BRANDING

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Rebranding Your Business

Three corporate giants made major marketing mistakes last week. Here's what you can learn from them.
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Last week was a weird one for corporate mascots. After decades of using the familiar hand-drawn sketch of a smiling kid, Lemonheads candy switched its mascot to a 20-something, human-lemon hybrid that smacks of 3D animation. Similarly, McDonald's rolled out its new mascot--a Happy Meal box with eerily lifelike teeth. Bringing up the rear was Facebook, whose Barney-esque dinosaur was created to demonstrate the social network's "commitment to user privacy."

The initial response to all three of these was less than favorable, to say the least. Social media has been ablaze with people describing the new mascots as “creepy,” “weird,” “scary,” and “dumb.” In the case of Facebook, many have already taken to referring to the privacy reptile by the unflattering title “Zucksaurus,” after company founder Mark Zuckerberg. While it’s too early to tell if these rebranding efforts will help their companies, all signs point to no. 



No matter the size of your business, you probably spend a good deal of time thinking about how you’re presenting it to the public. In fact, you may have even considered investing in a rebranding campaign, or perhaps you’ve already taken the plunge and brought in outside help to reinvent your corporate image.

While keeping your brand current is vital, you should always ask yourself the following five questions before investing lots of time and money in overhauling your company’s image.

1. Is It Really Necessary?



This seems like the most obvious question, but it’s one that far too many marketing departments and business owners forget to ask before deciding on a new mascot, logo, or message. Sometimes businesses launch a rebranding campaign simply because they feel they should be doing something. Even though the company is building plenty of new customers as is and people seem to be reacting well to the existing brand, it just feels like it’s time for a change.

Sure, everyone wants more business, but a brand new brand may not always be the best answer. Figuring that out before you invest time and money in reinventing your image from head to toe will keep you from making things worse.

2. Can You Build a Story Around It?


There was a time when the packaging and advertising for Mountain Dew soda was based around a "hillbilly" image. The company positioned itself as a hardy drink for hardy folk, as typified by Appalachian mountain dwellers--hence, the name. Eventually, that brand outlived its usefulness and the producers began to present the drink as a beverage for hip, adventurous young people. If they had stopped at creating a new logo and color scheme, it's doubtful much would have come from it. Instead, Mountain Dew "walked the walk" by sponsoring a wide range of Extreme Sporting events and associating itself with other related goings-on.



It's easier to build a story around a new brand than ever before through the power of the Internet. If you decide that you should position your business differently to achieve a higher level of success, the mascot, logo, and colors are only the beginning. Create a series of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and whatever relevant content you can to align your business with the new message that your new brand conveys.

3. Is It Too Smart For Its Own Good?



The red and white Campbell can is one of the most iconic brands of all time. Did they arrive at the color scheme through rigorous market research and focus group testing? Not at all. Actually, the founder of Campbell's chose those colors because they were those of his alma matter Cornell.

 Lemonheads, McDonald's, and Facebook all chose their new brands based on the most sophisticated marketing techniques around. Yet they all seemed to fall flat. It’s a simple truth but one worth keeping in mind--sometimes when you try to outsmart everybody, you just end up confusing people.


4. Will It Turn Off Old Fans?



Businesses often undertake a rebranding effort because they want to get more customers. That’s fine, as long as you don’t forget about the customers you already have. In the case of Lemonheads, the marketing team claimed that their product had a big following among college kids, so they wanted to make their logo a twenty-something that would appeal more strongly to them. However, maybe it was precisely the comforting little kid charm of the old mascot that was part of the appeal. Make sure you really do know what makes your true fans tick before reinventing what worked before. 



5. Will It Make You Money?



So often professional marketers engage in sophisticated campaigns of "realignment," "reinvention," and "rebranding" that they forget about what marketing is really supposed to do--drive more business. If any part of your marketing, including your branding efforts, doesn’t have at its core the aim of shifting more dollars in your direction, rethink it immediately, because the last thing you want to do is make people scared to open their wallets.


How to Turn Around a Business

When Joy Chen came into Yes To, she had a 3-part strategy for unlocking the brand's potential and getting the business back on track.

IMAGE: Courtesy Companies
Last updated: May 27, 2014

MICHAEL SCHEIN | Columnist | Founder and Principal of Michael Schein Communications

Michael Schein is the founder and principal of Michael Schein Communications, a digital marketing company. He has created or facilitated the production of content for companies such as eBay, LinkedIn, Avectra, Tesla, SEER Interactive, Interneer, Arise Virtual Solutions, and Citrix. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with honors and got his start at Spin the Bottle, the production company behind VH1 hit show Pop-Up Video.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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