When businesses bring us in to help with their marketing, sometimes their expectations don’t match reality. They think we’ll simply come in and talk to their marketing department about what they do now, then go off and think for a while before coming back a few months later with advice on how to improve.
This is unequivocally the wrong approach, and if you’ve hired a firm that does this then you should ask for your money back. You have to expect more.
Branding is defining who you are—it’s one of the most important things your marketing does. And using only a few data points from the same vantage point, whether it be sales, marketing, or the intern that’s been in the office for three weeks, is doing the process a disservice. It won’t give you an accurate picture. Rebranding is a holistic process, and has to examine all aspects of your company’s product, culture, and operations.
In this post, I’ll give you a high-level overview of the rebrand process we use as well as some tactics you can use to approach creating a brand plan. A disclaimer: This is meant to give you an insight into the process and an idea of our approach—and I would be lying if I told you I could give you a comprehensive guide to rebranding in 1,500 words. Every brand is unique, and processes are tailored to fit what is the best for your company (and your budget), so every rebrand will look different.
Internal Research: Talk to your own team
The best thing is to start at the very beginning, which is your own employees. If you’re trying to determine the direction your company should go, it’s important to understand where the alignment and misalignment are internally.
When conducting your internal brand research, some topics you should cover in your interviews include industry and market information, company information, current brand strategy, partnerships and acquisitions of sub-brands, product positioning, and the sales process.
Here are some sample questions to get you started:
- What trends and challenges do you see in the marketplace?
- Who are the leaders and who are the followers within the industry?
- What are your company’s core values?
- What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What kind of personality does the company have?
- How would you describe the position of the company in the marketplace?
- Who is your ideal customer? How is that different from who’s buying today?
- Where are areas you can see growing into? Where should you step back?
- What is the sales process like?
- Why do people choose your product or service over the competition?
Keep in mind these are written from an outside third-party perspective, so not all of them may be appropriate if you’re working with a company you’re very familiar with. But it’s important to keep an open mind and start from square one, even if you think you know the answers. You might be surprised what you learn.
External Research: Talk to your customers
You won’t get everything you need to know just from talking to your own people—in fact, thinking you already know everything you need to know could be exactly what put you in the predicament you’re already in. It’s important to also talk to your customers (past and present), other industry experts, and if available, peers in your industry. Sticking to the inside looking out can only tell you so much.
Here are a few sample questions you might ask:
- How long have you been in this industry?
- What are your impressions of the industry overall?
- Who are the market leaders? What are they doing to put them in this position?
- When did you first become aware of this company?
- Describe the company’s reputation in the space.
- What is their greatest strength? Their greatest weakness?
This set is less in-depth than your internal questions, but that’s okay. It’s important for you to get multiple outside perspectives on your business and your industry, even if they’re a bit less detailed than what you know about yourselves. The biggest benefit to these questions is that they allow you to see how accurate your preconceived notions are—and where you might be wearing rose-colored glasses.
Market Research: Audit internally and externally
Now it’s time to dive a little deeper to get a more clear assessment of the current state of the marketplace. Take a detailed look at the marketing in your industry—both your own and everyone else’s. It’s helpful to do this as a group to get more than one perspective, rather than having one person do all of the research.
In your auditing process, you should evaluate:
Values are what we celebrate and promote. When we’re talking about what kind of company we want to be, this is what we refer to.
Brand positioning and concept
What’s the strategy? What are you looking for people to take away when they interact with your marketing—who are you, and why?
What is it that sets a business apart, that makes the customer choose it over the competition? Value props are the things that make a brand unique, bringing specific value.
Who are you talking to? It’s critical to have a handle on who marketing targets, rather than just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.
Logo and visual identity
What are the standards in the field? How should they be followed, and where can they be subverted to stand out from the pack?
What features and information are considered critical, and what should be left out? Also look at design and tone, and again, how you can follow and subvert each.
What channels are common to your industry? What is being said online? How active is your audience, and how can you communicate with them?
