Clever. Prisum. Hochland’s Atelier. Transilvania Executive Education. Those are just some of the brands on the Romanian market that have concluded it was time to spruce up their image in the last few months.
By Romanita Oprea
This spate of changes following 2018’s big moves by Apa Nova, Brico Depot, Notino, First Bank and co. What is a rebranding? It is the process of changing the corporate image of an organization, a market strategy, of giving a new name, symbol, or change in design to an already-established brand. So when should a company start a rebranding process and why? According to Roxana Tampau, managing director at DDB Romania, it is vital to quantify the reasons for a rebranding process. A marketer should therefore ask him/herself a few questions before conducting any rebranding strategy: What are the reasons for this rebranding? Is the company expanding into a new market? Is there an organizational merger that needs to be in place soon? Are the managers changing the vision or mission of their company? Are they launching a new product or service that will change the entire brand image? Are they focusing on differentiating and gaining a competitive advantage? Is the company moving on from reputational damage? Is its image (identity) looking dated?
“A rebranding decision can have a diversity of reasons: the product’s natural life cycle requirements, or if there is a change in customer behavior that requires a revisiting of the brand personality, or if there are innovations or improvements in the product or product line that require a change of character and possibly a change of targeted customers, or the brand personality has to keep up with the change in customer generations, or the brand company in itself is going through changes such as mergers and acquisitions or changes in the shareholder structure that would alter the product portfolio etc,” said Raluca Ene, managing director at Chapter 4 Romania.
Moreover, she added that these triggers for change should be periodically and proactively checked through market research and direct contact with customers, as well as staying updated with market trends and customer lifestyle and behavior changes, to make sure the brand always keeps its relevance and significance, and thus remains competitive.
In turn, Mihaela Radulescu, senior brand consultant at InnerOut, points out that rebrandings, like any branding, should be a strategic process that goes hand in hand with a business change. “The company changes management/ownership and a new strategic gear is added. After an M&A or as the result of a transition from an entrepreneurship to a corporate entity (an acquisition). The company needs the verbal and/or visual identity to be refreshed (too old, dusty, unattractive, unclear, etc). The company has suffered from a brand accident with lasting consequences (PR wise and beyond) or it has undergone significant changes to its DNA (changes to the products/services it offers or to the organizational culture, for instance).What matters most is that all parts are aligned and that the common purpose is clear. A rebranding is not only a matter of a changing a logo or a name, but a matter of consistency across all brand manifestations, internal and external,” outlined Radulescu.
In other words, a rebranding process is a crucial period in a company’s life, and also a considerable investment – one that should be made with a lot of attention and with the right people. “It requires years of research, evaluating the alternatives, creating and validating concepts, etc. We need to take into consideration the direct costs incurred by the change of the corporate identity, but also those required to communicate effectively and memorably the NEW identity and brand DNA to the target audiences,” said Roxana Dumitru, marketing manager at De’Longhi.
Therefore, the marketer points out, a rebranding should be a meaningful event, associated with a major development or a major change in the status or vision of the company. “Such situations are changes in ownership/shareholding structure, significant changes in the core business or a refreshment required to keep in tune with younger audiences, if that is the type of audience the brand addresses. Or, a major shift in the category we are playing in. Or a major repositioning of the brand, that involves re-segmenting, re-targeting and a new set of brand values/brand architecture, etc. That implies a huge project behind it and a clear and comprehensive validation process. Reasons behind rebranding processes need to be communicated and clarified to all a company’s relevant audiences – from employees and authorities, to business partners and consumers,” added Dumitru.
Meanwhile, Alina Tudose, an experienced brand consultant, believes that the time has come for a company to first think about going through a rebranding when decision makers feel that the brand no longer represents its clients or employees, when it has become a poster on the company’s wall and an obsolete brand for its clients. “When the brand is no longer able to generate emotion, a change is necessary,” commented Tudose.
Moreover, a second scenario is when the company expands beyond its core services/products area and is no longer credible to represent new ones. In that case, according to Tudose, there can be a rebranding or a brand extension, meaning a repositioning of the brand, with an extended addressability or a rethinking of the brand architecture with line extensions or sub-brands.
Multinationals versus entrepreneurial businesses
Still, are there any major differences between rebrandings for an SME versus a larger/multinational firm? “There should be no differences in terms of process causation, as the customers’ behavior follows the same pattern. There are indeed differences in terms of product life cycle and direct contact with the customer – smaller companies might be closer to their customers and so be aware of the need for change more quickly than larger ones. They are also more flexible and quicker in terms of implementing the changes. At the same time, larger companies have bigger budgets that can refine the pre-rebranding research for a more impactful change,” said Ene.
