10 Lessons Learned From a Rebrand

Tearing down a brand you created and rebuilding is quite difficult

A rebrand is stressful and a seemingly endless amount of work, but it's also oh so worthwhile. Getty Images

It’s hard to describe precisely the feeling of dismantling a brand you founded, but I imagine it’s a lot like gutting a house your family has called home for a decade. Every room is a memory. Every piece of furniture has a story to tell. And yet your family has outgrown the house; there’s no alternative but to knock some of it down. You keep the good foundation but build anew on top of it.

I tell you this to demonstrate just how difficult it is to strip a brand back down to its foundation. There was a lot of stress running (and eating), many sleepless nights and an endless parade of gut checks. In the end, we re-discovered our core by highlighting all of the good and tossing what needed to be changed.

Here’s a post-mortem on the process and a few key lessons. 

Understand what branding means

Branding doesn’t start with questions like “What’s the best design?” and “Do we need a new logo?” Branding starts with existential questions like “Why do we exist?” and “Can we lead the world in what we do?” You’ll eventually get to logo design, but by then you’ll have a far clearer idea of what you are trying to express.

Be confident in the brand you envision and surround yourself with a team that is as dedicated to the vision as you are.

Change is inevitable, so adapt or die

New generations and corresponding habits are constantly reshaping your brand. Perhaps no other generation better exemplifies this than millennials. It’s why one day you’re stacking flapjacks and the next day you’re flipping burgers. Don’t fear this—embrace it. That might mean some remodeling, but you don’t need to rip up your foundation to rebuild. Stay true to who you are, but welcome change.

Kill off legacy products, but consult your customers

Our rebrand didn’t mean throwing everything away and starting all over, but it did mean having a willingness to scrap anything that no longer worked, was no longer best in class or no longer reflected the current world. There’s a reason you don’t listen to music on an iPod Nano anymore. But whatever you do, don’t trash something that has significance to your customers. Just ask Apple.

Don’t separate brand and strategy

When you start asking existential questions like the ones above, you get into big-picture issues regarding company strategy. Are we positioned correctly in our market? Is our product differentiated enough from others? What changes are happening (in the economy, technology, society) that create risk and opportunity? Embrace these questions, as they need answers. Your brand will help steer you there.

Spend time on insights

A rebranding effort without in-depth research is destined to fail. All companies are built on clear, simple insights that give you an understanding of something others haven’t fully seen, but getting to those insights is anything but simple. Speak to as many customers, consumers and employees as you can. Sometimes one sentence said by one person within hundreds of hours of conversation unlocks a powerful new idea.

Find an outside perspective

Find a trusted third party who can allow you to see past yourself. There are many great agencies, each with impressive client lists and trophy cupboards of design awards, but only one will be the perfect fit for you. The perfect fit may not be the most exclusive, most prestigious or even the most expensive. You need to kiss a lot of frogs to find the chemistry that feels right. A third party holds up a mirror to your business.

Set a clear decision-making process

You can always count on a rebrand for a whole lot of opinions from a whole lot of people, whether those opinions are asked for or not. The great thing about rebranding is that it touches everything and everyone has an opinion that they’ll feel passionate about. Many of those opinions will contradict. Be clear about who is ultimately accountable and responsible for final decisions and who is simply consulted.

The internal launch is more important than the external 

You’ll have created a clear, simple, compelling and beautiful brand, but unless you get 100 percent of your people behind it, you will be handicapped from day one in trying to get customers to adopt it. Win over your employees, win over your customers. Spend the time polishing and perfecting the internal narrative and put every penny you can find into video, printouts, posters and leave-behinds so you can tell that story visually.

Logos are sexy, but copy is essential

Your brand mark without good copy is meaningless. “The problem with logomarks is that it requires lots of money to associate one with a brand name. Any company that wants to have a symbol will have to spend 10 years and $100 million to make the association,” Steve Jobs said. Copy is often neglected, but without it you’ve only done half the job.

Think of the tattoo rule

Build a brand that your employees and customers would tattoo on themselves. Your brand should be built with an undeniable emotional appeal. It’s about creating a story and delivering a message that resonates with even the most skeptical. It’s why Harley-Davidson riders tattoo themselves with the company’s logo and why NFL fans showcase on their arms their undying love for their favorite teams.

 Be confident in the brand you envision and surround yourself with a team that is as dedicated to the vision as you are. Pay attention to every detail, plan the execution and be ready for the unexpected. Do so, and you’ll be ready to renovate a house full of memories knowing that it’ll be worth it.

@peter_muhlmann Peter Mühlmann is the founder and CEO of Trustpilot.