Do this for both your competitors and yourselves. When you’re looking at the bigger picture you might not need to rank everyone from 1-10 or anything like that, but it can be helpful to establish who the leaders and laggers are. What puts the leaders out in front? Identify who is playing what role in the space and where the opportunity is for you. Don’t force yourself into a corner that you don’t fit in, but look for the place where market availability and your goals overlap and set that as your north star.
Synthesize: Where do you fit in?
So you’ve talked to your employees, leadership, customers, and peers in the industry—now what? Before you can create an action plan around what you want your new brand to be, you need to synthesize the information you have gathered and use it to define who you are.
We use a brand plan as the one source for all this information; it can be broken down into two main parts.
The first part of the brand plan should give an overview of your industry, your competitors, and how you stack up. This is where you incorporate a lot of your observations from the research you have done to this point. We’ve already talked about what should have been covered there, so suffice it to say you want to give a clear picture of what your company and your competitors are doing so everyone understands where you fit in the marketplace.
The second part of the brand plan defines who you are. This can be aspirational if your company has a new vision you’re working towards, or it can just clearly define where you are today so everyone is on the same page.
What to define
The meat of your brand plan involves defining your brand in a few parts. When we do this, here’s what we mean:
- The brand wheel: This is a way to visualize who you are, from surface level facts down to what truly encapsulates your business and brand. At the core of this is your brand essence, and how you sum up your purpose, your “why.” It is usually easier to start at the outside with your attributes and then move inward through the benefits, values, and personality before you get to your essence. After all, if you don’t have a handle on the details, the big picture is sure to elude you.
- Verbal and visual tone: Often marketing focused, this gives guidelines on how you should present yourself internally and externally, and can start to give direction for the development of brand elements.
- Is/Isn’t: This is a chart of pairs of words that define (you guessed it) who you are and who you are not as a brand. Saying what you are can be helpful, but it’s often broad and leaves room for error—so pairing those concepts with their opposing force narrows it down to distinguish you further.
Another disclaimer: brand plans can, but do not always, include creative concepts. This can also be a place where things like brand architecture or marketing strategy are defined, but that’s dependent on your needs as a company. The focus of brand plans is the “what,” not necessarily the “how.”
The second half of the brand plan should allow you to align internally on who you are or who you want to be. It can be used as a reference point for deciding whether something is “on-brand” or not, and can help your employees understand who you are as a company.
Implementation: The birth of a new brand
So after all that, now you have this fantastic brand plan to act as the framework for your rebrand. Next comes making it real and tangible, which means working with your creative team to develop creative standards (or brand guidelines) that reflect your new direction. These guidelines should contain all the relevant information from the brand plan that can be used for marketing, as well as defining visual elements (logos, fonts, colors, and photography and illustration style). Our brand guidelines blog post covers all this in detail.
Once everything is settled, it’s time to launch your new brand! As exciting as it is, it’s important not to rush into it, or implement it piecemeal by peppering your old brand with bits of the new while it is still under development. Brand launches should be tiered, with internal communication first so expectations are set, then customer communication, followed by public communication. Depending on your brand visibility, you may want to consider an iterative approach to introducing your new brand, such as a temporary logo that bridges the new and the old so people know they’re in the right spot (if you’ve changed your name, this is especially important).
Understand where you are—and where you need to go
Following these steps won’t automatically give you perfect brand clarity or guarantee that you’ll redefine what a great brand looks like in your industry, but it should help you understand what the framework of this process looks like, and show you the tools you need to have discussions internally about what your goals for this process are.
Want to learn more? Here are some examples of brands that have mastered their voice, and here’s a full collection of all of our own brand development content. Still want more? If you want one-on-one help with your brand, you can always call us.
When Theresa’s not creating award-winning designs, you can probably find her either running, reading or spending her weekends traveling around. She also tells us that she can be really sarcastic at times, but we're not sure if she's kidding. Or just being sarcastic.
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