Back in 2009, Tropicana's team had a great idea. Its iconic orange-with-a-straw-in-it logo was stale, the team thought. Its typefaces were out of date. Tropicana needed to spice things up, so it hired an agency to transform its look.
The company's ensuing rebranding fiasco is a harrowing cautionary tale. Tropicana's revenue fell 20% in the first month of its rebrand, but it paid now-defunct ad agency Arnell $35 million for it. The $20 million in lost sales led the company to abandon nearly all of its sleek, modern and entirely worthless rebrand. Guess what Tropicana's logo still is today?
Danger lurks in every rebrand. That danger is compounded if you go into it for the wrong reason. A few bored people in a boardroom can convince themselves they're hip and current, only to realize they're out of step with what customers actually value. The attempted Tropicana redesign was certainly stylish at the time, but it failed to capture what the company's original iconography represented.
Tropicana's new labels positioned the name sideways – hard to read – and changed the artwork beyond a trace of familiarity. Likewise, Arnell swapped out the striking visual concept of an orange with a straw for a group of words on top of yellowish liquid in a clear glass. Most egregious of all, there was zero pulp information near the center of the carton.
Pulling off a rebrand that's worth the trouble
Tropicana's story is a reminder of what can go wrong when revamping a brand's look (or other elements that make it what it is). On the other hand, a great rebrand can be as productive as a bad rebrand is destructive.
Spotify got it right when it replaced its tech-startup vibe with bright colors that represent the thrill of discovering a new favorite song. Similarly, Starbucks kept its iconic green siren logo and employee aprons, but it ditched the local coffeehouse vibe for something less visually cluttered and a tad more colorful.
A successful rebrand creates a consistent message throughout all your communication, leading to enormous benefits: According to a survey by Lucidpress, organizations that address their brand consistency could see an average increased revenue of 23% and are three to four times more likely to enjoy excellent brand visibility. At the same time, it gets you closer to your customers, helps you stand out in a crowded space, and sparks engagement and excitement within your own teams.
So how do you make a rebrand go right? Here are six keys to a successful rebrand that captures new business without abandoning what makes you, well, you:
1. Don't assume internal buy-in — create it.
Securing buy-in is one of the hardest parts of a rebrand, and you'll never do it by forcing a few ideas from the top on everyone below. With any large rebrand, I like to consider a hierarchy consisting of three groups, and to the greatest extent possible, I allow the feedback from the largest base group to make its way up to the small top-level group that will actually make decisions. I think of it in terms of passengers, crew and captains.
The passengers are influencers. They're a broad group that can include customer panels, board members and employees throughout the company. It can even be observations you make about other brands and their experiences or people in your professional circle. These influencers don't make decisions, but they help you see where you need to go.
The crew members are advisors. These are among the first people to see your new vision. They're the people in the company you listen to, take advice from and rely on to pressure test the components of a rebrand before it's released into the wild. These groups often include HR, sales, operations and communications.
The captains are the deciders. This is the core group that steers the ship. Usually, this group is an inner circle consisting of founders or CEOs – plus marketing, creative and agency partners. Limit the size of this circle to avoid wasting time chasing an elusive goal, the large-group consensus.
2. Base decisions on outside feedback, not internal boredom.
It's a business's job to understand and own the relationship between its brand and its customers. Gather data (that beautifully unemotional, scientific element of the creative process), and use what it tells you about your customers to create unique spins on your brand's look and feel. Conduct a blind brand study where you show only the visual elements of your business (logo, colors, typefaces, icons, etc.), and have customers tell you what they think you do, who they think you are, and what industries and areas you operate in.
Don't rebrand because you're bored. Rebrand because it's important to the long-term success of the company.
3. Decide whether it's a refresh or a rebrand.
A few design updates don't have to turn into a full rebrand. Look back at the blind brand study I just mentioned. If you have a handful of items that consistently test negative, just revamp those. Let's say customers like your overall look but aren't thrilled with your icons. It's easy to redesign those using elements from your overall visual system. Punch up a color or change the line weights, and you've solved the problem without trotting your whole identity out on the high wire.
But sometimes, you realize your fundamental look and feel is flawed or outdated. In that case, it's time to step back and compare what you want customers saying about you with what they're actually saying. Once you've assessed this, write a brief that sets the timeline and budget for getting from who your company is to who it needs to be.
4. Map out your creative.
How are you moving forward? Are you using in-house resources only, an agency or a mixture of the two? There are pros and cons to all these. Your in-house team knows your brand intimately, which is both great (they can hold onto the core of who you are) and potentially problematic (they can't see what they can't see). They can easily create campaigns tailor-made for your business, but they might struggle with blue-sky ideation.
An agency can bring new creativity, fresh ideas and a better grip on what's culturally relevant. The downside of going external is that it will be far more expensive, and you'll spend a lot of time trying to help them understand a company that your in-house employees already know.
5. Keep the pressure on, but expect setbacks.
Rebrands can go on forever, and that's especially true when you're rebranding from the ground up. While you need to respect that good design takes time, make sure there are deadlines that keep the project from succumbing to the tyranny of urgent tasks.
Your timeline should include soft and hard deadlines. Does your executive team want to show the new brand off at the holiday party? Life goes on if that has to slide. You're planning a Super Bowl ad? No sliding there. And that's OK; sometimes a ticking clock benefits you. I've found that when I give people too much time to make critical creative decisions, their ideas become watered down.
But your timeline does need to accommodate delays. Whether it's an approver on vacation at a key decision point or a storm shutting down your agency's office, you will always stall. Build in sufficient padding around key deadlines, and don't underestimate the number of times teams need things like research and revisions.
6. Make sure everyone knows their role and feels involved.
Communicate the direction charted by the inner circle to the involved teams, and make sure they know what's expected of them. Also, keep the company at large in the loop. This builds excitement as the rollout day nears. Not all employees make creative decisions, but they all have to live with them.
I like to give employees a sense of participation no matter what their job roles are – ask them to vote on conference room names, for example, or arrange some trivia sessions about the new design elements. According to research from Gallup, engaged and on-board groups result in 17% more productivity, so don't skip this step!
Rebranding doesn't have to be a terrifying gamble. When done for the right reasons with the proper research and planning, it can be a highlight of a marketing career. When your business clarifies who it truly is, you remember why you're a part of it. It's easy to forget, sometimes, that your company's mission means something to you. Rebranding doesn't just rekindle your customers' passion for your brand – it reignites yours, too.