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Rebrands gone wrong: When companies miss the mark

Rebrands gone wrong: When companies miss the mark
Rebrands gone wrong: When companies miss the mark

Whether spurred by a desire to stay relevant in a changing market or to distance themselves from a tarnished reputation, rebranding can seem like a simple solution for companies craving change.

However, history has shown us that rebranding is very rarely straightforward and not always successful...

While some failures are more comical than damaging, a rebrand gone wrong can also have catastrophic real-world consequences.

Why do companies rebrand?

Rebranding is a strategic move which (when done right) revitalises the company's image and better positions it for future success. It could be driven by a desire to reflect a change in direction, gain access to a wider audience, or modernise an older brand’s identity.

In some cases, businesses which started out under a licensed name opt to continue their journey with a name of their own which is more in line with their values and offerings – and free of costly licensing fees.

However, behind the many good reasons, sometimes there is a darker truth: rebranding can also be a way of escaping a negative reputation or distancing the current team from past failures.

Take the case of logistics firm Evri, formerly known as Hermes. After facing a barrage of bad press, media recordings of delivery drivers bad-mouthing customers, and a public backlash for poor service, the company opted for a name change in 2022.

Described as a reflection of a “new culture and an even better way of doing things in an ever-evolving world” by the company’s CEO, it was clear to most that the name change was also driven by a desire to move away from an undesirable reputation.

TV personality Shaughna Phillips was among those who commented on the name change in scathing terms.

“Because Evri parcel goes missing? Because Evri day their reputation somehow manages to get worse? Because Evri time I see they’re delivering my parcel, my heart sinks?” she wrote on Twitter. I mean, on X. (Yes, we’ll get to that rebrand, too).

Needless to say, the rebrand didn’t entirely accomplish its mission and service complaints continue to dog the brand.  

The difficulty of rebranding

While the allure of a fresh start may seem enticing, the reality of executing a successful rebrand is far more daunting.

A company's name becomes synonymous with its mission, values, and identity.

It’s ingrained in the minds of customers, users, and prospects. Changing that name can be akin to severing a deep-rooted connection, leaving stakeholders confused and disoriented.

Customers develop a sense of familiarity and trust with a company's brand, making any deviation from the norm a cause for concern.

In the case of rebrands, this sense of familiarity can be shattered, leaving customers struggling to reconcile the new identity with the one they've come to know and trust. This disconnect can lead to confusion, scepticism, and ultimately, alienation. 

What could possibly go wrong?

History is littered with examples of rebrands that missed the mark.

A recent and perhaps even more baffling example is - bet you saw it coming - the rebrand of Twitter to X.

Elon Musk's renaming of Twitter as “X” in the summer of July 2023 left just about everybody scratching their heads. Prior to this change, Twitter had achieved a level of brand recognition that few companies ever manage.

The blue bird logo, despite changes over the years, was immediately recognisable; the action of sharing a post on the platform had become a verb of its own - to retweet.

To throw all this away and rebrand to what’s simply a letter of the alphabet, for no other reason than the owner is fond of that letter, was almost incomprehensible to anybody with any degree of branding knowledge.

And, of course, it was confusing to users, with many still referring to the website as “Twitter”.

While the name change is likely not the only reason why X has been losing followers since this shambolic rebrand, it was part of a confusing pattern that did not help the website retain users or advertisers.

So, we have seen when a rebrand has little chance to work, and how it can go wrong. But rebranding isn’t always doomed to fail. With that said, let’s dive into how you can get it right.

The secrets to rebranding success

1. Know your audience

Before starting a rebranding initiative, a deep understanding of the target audience is non-negotiable. What are their preferences, values, and expectations? A successful rebrand must resonate with customers on a meaningful level, evoking emotions, and forging connections.

2. Stay true to your roots

While change is inevitable, it's essential to stay true to your company's core values and identity. A successful rebrand should build on the existing foundation, rather than tearing it down completely.

By maintaining continuity with the past, it’s possible to ease the transition for stakeholders and retain their trust and loyalty.

3. Seek feedback early and often

Don't operate in a vacuum. Involve key stakeholders, including customers, employees, and partners, in the rebranding process from the outset. Solicit their feedback and insights and use this information to refine your approach.

4. Communicate transparently

Transparency is key when undergoing a rebranding effort. Be open and honest with stakeholders about the reasons behind the rebrand, the changes being made, and the intended impact.

5. Test, iterate, and test again

A successful rebranding effort requires meticulous planning and testing. Before unveiling the new brand identity to the world, you’ll need to conduct extensive market research and testing to gauge its effectiveness.

Iterate on the design and messaging based on feedback, ensuring that the final product resonates with your target audience.

6. Prepare for the long haul

Rebranding is a lengthy complex process. Be prepared to invest time, resources, and effort into consistently reinforcing the new brand identity across all touchpoints.

From marketing materials to customer interactions, every aspect of the business should reflect the new ethos with complete clarity.

Tread with caution

Rebranding can give a company a fresh start, but it's not easy.

Whether it's to stay relevant or ditch a bad reputation, success depends on knowing your audience, staying true to your roots, involving stakeholders, being transparent, and testing thoroughly.

While tricky, a well-done rebrand can boost a company's image and win back customer trust (if that's the aim of the game).

If you're in the very early stages of launching a new business, check out our step-by-step guide which includes top tips for choosing a company name (and less exciting but necessary stuff).

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