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The Crucial Role of Strategy in Rebranding

When it comes to branding, strategy is paramount. In a rebrand, strategy lives front and center due to a few unique catalysts. Often, a rebrand implies something is broken–small or large. Strategic thinking lights the path forward in what to do and why.  

 

By Bill Kenney, Founder & CEO at Focus Lab, Author of Conquer Your Rebrand

 
The Crucial Role of Strategy in Rebranding

Your rebrand strategy is about identifying that path forward. Often misunderstood, a rebranding exercise doesn’t dictate that you throw out everything and start from scratch. It’s about using strategy as a tool to define what’s working and what’s not and then how to address those findings. Slowing down to think strategically ensures you’re addressing the root issue and not a symptom. Here is a simple example of a symptom versus a root solution based on strategic thinking.


Presenting symptom: Your organization’s voice is disconnected from your brand visuals across various touchpoints, plus your website looks notably “old.”


An initial reaction: Drum up some new language for the homepage and try a new modern look. Spend a few weeks making it “look better.”


The issue: You cannot create new language and visuals for one touchpoint without considering how it will show up elsewhere (digital ads, sales decks, your product, etc.) Building new words and visuals in a bubble to solve the website issue is short-term thinking. The website is a symptom. It’s downstream of the larger brand issue. 


Proper solution: Go further upstream. Create a verbal identity framework tied to the company’s core mission. If that mission has evolved, great; this is the moment to fill that gap and build upon it. Then, craft an evolved visual language to match your evolved mission and roll that out across all channels. To achieve this level of effort and impact, you can’t wing it; you need a strategy.


The result: A brand that looks, speaks, and acts the same while more clearly aligning with its mission across all channels. This clarity and consistency will create deeper trust internally and externally. All of that results in an actual long-term impact, not a quick and dirty “fix” that will resurface. 

Is this a rebrand? As far as I’m concerned, you can call it what you want. As long as your brand is realigned, it doesn’t matter what you call it. But, on that topic, let’s take a look at the three most common rebrand catalysts that require an intentional rebrand strategy. 





THE TOP THREE REBRAND CATALYSTS 


The past fourteen years of building our agency, Focus Lab, have allowed us to see very clear trends across hundreds of rebranding initiatives, and more specifically, the ones that require a very intentional approach to a rebranding strategy. Conversely, we also have an agency targeted at early-stage startups. The strategy for those is much lighter in effort and often the same–make me look like I belong. Large rebrands are a different beast altogether. 


1) A pivitol inflection point


This first indicator is the most common. True to its definition, an inflection point is a time of significant change—a turning point. A few examples include…


· A big culture shift is underway.


· Your brand architecture is broken.


· A significant merger or acquisition is taking place.


2)  Tape and glue are holding the brand together


Every business travels a different path. But a patchwork application without a solid brand foundation leaves other staples of your business (marketing, product decisions, customer experience, company vision, etc.) stuck in a tiring game of whack-a-mole. 

What does this look like in practice?


· Brand assets are severely limited and inconsistent. 


· Departments create brand assets based on personal needs and guesswork rather than organizational strategy and direction.


· A clear and defined messaging framework doesn’t exist, so communications come across as random or speculative–very similar to the symptom scenario outlined above. 


3)  Your company has grown up


Maybe your organization has reached a point where a rebrand will allow you to capture your true personality and aspirations as they exist today. After all, brands, like people, evolve, and sometimes that happens so gradually over time that you barely notice until one day you do. Whatever the case may be, if your business is evolving but your brand is lagging behind, it’s time to capture who you are and who you want to be moving forward. 

This one is extra relevant to me as my company just went through this.


· Our brand represented our past self, not our future vision.


· Our visuals weren’t bad, but they didn’t express the expertise we now championed with our clients.

· Our voice was on-brand, but our messaging didn’t speak directly to our customers in the way we knew it could.


These three points are very strong indicators that a rebrand project may be in order and, more importantly, that an intentional rebrand strategy becomes the north star of that effort. If your brand issue is duct tape and glue holding things together, and all you capture in your rebrand is a new logo and mission statement, you’ve missed the assignment.


STRATEGY LEADS CREATIVITY, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND


Without a thoughtful strategy, your rebrand is just creativity for creativity’s sake—devoid of meaning and lacking connection to your company’s ethos and challenges. Your new brand may initially come together faster if you skip strategy, but it will miss out and lack the impact your organization is hungry for.



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