A rebrand may be a proven way to successfully modernise your offering, but catastrophe could ensue if it delivers the wrong message
There are few things as precious as your brand. It follows, therefore, that rebranding can be a dangerous game. It carries with it the potential to undo the long, hard slog you’ve already been through to build your good name. Indeed, as a small business owner, you probably don’t have hundreds of thousands in the kitty to employ teams of designers and brand specialists. However, that in itself is not necessarily a recipe for success – far from it. Even the big players get it wrong from time to time, and there have been many failed rebrands over the years.
Nevertheless, there is much for aspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs to learn from the dramatic U-turns made by established brands following efforts to freshen things up or broaden their appeal. One lesson, it seems, would be to treat your brand as an extension of both yourself and your business. “I have always believed that branding is a Darwinian process,” says Mark Artus, CEO of global branding agency 1HQ. “All brands should have a DNA and a core personality, just like you have your core personality. But the tone of voice with which you express yourself will change whether you are happy or sad, and that is pretty much what a brand is all about.”
Essentially then, rebranding is a natural stage in the evolution of any forward-thinking enterprise, with the number of rebrands undertaken generally dependent on the nature of the business.
“Brands are always being tweaked and you probably don’t even register that they are, but they are being modernised to make them relevant and appealing to consumer,” comments Artus. “I don’t know whether it’s right to say that there are companies that rebrand more often than others. It probably just means that their products are susceptible to changes in the marketplace.”
This is by no means to suggest that a rebrand is a decision, and a process, that should be taken lightly. If a rebrand is done for the wrong reasons, it has the potential to backfire spectacularly. “There are instances where companies want to rebrand for absolutely no reason at all and it is mainly because someone on the board is bored of the current logo, which is the completely wrong reason to rebrand,” says Edward Leake, managing director of web and graphic design agency Megamind Media.
The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ holds a fair degree of credence here, and Leake identifies the infamously unsuccessful rebrand of Tropicana as a prime example. PepsiCo was forced into a U-turn after its attempt to modernise the juice brand made it almost invisible to consumers. “Tropicana had a very traditional packaging – it was simple, but it was traditional,” says Leake. “They tried to modernise it, but people couldn’t find the product because it was so different.” More damaging was the fact that people were mistaking it for the so-called ‘own brand’ products that were trying to replicate Tropicana. “It was a complete change, and looked like the supermarket was mimicking Tropicana’s product,” Leake adds. “By trying to modernise their image, they actually devalued their image, and that was expensive for them.”
On the other hand, Leake also warns of the dangers of rebranding to turn around one’s fortunes. “If a business has accrued a bad or unfavourable reputation over a period of time, it often thinks a rebrand is the way out of it,” he explains. “But if they are not changing the business behind the rebrand, it is a pointless pursuit. They need to address the issues, and support it with the rebrand, and show people that they have actually addressed the issues that caused the reputation problems.”
Therefore, this would very much be a case of ‘if it is already broke, you can’t fix it with a rebrand’, something that Artus further attests to. “I think there are many brands that are covering the cracks,” comments Artus. “You cannot believe how many times I am asked ‘Can you rebrand a product that is not any good?’, and the answer is always categorically ‘no’.”
So, if a rebrand is unlikely to transform the fortunes of an ailing enterprise, can there be such a thing as a ‘successful rebrand’, so to speak? For Leake at least, there is a lot to be said for a rebrand that goes undetected by the everyday consumer, sneaking into their consciousness without the slightest hint of uproar – and all the while modernising and refreshing the brand. eBay falls into this category, as far as Leake is concerned. “A lot of people missed the point with eBay,” he says. “It was subtle, and that is the point. If you look at the old and new logos side by side, there is nothing subtle about it.”
Leake admits that the rebrand caused some uproar in the design world, of which he is part, for the fact that eBay’s new logo “looks like something that was done by an intern or apprentice on their lunch break”. However, he lauds the fact that it has managed to simplify the logo to the extent that it did, but without unsettling the consumers who continue to trust eBay as a reputable online marketplace. “I bet a lot of eBay users probably didn’t even give it a second thought, and that is the beauty of it,” Leake adds.
And it is arguably here that one can see the risk factor involved in rebranding begin to materialise, especially when comparing the outcomes of the Tropicana and eBay ‘episodes’ put forward by Leake. Whereas Tropicana’s approach could quite easily be regarded as a substantial rebrand – albeit a fruitless one – eBay was more of what Leake would prefer to label a ‘tweak’. And he throws Mastercard into the former category too, citing its attempted 2006 rebrand as “absolutely atrocious” and “going from one extreme to another”. Suffice to say, it never latched on, and exposed the potential perils of totally reinventing the wheel, especially with a logo as iconic as Mastercard’s.
Thus, in order to really give one’s brand the best shot at greatness, a considered approach built on gradual and incremental changes may help eliminate the ‘shock factor’ that can come with a total renovation. “You inject risk, if you have an established brand, by straying too far from the trodden path,” continues Leake. “If people recognise your brand and it has a solid reputation, you are taking a great risk by trying to redevelop that brand beyond a simple touch-up, as it were.”
That said, Leake admits that a smaller company probably has less to lose when taking the bold option. “Our own rebrand has worked in the sense that people like the brand, but that was the only goal for me – to make the company look more attractive,” he comments. “Hopefully, it will work in our favour, and that is the thing for small businesses: they can get away with that a lot more easily than a large business. There are fewer repercussions when you have got fewer eyes on you.”
Regardless of what path is trodden, however, keeping a brand in tune with its target market is nigh on indispensable. “Branding is all about relevancy,” confirms Artus. “You have got to understand what your brand stands for, who it is you are targeting, and why you are targeting them – that often shifts. You have got to keep your finger on that pulse.”
The ecoPayz story
For Phil Davies, managing director of global electronic payment solutions provider ecoPayz, the recent rebrand of the firm was almost a no-brainer, given the range of services it now provides. Davies explains that the previous ecoCard branding had outgrown itself – although it still remains a core brand within the wider ecoPayz offering. “The main reason behind the rebrand is to dispel any confusion in the market because we had observed that people wondered why ecoCard wasn’t actually a card, given what we now do,” he says. “Through a period of evolution, we have expanded the ecoCard – which is effectively a wallet product – into many other things.”
However, seeking out a brand which accurately conveyed the ethos of the business proved a test for Davies, particularly when a number of potential names had already been snapped up. “The main challenge was to get a brand that was consistent with the message we wanted to put out, consistent with the type of industry we operated in, and to find something that somebody else hadn’t used already, to be perfectly honest.”
Ultimately, though, the rebrand is a reflection of ecoPayz’s lofty ambitions. “One of the things people immediately think of is that if somebody rebrands, there is something to hide – they are going through some sort of crisis,” says Davies. “That is not the case with us and we are very keen to try and get the message out because we have grown, because we have expanded and we are continuing to expand, not just in terms of product but in terms of our global coverage and target markets.” Needless to say, Davies firmly believes that the ecoPayz brand will now be recognised by clients in each and every continent.