says the jury of Rebrand. “For generations, Bhutan has acted for the greater good of its people, placing spiritual values at the core of its existence, staying true to its beliefs and delivering on its promises.” Bhutan took one thing that made it unique and translated it to the things it has to offer.
This is how Bhutan’s old branding looked like – a little bit washed out, a little bit lazy, a little bit behind the times.
This is how Bhutan’s rebranded presentation looks now – blending happy faces, unique religious traditions, and various products in vivid colors.
So where did Nigeria go wrong?
“We talk about rebranding a country where corruption still holds sway in all segments of our individual and corporate lives,” said Nigerian businessman and brand strategist Charles O’Tudor.
“We talk about rebranding when the most basic amenities of life continue to elude government’s delivery capabilities. Is it not funny that we want to rebrand Nigeria when citizens of our country cannot walk the streets safe and secure from hoodlums and sometimes even the law enforcement agents that ought to protect them?”
As some people in the Nigerian government noted, they cannot wait to solve all of their problems before they try to reach out to the world – be it the potential investors or visitors. True, but these problems cannot be rebranded away either.
Before Bhutan’s government started its multi-pronged image rebranding campaign, it invested considerable money into its infrastructure. Also, this country never tried to convince people that its problems did not exist.
Bhutan’s mission walked in the footsteps of the immensely successful regional rebranding predecessor, Incredible India. Similarly, India did its best to steer away tourists’ gaze from the slums to the breathtaking nature and monuments – even when those slums are situated right next to the ancient grandeur. And it succeeded.
So what is the takeaway from these national success and failure stories? How does this translate into a regular, day to day business? Rebranding does not erase your problems and shortcomings.
If you are a retailer who continuously suffers from late deliveries, you don’t get to plaster “Always on time” as your slogan and expect people to believe it.
Addressing problems that plague your image is the first step to rebranding. Rebranding is not the solution – only part of your evolution. Your options are to deal with your problems and focus people’s attention on things you’re genuinely good at.
2. Challenge: Worn-out name
Question: Does forgetting your name means forgetting your identity, customers and humble beginnings?
It’s only natural – businesses evolve, sometimes to the point of leaving their old identity behind. When the recognizable brand has little to do with the company’s current palette of services and products, a worn-out name may even halt the continuous expansion.
But before you decide to drop an essential part of your branding, think whether ditching your name means ditching your faithful customers.
Netflix has become one of those household names that are arguably a synonym for the service they provide – in this case, online streaming. In 2018, it seems like the streaming giant can do no wrong, but the company had quite some time to learn from its mistakes.
Netflix began its journey to success with DVD-by-mail rentals. As the 2000s were slowly closing in, the company’s leadership knew that the future was in streaming and that DVD was all but gone. That’s when Netflix decided to split its services into two separate companies, with streaming remaining Netflix and DVD-by-mail company turning into Qwikster.
Netflix wanted to focus on the future – and in hindsight, it was the right decision. But dumping past into Qwikster box could have easily derailed this attempt. The move forced 12 million people with joint streaming-DVD accounts to create separate accounts at two different domain names.
“DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, justifying this decision.
Hastings effectively shortened that time by alienating Netflix’s core base – the company ended the third quarter of the year with 800,000 fewer subscribers in the United States than in the previous quarter, making the drop its first decline in years. The stock plummeted more than 25 percent in after-hours trading.
Netflix soon backtracked on the Qwikster thing, and luckily, barely anyone remembers it – except the teenage stoner with the namesake twitter nickname. He probably still mourns the lost opportunity to extort money from Netflix for relinquishing Qwikster “brand.”
What do you think about when we say Lucky Goldstar? Does it sound a little bit like Qwikster? Say, a name for cheap chewing gum or detergent at your local convenience store? Well, this was once a name of the international electronics powerhouse LG – the same LG that brought you the ultimate fashionista Prada mobile phone.
When we say LG nowadays, we are likely to think about their products’ sleek design embodied in a simple, effective, emotional slogan – Life’s Good.
But South Korean LG goes way back to 1947, when it started off as Lucky, producing plastics and hygienic products such as soaps, toothpaste, and detergents. No harm in that, but it’s hardly something Prada and Edward Norton would advertise.
