Remember when Netflix thought it would be a great idea to separate out the DVD-by-mail part of its business into a new service called Qwikster? Wait, you don't? Oh, not only do you not remember, you didn't even remember there was a time when Netflix mailed DVDs to your house?

OK, well, it did. Though I suspect Netflix would very much like you to never mention it. It was a good lesson though, however, for entrepreneurs who face the question of rebranding all or part of their business. 

In Netflix's case, the company ended up abandoning the effort to split the streaming and DVD parts of its business and create a new brand after only a few months when it realized customers weren't having it. 

Qwikster wasn't just a bad name for, well, anything. It was also a betrayal of the brand equity Netflix had built and an unnecessarily confusing change to a brand people loved. 

Your brand is not your logo, or slogan, or color scheme, or website design. Sure, all those things are important parts of branding since they help you influence the experience people have with your company, but they aren't your brand. 

Your brand is how your customers feel about your business.

That's why what you say about your brand isn't nearly as important as what you do. All of that other stuff is just a reminder of the emotion associated with every experience your customer has had. 

Too often, businesses think they need to change a name or a logo, or design a new website, when what they really need to do is change the experience. Which leads to the question: Does your business need a rebrand? While the answer depends on a lot of factors, the bottom line is, probably not. 

With that in mind, here are five questions to ask when considering a rebrand:

1. What is the real reason?

Consider the rationale for rebranding, including both the brand experience you're trying to create for your customer as well as their actual experience with your brand. When there's a disconnect.

Are you trying to overcome something negative, or have you changed your core product or service? If it's the latter, it might make sense to create a new brand experience around that. If you've just made a bunch of people angry, your problem isn't your logo. Be clear up front about the real reason you want to change.

2. What will it cost me?

I'm not talking about money. Sure, hiring a professional to help you develop your brand will cost you money, but that's definitely not your first concern. Much more important is what will a rebrand cost you in terms of equity with your existing clients. 

If your brand is the way people feel about you and your company, your brand identity is all of the pieces that help communicate and reflect those feelings through your marketing. When you "rebrand," you change the identity -- and often the feelings that are attached. That may be your goal, but remember -- you will likely lose most of the positive value your brand has built.

3. What's my story?

Probably the most important consideration in creating a brand is deciding who you are, and how you want to talk about who you are. In reality, people don't connect with businesses, they connect with stories, whether it's the story you carefully craft about what you value, or the one they tell themselves. 

That's why it's important to carefully consider the story you want to tell. I suggest you write out the things you want people to know (and feel) about your company, and then refine that into a story you can repeat, over and over and over.

4. Will I connect with my ideal client?

Often, the tendency is to create marketing that "casts a wide net," hoping to get as many fish as possible. That might be OK if you cater to the masses, but many small businesses (especially service-based businesses) will get a much stronger return on their marketing when they focus on building a brand around a specific ideal client.

Take a hard look at every aspect of the brand experience, from the overall marketing message to the details like website, print materials, communication policies, and more--and evaluate how to craft each piece in a way that creates a connection with that client.

5. Can I support my brand?

Bottom line, ask yourself whether you have the structure in place to support your branding efforts. Will your customers have the experience you promise, and can you sustain that over the long haul? 

It makes no difference how pretty your website is if every time someone enters your business, they encounter someone who couldn't care less about the customers. Be sure that you've created a system to "make your brand real," so that the experience matches the promise.

Published on: Jun 24, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.