According to Radulescu, in small and medium-sized entrepreneurships, for instance, the entrepreneur usually has his or her own imprint on the process. Strategically, entrepreneurships follow more diligently the agenda, personality, values and personal style of the owner or founder. “Therefore a rebranding process in this case needs very intimate involvement from the top decision level and the change sometimes gets a more emotional, more personal touch and has to take into account personal histories, limitations, idiosyncrasies, etc. Entrepreneurships are more passion-driven than corporate processes where personal involvement is maybe more limited. A branding process should have not only a coherent, but also a seductive rhetoric appealing to people’s emotions,” added Radulescu.
As she admits, Tudose prefers entrepreneurial companies, because the entrepreneur’s energy and innovation help the process reach the desired result faster and more efficiently. “With big companies, in my opinion, a change is made with much more prudence. When I decided to leave the big companies, when I was working for multinationals, my desire was to leave something behind, not just some small commas in the identity of a huge brand. I wanted alive, agile brands, successful cases of Romanian entrepreneurship. Moreover, I am a person who likes to interact with people, who cherishes the relationship and the dialogue. Talking directly to entrepreneurs gives me the sensation that I am burning stages, I take shortcuts; I learn a lot about their business. And yes, I build a relationship on trust and mutual respect that greatly helps the process to reach the right results,” added Tudose.
The right steps
According to InnerOut’s representative, any rebranding process should start with a solid organizational audit (not only a business diagnosis, but also a perceptual map of the most important stakeholder – the employee). “I personally recommend and perform one-to-one discussions, with a significant percentage of the organization, through in-depth interviews. Then the process goes to the brand platform set-up: a purpose is defined, alongside mission, values, behaviors derived from values, brand personality, tone of voice, and an external promise. The positioning is a strategic approach that reunites the best of both worlds: what the audience expects with what the company can deliver sustainably, in the long run,” said Radulescu.
Then, as she points out, comes a redesign of the visual identity (including a renaming, if the case). “After the entire internal rhetoric is strategically defined and well worded, then the engagement process with the employees closes the circle. People were asked at the beginning their opinion about the organizational culture. They inspired the strategic direction and now everybody gets aligned in the same boat. Brand engagement sessions are the natural closure of a transformative process that involves changes in so many stakeholders’ perceptions. Good cultures start by having their principles stated, agreed upon, and then collectively followed,” concluded Radulescu.
Dumitru added, “The duration of the process depends on many factors; it is very difficult to come up with an average. It depends a lot on the reason or purpose of the rebranding, as well as the number and type of decision makers involved. Sometimes, if it is the result of an acquisition, it can happen very quickly. Other times, when the brand to be replaced is very strong on the market, the process is deliberately slowed down or extended to allow people to get used to and internalize the transition. In any rebranding process, you want to keep your existing audience and consumers and expand on that. Ideally, you do not want to lose anyone along the way. The full process can take up to three to five years for a very serious and complete rebranding.”
“The whole process might take between three and six months, and during it the agency will work with the client to prepare a launch plan for the new brand. How and when will they unveil the new brand on the market? What type of activities will they be using? What strategy will they be applying to build excitement around the ‘new thing coming soon’? After launching the new brand image, both agency and client should focus on evaluating results so that they will adjust their communication in real-time,” said Tampau.
And, as Ene points out, “Once the renewed brand personality is complete, communication comes next, through relevant content development and deployment on the specific channels that reach the desired target. Communication is essential in the brand transition to the new face – the lack of a proper approach would create an undesired gap in the acquisition process that might cause harm to the business rather than help it grow.”
As a rebranding process is complex, advice is also important and necessary. Tampau urges anyone considering it to trust their business partner (i.e. the creative agency) and work closely as they are one single and strong team. Seek advice from your agency and ask yourselves if the rebranding is really necessary and to what extent it should be applied.
Tudose added, “The first thing one should ask for is enough information, in order to understand the process. To know what expectations to have – we risk being dissatisfied, especially because our expectations are cheated. We have an induction module in which we explain the work flow and we try to bring the client through all the stages of the process, which proves very useful. My second piece of advice for clients would be to give themselves time and energy for this project, because this is not a decision one should take fast, without enough focus and without understanding the alternatives.”
