When your company's sales start falling, or your original brand and business model aren't enough to yield success, sometimes there aren't many options. You can close up shop and cut your losses, but most entrepreneurs are reluctant to leave their dreams behind and admit defeat.

Your best option is often undergoing a rebranding campaign, pivoting the company's products, image, or approach to meet the demands of a new demographic or to reset expectations for your company altogether.

Rebranding Examples

The best way to understand the power of rebranding is to look at examples of companies that have done it successfully in the past:

1. Lee. Now one of the most prominent jeans companies in the United States, Lee actually has a long--and eclectic--history. The company was established by Henry David Lee in 1889, and focused on the wholesale grocery industry.

Over the next few years, Lee transitioned to shipping perishable goods, but became unhappy with the inconsistent attire of his suppliers. To solve this need, Lee opened a new factory to produce and sell denim clothing, such as jackets and overalls.

With thriving sales throughout, Lee expanded throughout the 1960s, and pushed to become a more recognizable, approachable denim brand for mainstream consumers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

2. Old Spice. If you'd only heard about Old Spice before 2010, you might be forgiven for thinking of it as a brand for an older generation--back then, it was a brand largely unnoticed by young consumers. Then, in 2010, it launched an impressive rebranding campaign featuring a series of zany, nonsensical viral video advertisements meant specifically to appeal to younger audiences. Since then, sales among young consumers has skyrocketed, and people see Old Spice in an entirely different light.

3. PBR. Pabst Blue Ribbon is well-known as an inexpensive, blue-collar, Milwaukee lager favored by college students because of its cheapness and accessibility--that is, if you live in the United States.

Recently, PBR launched a new product line--and an entirely new brand--in China, where its Blue Ribbon 1844 brew sells for a whopping $44. China now represents the world's largest beer market, and has a particular taste for high-end alcoholic beverages; PBR saw the opportunity, though it deviated from their core brand, and invested in oak whiskey barrels to create a product that fit.

4. Target. If you only judge Target based on its current status as a yuppie haven for low-cost, yet high-quality goods, you might never guess that back in the 90s, it was seen as practically indistinguishable from other discount retailers like K-Mart or Wal-Mart. When it started facing stiffer competition, and realized it need to differentiate itself, Target started forging exclusive contracts with high-profile designers, and including more pared-down versions of designer apparel in its stores. Since then, Target's image has fundamentally changed, and its presence has exploded throughout the country.

5. Harley Davidson. Harley-Davidson always had a recognizable brand, but in the mid-1980s, the company was on the verge of going bankrupt. It was millions of dollars in debt, with little hope for long-term recovery. Instead of giving up, the company started investing more in the quality of its products, and soon built a reputation for reliability that helped restore its status as an industry leader.

Key Lessons

So what lessons can you learn from these examples?

  • Consider a new demographic. You don't have to stay with your original target demographic; sometimes, shifting your audience is all it takes to find success.
  • Don't be afraid of a dramatic overhaul. Going with a product or approach that's nearly opposite your original angle could be just what your company needs--even if it's a risky move.
  • Try to solve a true need. Focus your efforts on finding out what your prospective customers truly need--even if it means changing course.

Rebranding isn't right for every company, but when your back's against the wall, it's one of your best options to achieve escape velocity.

Learn from the successes of companies past, and don't be afraid to take a risk.