Business management

SME Tools: rebranding your business

Rebranding is a common practice for most business at some point in their life cycle. But you need to know if it’s necessary – and if so, how to go about it.

“A lot of people think rebranding means a new logo, but it’s so much more than that,” says Lee Turner, creative director at Norwich-based strategic, creative and marketing agency The Armoury. “It’s about changing perceptions, positioning your image to match the message to what you provide, the customer you want to attract and the market in general. But you start with looking at your core values and goals for your business.”

Even the biggest names on the planet need to rebrand now and then. Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC to stop shouting the unfashionable message it was selling fried food. When McDonald’s took a hit following Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me, it responded not only with a healthier menu but by changing its instore livery to natural, “earthy” browns and greens. 

When to rebrand

Charlie Alder, co-founder of Exeter brand agency Alder & Alder, says: “Generally there are only two situations when you need to consider a rebrand: when your business is changing, or the sector you’re in is changing.”

These situations might include a merger, hiring a new CEO, shaking off an outdated image or poor reputation, or first-time entry into a global market.

What do you want to achieve?

Establish why you want to rebrand. “Our first meeting with a client looks at the overarching goals directing their business,” says Turner. “What do you want to move towards – or away from? Then we drill a bit deeper – identifying customers, attitudes, price points, the market.”

Turner and his colleagues did just that when Mark Winter sought help rebranding a local brewery business he’d inherited from his father. 

“It was a great business with a great reputation, but Mark was keen to experiment with new craft beer flavours and thought the previous name, Winter’s Ales, was a little too cosy and old-fashioned for that market,” says Turner. 

But many customers were CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) traditionalists, so The Armoury’s challenge was to appeal to millennial drinkers while keeping that core customer on board. 

“Mark gave us a clean slate and said we could start from scratch,” says Turner, “but if you’re getting rid of something, you must ensure you don’t bin anything precious. In this case it was a question of ‘stretching’ the existing brand, not jettisoning what had always served them well.”

Even if you’re in an unsexy market, it isn’t necessary to magic up a personality, especially if you’re providing something customers need rather than want

Ian Cowley
Founder, Cartridge Save

The result was MrWinter’s – a new name, look and feel that nodded to the past but, adds Turner, “is built around the persona of Mark, a character you could imagine in a laboratory, coming up with new beers”.

Winter is delighted with the result, through which he’s since launched three new flavours – Twin Parallel, Twisted Ladder and Citrus Kiss. “There are so many breweries,” he says, “you have to come up with something different. The new brand is fresh, modern and something totally different from what Winter’s Ales once was but retaining the essence of the original business.”

What are your core messages?

Every successful major company has a one-line raison d’être – Nike’s is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”; Amazon aims “to be the world’s most customer-centric company”.

So you must identify your firm’s core value – which can be easily overlooked. Greater Manchester replacement ink firm Cartridge Save came up with a brand based around a cartoon badger called Dave – but then realised it had missed the point, and the mark. 

“Dave added personality and humour, but our customers weren’t interested,” says Cartridge Save founder Ian Cowley. “We lost sight of what the customers really wanted, which was excellent service, fast delivery and the best prices. Delivering that was what made us different, not a cartoon badger. 

“We established a new core value – ‘make it easy for the customer’ – and that’s been much more successful at client engagement. Even if you’re in an unsexy market, it isn’t necessary to magic up a personality, especially if you’re providing something customers need rather than want.”

Get in the professionals

Even if you’re good at design, professional brand experts are much better equipped at coming up with something aesthetically pleasing that conveys the right message. “We link all those different strands together,” says Turner. “But it’s also about creating a brand that works in the future. You want something that can itself ‘stretch’ as you move into different markets – which means knowing where your business is going is really important.”

Agencies can also give you a range of options – The Armoury presented Mark Winters with four different ‘routes’ that all told the same story, and together they chose the one to work with. 

“It’s vital to work collaboratively and trust each other,” adds Turner. “We can help encourage clients to push themselves a little bit further than they’d envisaged, make them see that if they want to grow, they may have to take more of a leap. But other times we help rein in clients if we think their ideas are too radical and would harm their business.”

Test it out

“Does your new brand do what you want it to?” asks Alder. “You need to test it on clients and potential customers. What do they think it’s saying about your business – and crucially, will it make them buy from you?”

Turner advises convening focus groups, if budget allows. “There’s a lot of experience and knowledge behind rebranding, but above everything else it has to feel right to the customer. That’s the test of whether it will work.”

Keep investing

While you don’t want to rebrand every five minutes, you may find your business outgrows its brand as time goes on. “That brings us back to reasons for rebranding – if your company changes,” says Alder. “Keep on top of it – it doesn’t need to be a wholesale change every time. You may only need to tweak it. But always make sure it’s saying what you want it to say. After all, it’s the world’s introduction to your business so you need to get it right.”

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