Lucky later branched into electronics, establishing a company called GoldStar, which produced South Korea’s first radio.
While Lucky GoldStar built a respectful portfolio for their local and regional consumers, in the Western market, it was associated with negative stereotypes of the Asian products. But as the brand changed its name to LG in 1995, adopting the famous “Life’s Good” slogan, the company successfully shed its “cheap plastic” image.
Nowadays, LG is a synonym for stereotypically good things that come from the Asian market – sleek design, and simplicity paired with effectiveness.
Where did Netflix go wrong? It is true that poor Qwikster’s problem wasn’t merely a name change – it was the inconvenience it created for the subscribers. But looking strictly regarding its unfortunately stylized name, Qwikster was Netflix’s attempt to ditch a service that made it famous in the first place.
It is true that DVD was slowly fizzling out, but the move just came a little too early and needlessly. At that point, DVD was still somewhat alive and kicking, bringing Netflix a decent revenue – and there was no need to rebrand its signature service even if its sad fate was set in stone.
The company tried to force its branding and customers into the process that was eventually resolved organically. Nowadays, we naturally associate Netflix with online streaming, with or without Qwikster.
On the other hand, LG’s name change was driven by a substantial goal of redefining its image and purpose for an entirely different market. It didn’t have an established devoted audience that was left surprised, betrayed or inconvenienced by the company’s rebranding efforts.
Ultimately, the famous elegant logo and a new Life’s Good motto are much stronger rebrand than something that looks like a kid misspelling the name of their favorite popsicle.
If you feel that your business has outgrown its name, think carefully about your most faithful customers who have been around from the beginning. Are you alienating them? Are you looking like you’re ashamed of your less “cool,” old-fashioned audience? Ultimately, is your business name just too good and resonant to be thrown away even if things change?
Name changes are probably the rockiest territory or rebranding. Yes, there have been several successful cases, such as BackRub becoming Google or Confinity becoming PayPal. However, note that most of these happened way before each of them was an established international player.
3. Challenge: Shaking things up
Question: Are your changes driven by your business’ evolution, or you’re changing for the sake of changes?
You’ve been in the business for a while, things are going fine, but you just feel like your brand needs a bit of polish. Maybe that original logo of yours was made by your talented niece who’s still studying design.
In that case, sure, freshen up. Maybe your logo is professionally created, but you feel like it may be a bit washed out by now. Or perhaps you’re just bored and jumping on the bandwagon?
In 1997, someone in British Airways was bored too. They decided that their airplane fleet needed some new paintwork – because the traditional Union flag on the tail fins was just too…well, British.
And by that, they meant it was a little too posh and non-inclusive for a brand that was trying to establish its image as a worldwide airline.
“Perhaps we need to lose some of our old-fashioned Britishness and take on board some of the new British traits,” the company’s chief executive Bob Ayling said.
British Airways then spent millions on assembling artists from all over the world to paint their designs on Her Majesty’s airplanes. Two years later, the project was abandoned, and the good old flag was back in its place.
It turns out that, after all, Brits love their old-fashioned Britishness. For whatever it’s worth, most people love their country and their flag, and they expect to see it on their national carrier’s airplanes.
When Airlines PNG, Papua New Guinea’s second largest airline changed ownership, it revamped its name, turning into PNG Air, which evidently rolls off the tongue more easily.
As a company that’s offering both domestic and international flights, PNG Air felt the appropriate rebranding was in place. This is PNG went from a logo that looked like it was created in a WordPad document…
PNG Air‘s rebranding campaign defined the carrier as “people’s airline,” focusing on its flights to the remote parts of Papua New Guinea. Apart from a new logo and name, PNG’s fleet also got a new visual identity, “based on a pattern of important cultural icons.”
The result was stellar, to say the least – it received a lot of positive coverage in the media, and according to PNG Air, planes with the new branding are consistently outperforming the old fleet.
The difference is obvious. British Airways was not in the middle of a substantial change in their business when they decided to give their entire fleet a massive makeover. Someone out there had the idea that traditional Britishness simply wasn’t cool, cosmopolitan and hip enough for the 1990s era, which was all of that and more.