On the PR side of things, according to Ene, it is essential for the rebranding process to start with a thorough introspection of the brand: is the main reason for the rebranding initiative to help the business grow? Or is it a facelift meant to help the brand get more (or a different type of) awareness? Is the need for a repositioning truly necessary and meaningful? “Being deeply honest with oneself might save a lot of effort and a whole lot more money in the process. Another key aspect of the rebranding process to consider from the very beginning is the fact that the communication of the rebranding is equally, if not more important than the creation effort. The added value of such a huge endeavor lies within this exact combination of creativity and communication, as it is the only way to smooth out the transition from the old brand to the new and build a context and a new familiarity for the customer,” added the Chapter 4 Romania representative.
And probably the most important aspect of all is making sure there is a good reason for the rebranding. “If the reason is not strong enough to make an impact and effectively add to the existing target audiences/consumers or mark a significant change in the life of the company, then it is much better to save the money and invest it it something else. Rebrandings are not cosmetic makeovers,” concluded Dumitru.
The main DON’Ts of rebranding
Alina Tudose: “When you think about rebranding, you can imagine a simple change of colors or fonts or an identity change, but there is more behind this image renewal than those aspects – especially because the rebranding effort is more than a shinny facelift.
The most important thing that I wouldn’t do is start from the exterior. No, any change of any type, I would do from the interior, I would want to understand the business, the limitations of the actual branding project, the opportunities that arose for the organization and those things can be found out through an audit process. It is the only manner in which you can know how much and what can the organization deliver from the promise of the brand at that moment and where the brand needs a change.
The second thing that I wouldn’t do is to change for the sake of the modernization. I believe that the most import lesson in branding is the consistency, even it may seem very elementary and in the human nature it exists the tendency for perfection, of continuous improvement, than sometimes goes against consistency. I for sure don’t lobby for the brands with old and dusty identities, but I consider that the frequent or too fast changes can destroy the most important asset of the brand: the consistency.”
Roxana Tampau: “First, don’t start this process from your personal judgement, conduct a research, make an in-depth marketing analysis as rebranding is a very complex, expensive and long-term process. Also, don’t involve people with no experience in rebranding, instead gather at the same table your best talents (from client and agency teams) who will understand the process and will be able to be part of it “body & soul”.
Don’t give up on looking for fresh ideas over and over again.
After 6 months of hard work, it will be the “time of your life” looking at the newly born brand (name, positioning and look)”
- Don’t do it unless your brand really needs a refreshing (perceived or a clear need coming from your consumers)
- Don’t do it before you researched the relationship of your core audiences with existing brand DNA.
- Don’t do it unless you have a good reason and you can support it with a full fledge communication budget able to inform everyone about it.
- Don’t do it just because you don’t like the fonts or the colors. An established brand belongs to its public just as much as it belongs to its owner.
- Don’t do it just because others in your line of business have done it before you – someone noticed the recent “alignment” of some major fashion brands, all of them sharing now pretty much the same font and the same color scheme: black and white.
- Don’t do it unless you are absolutely sure the new visual identity will be significantly more relevant and more impactful than the old.
Raluca Ene: “One of the biggest DON”Ts in terms of rebranding is that of doing rebranding for the sake of rebranding. Once on the market, the brand doesn’t belong to its creators, but to its customers. Therefore, the customers should be the only ones that would suggest or approve the process. A rebranding is at least a change of style and looks, if not even a complete change of personality, thus it becomes a process that will be taken very personally by the brand fans.”
Mihaela Radulescu: “First of all rebrandings should not be made just for the sake of a change. If a (re)branding process is seen only as a communication opportunity, then it might not be worth the effort. Rebrandings should follow a real repositioning need emerged from inside the business.
Secondly, a rebranding addresses all stakeholders, internal and external. From all the stakeholders I see the biggest threat in not aligning the internal ones to the change. The most important stakeholders in a business are the employees. If the whole process (the context, the reasons why, the premises, the desired outcomes, etc) is not thoroughly explained internally and employees are not engaged and aligned to the projected future, from the very beginning of it, then the whole approach carries the potential risk to backfire. Especially in service businesses, where people deliver the employer brand through the very act of delivering the service (banking, insurance, consultancy, etc), people must believe in the change, understand it deeply, have the opportunity to express themselves in due time about their vision, personal role and contribution. This is why an internal perceptional audit, performed on employees, made rather in-depth than via email questionnaires, is vital to a good final engagement of the entire organization”.
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