Thinking of rebranding?

BY Carey George


While the rebranding process may seem to be equal parts alchemic and academic, there is a widely agreed-upon methodology that any legitimate branding agency will

guide you through to arrive at your new brand. Getting there on budget and on time is no guarantee—so to put you in the best position possible to succeed, we’ve put together a step-by-step checklist to ensure that your entire organization is aligned. Start with an audit of your existing brand and your competitors; determine where you need your brand to be, and what it needs to look like to succeed there; and always, always, always ensure buy-in from your executives.

Knowing what to do to prepare for a rebrand will make the initiative go a LOT more smoothly. From timings to budget to preparing the creative brief, here are 4 tips that will save you hassles and headaches.

In the lifespan of most companies, rebrands are an eventuality, but most marketers have very little practical experience in planning, executing and implementing one.

Why is that?

It’s because true rebrands only happen when there is a large change (or changes) happening to your organization—a name change, merger, takeover, global expansion, plan to increase the acquisition value, or a change in product, technology or operations. These things don’t happen every day, and most people may only experience a rebrand a handful of times in their career. Add to that the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get an objective view of your brand from the inside, and you’re looking at a lot of work.

Don’t worry, and don’t feel inadequate if this is all new to you; it is for most. And it’s one reason why branding agencies exist.

In the past, companies looked to their advertising agency for this help. But over the last two decades, branding has increasingly become more sophisticated—it’s far more than just a logo, a tagline, a photo/illustration palette and a few key messages—which has led to branding firms becoming more specialized.

If you work with a good branding agency, you’ll work with experts who conduct rebrands constantly; this is, after all, their job. At my agency, we have an entire team dedicated to all components of branding and rebranding, and we have the process down to a science (with a little bit of art thrown in, of course!).

No matter who you hire, be wary of any complex jargon that tries to make your rebrand seem like it needs mysterious secret knowledge or, worse, a proprietary process. No matter how large and complex the project, the overall methodology of branding remains the same between all the best firms.

The factors that will help you choose a branding agency include the agency’s:

  • Experience and track record
  • Availability of senior people
  • Understanding of your challenges
  • Personality
  • Work methods

Another consideration that we see often: do you want someone who has worked in your industry many times or do you need a fresh set of eyes? Be sure to note this in your agency search; you will save yourself and any prospective agency a lot of time.

Based on our decades of experience, here are the main elements you need to have in place for a rebrand.

1. Get your ducks in a row

The following are some key components and tasks to have in place at the outset of your rebrand:

Establish a budget: There is no exact way to create a budget, as all rebrand projects are different in their complexity. Generally, 10–15% of your yearly marketing budget is a good starting point (but you may want to aim higher if you know that, for example, your organization is less nimble than others or your CEO is indecisive and will want to see multiple rounds of revisions). And, like all large projects, set aside 10–15% of additional budget for any unknown contingencies.

Create a realistic timeline: A branding project can take anywhere from 8–18 months (often longer, if it’s a very large project or a complex organization). Consider any specific dates that could play into the timing of launching your new brand: are events planned around it, or can you piggyback on an AGM, industry tradeshow or advertising cycle? Are there any major upgrades to your existing marketing and communications properties that may be more than a reskin (e.g., a new website, signage, office or retail spaces, etc.)? Are there any obstacles to overcome in getting board approval, or are there internal processes or politics that may affect your timelines? What will be your fallback if internal sign-offs or changes in scope put the project off schedule?

Gather any existing research: Pull together all of your existing internal or commissioned research, plus any third-party industry/sector research, studies and industry papers. Look for gaps in your research to add to your brief. Also include your website analytic reports; generally, the last 12–18 months should give a good snapshot of your users and customers.

Review your existing plans: Pull together your latest strategic/marketing/advertising/social media/business plans and all accompanying analytics—upcoming or within the past year or two.