As it turns out, there are some things people like to keep classic and traditional, no matter how much the times change.
PNG Air, on the other hand, had its rebrand prompted by the internal changes. But instead of deciding that Papuan traditions just weren’t cool enough to attract customers, international and domestic alike, PNG played the card of national pride. It gives a sense of joy and belonging to the domestic passengers, while for the international ones, it’s sort of a tourist attraction in its own right.
Apparently, you don’t own any airline companies, so how does this translate to your small business? Simply, don’t be ashamed of who you or your customers are. Not every business in this world needs to be flashy or modern in appearance. Recognize that classic things are classic for a reason and that some things are a constant. If you run a local business, you know all too well that people will always love their neighborhood and town, and that most of them like the sense of belonging and connection it gives them.
4. Challenge: Cultural shift
Question: Is this shift meaningful, or just make up?
While the Brits, Americans and Papuans will always love their respective culture’s “-ishness,” that doesn’t mean nothing ever changes. However, many companies’ attempts to reach out to the formerly marginalized customers and ideas, often ended in failure. Why? Because their change of heart has never been meaningful, and attempts at rebranding thus turned out insensitive and blatantly fake.
In 2018, petroleum companies cannot look like the good guys, no matter how hard they try. And try they did – in 2000, the oil drilling giant British Petroleum attempted to make its image a bit “greener,” as the generational shift started pulling people towards environmental awareness and green solutions.
BP replaced its logo of 70 years with “Helios,” the name of the Greek god of the sun. Combined with the old and recognizable color palette of green and yellow, the message was that BP was turning to green solutions as well.
Except that drilling for oil just can’t be green in any imaginable scenario, and neither can one of the largest marine oil spills in the history, courtesy of BP.
Is there anything less green than injuring or killing approximately 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, and up to 25,900 marine mammals, including ocean’s most beloved brands such as bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, and sperm whales?
BP logo conveniently served as the butt of the jokes in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Despite its omnipresence and revenue, the beauty industry hasn’t always been the best friend to its customers.
While a substantial portion of the business is built on a presumption that nobody is ever pretty enough, the beauty standards set and glorified by the cosmetics companies have also promoted relatively limited inclusivity.
However, brands and retailers dedicated to the customers who don’t look like Victoria’s Secret models have been on the rise in the recent years. Ironically, this impulse came from the smaller businesses and spread to the large companies, including Coty, which owns brands such as MaxFactor, Wella, Rimmel, COVERGIRL, etc.
This is Coty’s old visual identity, typical for most large fashion and cosmetics brands – which means giving off the “you can’t sit with us” vibe.
Coty’s latest rebranding strategy focused on a “more diverse perspective of beauty,” choosing butterfly, a symbol of beauty and transformation, as a baseline for its new visual identity.
But Coty’s strategy does not stop with models of diverse looks, age and ethnicity – it is also complemented by more diverse products and better customer experience.
The rebranding strategy also puts focus on the company’s “consumer beauty” brands which are accessible to everyone – a solid turnaround compared to Coty’s old visual identity, which reflects its professional and luxury brands.
Let’s be honest – most businesses are not here to change the world. Most of them either adopt social changes organically or for the sake of maintaining their sales and reputation. But the only thing worse than ignoring cultural shifts long after they happen is flaunting the new principles without doing business by them.
For example, you can redefine your beauty brand with diverse models because it’s all the rage now and it’s bound to work – initially.
But if you are at the same time still selling three basic shades of skin foundation – you’re using diversity as a rebranding make up. Same goes for a company that throws around the word “green,” and then causes an unprecedented environmental disaster.
If you feel that your business needs to adjust to some cultural changes, think it through before you put it into motion. Think about your own identity, talk to your employees and make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands what this change constitutes.
Rebranding is a perfect opportunity for some soul-searching. This is why it is essential that you ask yourself the right questions about your identity, failures, and successes, and be able to answer them honestly.
This simple conversation with yourself (or your business partners) can mean the difference between an expensive flop and reinventing your identity for the better.
Making sure that your rebranding strategy will turn your new audience into faithful customers is another part of the successful redefinition of your business. Check out this amazing blog and learn how to use Instagram to turn your brand into a business powerhouse.