By Bill Chiaravalle, Barbara Findlay Schenck

Most brands break not because markets change but because businesses change. Sometimes, names or logos need updating in order to keep pace with market realities, tastes, and cultural trends, but that kind of market-responsive change involves only a cosmetic update or name adjustment, not a brand overhaul.

Brand overhauls become necessary when business overhauls literally change a company’s heart and soul. When the core of the business — the base of the brand — changes radically, the face of the brand — the brand’s name, logo, and identifying elements — needs to change, too. Otherwise, there’s a disconnect between what the brand says it is and what, in fact, the brand is. And that’s a formula for credibility disaster.

Protecting your valuables

The most essential step in fixing or updating a brand is determining which brand assets carry the highest value in consumer minds. Brand assets include

  • Your brand name

  • Your brand’s identifying elements, including your logo, your logotype or script, your tagline or slogan, your color scheme, your packaging, and brand signature items such as a unique scent (think Cinnabon), a musical signature (United Airlines’ background music, for example), or even signature events that consumers link to your name

  • Your brand’s core message and promise

  • Your brand’s dominance in a defined market niche

  • Your brand’s link to key customer groups

If you discover that your brandmark has low awareness or that its usage has been mismanaged over the years, you may determine that replacing your symbol will serve only to strengthen your image. On the other hand, if you find that consumers have high awareness and regard for your name, you should think long and hard before abandoning it.

Making the change

Start the revitalization process after you take the following steps to determine which brand assets you should keep and which are dispensable:

  1. Get the leadership of your company involved right from the start.

    The person who leads your company should lead or be involved in the brand revitalization or rebranding process. Otherwise, you’re apt to face an uphill battle when it’s time to adopt the new identity.

  2. Determine whether you’ll refresh or revise your brand promise.

    In essence, your brand is the promise you make to all who deal with you, your business, or your offerings. The degree to which you alter your promise in large part dictates the degree to which you alter your brand.

  3. Determine whether you need to alter your name, slightly or drastically, to fit your business, market, and sales channels.

  4. Decide whether you need to redesign your logo.

    As part of the redesign process, rewrite your graphic guidelines and your brand management policies.

  5. Decide how you’ll refine your brand experience so that every encounter reinforces your revitalized brand message, strengthens your brand promise, and helps develop your desired image.

  6. Relaunch your brand, starting within your organization.

    Don’t leapfrog over this step. If you fail to gain understanding and buy-in from your internal team, nothing you do externally can save your brand from the ramifications.

  7. When your revitalized brand is known, accepted, and adopted internally (and not a moment before), take your brand public.

    Begin with a publicity generation effort that shares the story of why you’re making the change, how you’re building on your brand’s heritage while simultaneously embracing your brand’s future, and how your new identity and brand strategy focus on a clear, strong, powerful vision.

  8. Launch communications and promotions to announce and amplify the message of your revitalized brand.

  9. Invest the time and dollars necessary to build and protect your revitalized brand’s value.

Mistakes to avoid when revitalizing

As you audit, update, and realign your brand to address your business and market realities, avoid some of the most common mistakes by spending a few minutes with this list of traps to avoid. The most common mistakes are

  • Failure to enlist the head of your organization as the leader of your brand revitalization

  • Failure to assess whether your product or your brand experience — and not your brand identity — may be what’s hurting your brand’s esteem in its marketplace

  • Failure to enlist experienced professionals to help with research, name development, logo design, trademark registration, and brand communications

  • Failure to inform your staff early on about why you’re undertaking a brand revitalization

  • Failure to protect your current brand assets as you revise your brand for the future

  • Failure to maintain a silent stage, a time during which brand plans are held close to the vest until they’re adopted by management and ready for presentation to your organization’s internal team (put in familiar terms, loose lips sink ships)

  • Failure to introduce and win support internally before you let your revitalized brand story outside the confines of your organization

  • Failure to reach your most loyal customers, investors, and suppliers with news of your revitalized brand before they learn about your brand changes through the grapevine or through social or mass media

  • Failure to establish a brand-management plan that ensures continuous and consistent communication of your brand message and promise across all communication channels and at all consumer touch points

  • Failure to introduce your revitalized brand with the fanfare it deserves