Long before Cancel Culture, there was Branding Cancel Culture. If you aren't in the brand and marketing world, you may be unaware of its vociferousness. But marketers write about, Tweet about, academicize, and even predict rebranding failures. Much of the trumpeting is just marketers trying to out-outrage each other, and a lot of it is knee-jerk reaction to change. Denounced rebranding efforts often end up working out just fine.
In any case, the process is clearly not for the faint of heart, and it illustrates the kind of change leadership marketers are asked to take on. Rebranding risks, at a minimum, spiraling into all kinds of public discussions a brand would rather avoid (and not spend its resources responding to). And here's something you don't hear much from us branding wonks: Successful branding isn't about marketing. It's about leadership.
Okay, it's a little bit about marketing. But leadership drives the bus, especially when it comes to how the process is embraced and implemented internally by way of competent change leadership. We rarely have glimpses into this from the internet rebranding trolls, of course.
At the heart of a successful rebrand is not color pallets, tag lines, and message points. It's how well the team leading the efforts affect a sense of ownership and accountability among those who are tasked with managing and implementing it. Success depends on internal team members feeling agency within the prescribed process and fully supported in their various roles in managing it.
Marketers' training tends to focus on the tactics of our craft: Marketing technology, marketing mixes, channel curation, storytelling, and so on. But know-how in tactical areas is simply your marketing department's ticket to play. Leadership is where marketers should turn to meet the needs of today's complex marketing needs.
Imagine a branding effort led by a team versed in John Kotter's principles of change leadership. A team that understands the importance of and knows how to instill a sense of urgency for the rebrand; builds the proper internal coalition to advocate for it; creates a compelling vision for the future state of the new brand; enables others to act by removing barriers (as opposed to imposing talking points); and seeks to highlight early and small wins to build momentum.
Grasping those kinds of concepts is a lot to ask of a seasoned C Suite, let alone a team trained to create logos, set up drip campaigns, and report keyword rankings. And you just won't find any John Kotter breakout sessions at your typical marketing conference.
Brand strategy is at the heart of my marketing firm's work, and we spend more time understanding the passions, needs, and beliefs of those inside the organization than I think other agencies do because we know it's the people on the inside that keep the trolls away on the outside. And I believe leadership gets us there.