Do an audit of your existing materials: Start pulling together electronic and, if necessary, hardcopy samples of the following (you may need some filing boxes for the hard copies):

  • Advertising—display, broadcast, paid search, paid social, OOH, print, direct, etc., and any analytics
  • Organic social posts and reels, and analytics
  • Product packaging
  • Corporate communications—ARs, brochures, website, etc.
  • Signage graphics—building, lobby, etc.
  • Vehicle graphics
  • Tradeshow materials—booths, pull-up banners, videos, giveaways, etc.
  • Stationery—business cards, letterheads, envelopes, kit folders, etc.
  • Any existing branding books, identity guidelines and writing style guides
  • Videos
  • Swag and uniforms

Your expected deliverables: Being as clear as possible on this point will help you understand what you’ll get for your money. Basic branding projects deliver:

  • A logo
  • Brand patterns
  • A colour palette
  • Identity guidelines
  • A few examples of how to apply the identity (note that these examples are usually hypothetical, and are not final artwork)

Additional deliverables for more robust branding programs can include:

  • Customer/stakeholder research, analysis and recommendations
  • Brand strategy
  • Brand positioning
  • Tagline
  • Key messages for multiple audiences

Unless you know the specifications, quantities and distribution of physical materials (signage, printed collateral, etc.), these items will not be included in your branding costs. (An implementation plan would address these, but that’s a different article.)

2. Create the brief

Next, you’ll create a detailed brief. There’s nothing harder than trying to compare agency quotations that don’t address the same scope and the same deliverables. Your brief needs to include the following:

  • Reasons why you’re rebranding—this could include a merger, change in markets, increased competitor pressure, stale-looking materials or a lack of consistency in the application of your branding
  • Brand history/background
  • What brand or market research you can provide and what you feel you will need (this may include a competitive audit)
  • Any mission or vision statements
  • Current marketplace position and brand strategy
  • Your brand’s strengths and weaknesses
  • A list of your key stakeholders
  • A list of your key products and/or services (include your current brand architecture)
  • A list of your top-5 competitors and their position within the marketplace
  • An overview of your target markets and customers/audiences
  • Current brand attributes
  • Clear list of final deliverables—research, ideation workshop, new positioning, key messages, brand book, identity guidelines, design templates, logo animation, etc.
  • Any accessibility and sustainability requirements
  • A list of languages you communicate in
  • How you plan to measure success
  • What you envision for the brand launch
  • Your budget (we get that some companies don’t want to disclose this, but disclosing your budget—or a budget range—will ensure you can safely compare apples to apples if you get multiple agencies to bid on the work)

3. Get top-down buy-in

Next (or at the same time), you need to make sure that your C-suite is completely onboard with the rebrand. This involves three key factors:

  • They need to understand and be realistic about their level of involvement. Will they leave the decisions up to the marketing team, effectively rubber-stamping the final recommendations (and, if they say this, do they really mean it)? Or will they be more hands-on in the decision making, participating in ideation sessions and key milestones? Whatever they decide, they’ll need to understand the commitment of time and brainpower, in addition to the dollars and cents.
  • They need to be clear on why your organization is rebranding and what you want to achieve as part of this initiative. How much do they want to move from where the brand is now? What is most important to preserve?
  • It is of utmost importance that they sign off on the brief that you prepare for the branding agency—this will help minimize crossed wires and the resulting budget and schedule overruns.

4. Command and control

Now that you have all of the groundwork in place and have chosen an agency, you’ll need to reinforce clear roles and responsibilities to keep the show running for the duration of the project:

  • A short email (typically from the CEO) needs to go out to everyone who will be involved in the rebrand. It should outline that the brand is being reevaluated, an agency has been (or will be) chosen and that, over the coming months, senior management may be asked to participate in interviews, ideation workshops and a variety of branding presentations.
  • While the rebrand is underway, keeping its momentum will be critical to the success of the project. You’ll need to appoint one or two people (with sufficient authority) to internally manage the process. Their job will be to look after costs, timing, output and deliverables. They’ll also communicate the progress of the job—working with your agency to make presentations at various milestones and get approvals from the key stakeholders (president, VPs, board, steering committee, etc.) at all stages.

“OMG, that’s a lot!”

At first, yes, this may seem like a lot.

But remember that the value you get out of your rebrand is tied to the level of detail you put into it. If you don’t cover all of your bases, you can end up with a rebrand that doesn’t work for your needs, doesn’t have the support of all of the key players in your organization, runs over budget or over time, and is generally a headache from start to finish. And that’s a shame, because a rebrand should be fun, exciting and energizing.

Also: you don’t have to do this alone.

Reach out to a reputable branding agency (like Goods & Services Branding) for help at any point. Remember, we do branding all the time, not just once every five to 10 years. A good agency can walk you through all of your preparation work, from planning to budgeting to writing your creative brief, turning a daunting to-do list into a seamless, enjoyable process.