Rebranding Revealed Part 1: Lay the Foundation
This is the first in a four-part series by our CMO Todd Ebert, covering the process of rebranding your company (or how to build a brand).
I’ve spent my entire 25-year career in technology companies that serve the B2B market, and one common theme has been constant change. Those changes have been driven by a new corporate strategy, new acquisition, new product launch, new technology development, and new competitors entering the market. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to refresh corporate brands to ensure they stay relevant to employees, partners and, most importantly, customers. While consumer product brands tend to change at a glacial pace, it’s been my experience that technology company brands, especially in highly dynamic markets like online marketing, need to be updated every 2 to 3 years. Sometimes this means a quick refresh of the company messaging and other times it means a total overhaul of everything.
When you’re trying to pull off changes to something so strategic and foundational to the growth of the company, you can’t afford to get it wrong. Many people mistakenly think that rebranding is just about the logo design or the latest advertising. But if you planned on opening a restaurant, you wouldn’t choose the decorations before pouring the foundation and constructing the building; those items come much later. Instead you start the rebranding process with the corporate strategy and foundational elements of your brand [mission, target markets/customers you serve, value props, key messages, etc.]. You’ve got to get these pillars set before you dive into developing your brand essence [identity, personality, etc.] and execution [websites, campaigns, etc.]. To help guide this process I’ve developed a simple framework that shows the critical steps for a successful rebranding.
In my experience the whole process takes a minimum of 6 months for a corporate rebrand, though product rebranding can be done more quickly. It may sound simplistic but I always start by making sure that the executive team is 100% aligned on the corporate strategy. Interview your CEO, COO, CFO, CPO and other senior leadership to get each person’s definition of the company’s market opportunity, target customers, product roadmap, and SWOT as well as their take on the company mission statement. Yes, this means you’ll have to schedule many one-on-one meetings, but this step is critical to getting your brand right before going into execution mode. Overlooking this step means you could wind up building your brand on an old, shaky foundation. Here’s a list of questions I use when doing the interviews.
Pay close attention to what you’re hearing in all of these interviews and meetings. It’s crucial that you listen for common answers on the strategy, messages, and overall value proposition for customers – and more importantly, that you identify any major disagreement on those items. If these key leaders disagree on any element you’re going to have a hard time building the right brand foundation. For example, in my prior life I interviewed three C-Level executives about our strategy, and they were not at all aligned. One thought we should aim to be the technology leader, another thought we should be the customer experience leader and the third thought we should enter a whole different line of business. Now how was I supposed to build the right brand for our strategy when these three couldn’t agree on what we wanted to be when we grew up?
A word of warning: Don’t get so stuck on internal stakeholders that you forget about the opinions of the people you really need to serve – customers. Do primary market research with your customers to find out what they think about your company. And if your budget allows, interview key market analysts and influencers to get their perspective on where the company stands in the market. This will give you an “outside in” viewpoint to balance out the input from key executives and sales leaders.
Doing all this prep work will ensure that you have the right information from the very beginning and that you and your senior leadership are all on the same page about the direction of the rebranding.
After doing all this work you’ll hopefully be in tune with the corporate strategy, but then what? Stand by for the second post of this series where I’ll go in depth about how to use what you’ve learned to develop the key elements of your brand foundation [mission, values, positioning, differentiation, etc.].