Article • 31 05 2017

Re-branding with purpose

As Brand Custodians, we are often confronted by the question “Should I re-brand?”. Knowing why, when and how to re-brand is critical.

Invariably, the need to re-brand is triggered by a business issue, need or opportunity. These could include a weakening brand-consumer relationship, internal cultural malaise, rising competitive threat, loss of market share, category disruption (from new entrants or technologies), change in corporate business strategy or structure, merger / acquisition or a desire to attract investment. For FMCG brands, it is usually about tapping into new consumer segments or improving on-shelf visibility and navigation, both of which have huge influence on purchase decisions in the last retail mile.

How do you know if re-branding is right for you? Simple. When the cost of NOT re-branding exceeds the investment required to re-brand!

It is important for company leadership to understand that re-branding is a highly strategic and holistic exercise. Managers often mistake “re-branding” as merely an aesthetic or marketing communications initiative, but it goes far deeper than that. Re-branding is about re-shaping the form of a company in a way that reflects business strategy and excites the stakeholders that matter most: employees, customers, investors, business partners and key opinion leaders.

Find your purpose

Re-branding requires identifying and articulating a company’s PURPOSE in the world: its reason for being, the long-term driving idea that inspires and guides the brand, culture and business. It requires identifying the value the brand brings to all stakeholders (employees, customers, investors, partners, community, society). Re-branding also requires a reassessment of the benefits that the brand imparts to customers, and how it can deliver those benefits through more innovative products and more unique experiences.

Great brands manage to weave all of these elements together into a compelling brand story that resonates with people on a human level. Patagonia, The Body Shop, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Lego, Coke, Lifebuoy, and Tesla all do this well.

Customers are often seen as the most important stakeholders to focus a brand on, and to some extent this is true. However, it is important to realise that in all organisations, brand starts on the inside. Company leadership and employees must embody the brand purpose and values and live them daily. After all, it is the talent in the organisation who ultimately determine what sort of experience customers have. Therefore, their goals and KPIs must be aligned with the brand.

Engage the senses through great design

Branding is also about crafting a unique identity, both visual and verbal. A compelling visual identity (logo, wordmark, colours, patterns, form, imagery, typography) goes a long way in conveying a company’s story and hinting at the type of experience customers can expect. It is equally important to develop a unique verbal identity – the voice with which the brand speaks, both written and oral.

Take a brand like The Economist, for example. The headlines of The Economist ads are intelligent, frank and provocative. This, combined with its confident and timeless wordmark and its bold red colour, gives the brand an air of knowledgeable authority, something which appeals to its discerning audience.

As brands become increasingly experiential, new facets of brand identity have emerged. These include sound (how a brand sounds when you engage with it), scent (the unique smell of a brand’s environment or product), touch (the materiality and shape of a brand’s product), and animation (the way a brand behaves in three-dimensional space – virtual or real). Gone are the days of static visual identities that live on only paper and signboards.

Brands have become living, moving, sound-producing expressions designed to engage and enchant consumers across a myriad of touchpoints, virtual and physical, 24/7. Apple fans would be familiar with the comforting sound that their MacBook makes when the O/S launches. All Malaysians would recall telco Digi’s charming jingle used in its brand sign-off. Anyone who has flown Singapore Airlines has been influenced – perhaps subconsciously – by the branded scent in their lounges and cabins. Next time you pick up a cold bottle of Perrier, notice the way the unique glass bottle shape feels in your hand! It’s all by design.

Avoid common branding pitfalls

The biggest mistake an organisation can make when re-branding is to treat it as a superficial cosmetic exercise. I have been in many situations where a CEO or Chairman has obsessed more about the new logo or Pantone colour than the deeper changes that should occur in the organisation to ensure its continued competitiveness. I often use the necktie analogy. A person is about much more than the necktie he puts on in the morning. He (or she) is the sum of his values, personality, beliefs, communications style, behaviours and overall image. Brand is a total package. When it becomes all about the new logo, re-branding is doomed to fail.

Re-branding is most powerful when it is supported by organisational change and strong employee engagement. At Dragon Rouge, we are often asked by companies to help translate brand strategy into an employee value proposition that will inspire, motivate, retain and attract top talent. Companies who ignore the employee aspect of re-branding do so at their own peril. A disengaged employee does far more damage to a brand than a bad font!

One of the biggest obstacles of a successful branding project is when the internal organisation is not geared up for it. You need to have in place a strong marketing and corporate communications function to run a re-branding programme. You also need to establish a brand steering committee at the outset, and the CEO should sit on this (or even lead it). The brand steering committee should include key internal stakeholders from corporate strategy, communications, marketing, innovation, HR and operations who, together, take the major decisions. Without proper commitment and focus, re-branding programmes can suffer costly delays or, at worst, go off the rails.

Another mistake I often see is the tendency to “launch and ignore”. Re-branding requires an ongoing investment in internal education and change management, continuous efforts to innovate products and services that are “on-brand”, and dedicated brand management of far-reaching corporate identity systems and communications.

Re-branding is neither a quick fix nor a panacea. It’s the the beginning of a transformation journey that, if well guided, will create long-term, meaningful value across the board.

Zayn Khan, CEO Dragon Rouge SEA