Rebranding can take many forms, from picking a new name to implementing a new business model. While these changes are taking place, businesses must still work to connect and communicate with customers.
Is it possible to rebrand a business without losing your audience and disappointing current customers? Five business owners shared their tips on how to make it all work.
Know why you are rebranding.
A rebrand is a major undertaking, involving your marketing, web presence, client list, employees and mission. The process is more likely to succeed if you have compelling reasons for the change.
David Black, head of marketing and customer support for Retire Ready Solutions, helped guide his company through a rebrand that involved both a major name change and a refocusing of services. In their case, a rebrand was necessary to encourage growth and clarify their services. However, if that's not the case for your business, he said, rebranding could do more harm than good.
"If it isn't essential, there may be easier ways to grow your business," said Black. "If [your] company is leaning toward rebranding, make sure to think through everything that will be affected and consider the time, expense, and work that will need to go into it and whether the [return on investment] will justify the expense and effort."
When Rod Hughes, the vice president of Kimball Hughes Public Relations, helped oversee the company's rebrand from Kimball Communications, he worked hard to communicate that the change was primarily about earning and maintaining their clients' trust.
"I became an owner [and] partner in the business in 2016, and we wanted clients to understand when they worked with me, they were working with a decision-maker for the business," said Hughes. "Our agency president, Gary Kimball, plans to retire in 2020, and we felt it was important to our existing clients, as well as prospective clients, to see a continuity of leadership and a long-term transition plan for management of the agency."
Don't commit to a rebrand without clear, strategic, customer-centered reasons. And once you do, make sure customers know exactly what those reasons are if you want to maintain their loyalty.
Have a comprehensive strategy before you start.
"The decision to rebrand was a fairly easy one to take," said Black. "The difficulties arose in the details and the implementation. Like peeling back layers of an onion, you don't realize all that goes into a rebrand until you get into it."
Many businesses are surprised by the complexities involved in a rebrand. While initial plans may focus on a new name and matching domain, the process is likely to involve designing new logos, branded company products, a new website design and content, product guides, the services you offer, and even the clients you pursue. To ensure the process runs smoothly without losing customers, have a strategy in place before you begin.
Plan for the changes that will need to be made as well as which parts of your marketing and business strategy will be affected. Designate members of your team to be in charge of each area, from making design decisions to communicating with the public.
"Rebranding is a process through which you reset your mission and priorities going forward … Work to reflect that in your branded materials as well as in the minds of your customers," said Hughes. "It's a significant undertaking and should be treated as such."
Anticipate questions and concerns.
Communicating with customers during a rebrand is key to maintaining existing client relationships. If customers doesn't understand why changes are happening, they may lose trust in the business, and you could see a significant drop in revenue.
Brian Moak, the owner of HEART Certified Auto Care in Chicago, rebranded his family's business to expand it into a national franchise. But during the process, he found that many existing customers worried that the name change and expansion meant the family-owned business had been bought out. To preserve their trust, Moak worked to anticipate the questions customers would have and provide answers before they took their business elsewhere.
"During a rebranding process, keep your communication simple, straightforward and speak to people's fears and concerns," Moak advised. "Change is scary, and people ... need clear explanations and reassurance to understand, support, and buy into your vision."
When marketing agency GMR Web Team rebranded to focus on clients in the healthcare industry, owner and founder Ajay Prasad found that understanding the concerns of employees was as important as anticipating questions from customers. Employees, he pointed out, are the ones responsible for communicating with customers, and without their support and understanding, customers will be left in the dark.
"Make sure you have a sound business reason for rebranding. Discuss [it] with your team and get their buy-in. That way, your employees can easily communicate it to existing and potential clients, and understand the goals they should be tracking," said Prasad. "Every rebrand is meant to improve a business, so everyone needs to understand where to expect those improvements."
Publicize your rebrand.
Communicating with your customers doesn't have to be internal or private. All five business owners found that talking about their rebrand as publicly as possible didn't just help them maintain their current level of business – it led to an increase.
"We … used social media, press releases, and media contacts to communicate with customers and the general public," said Black when describing how Retire Ready shared the news about their rebrand. "We saw an increase in traffic to our website and greater interest in our company, because there was a better understanding of what we offered, and it was easier to find us in search engines."
Moak found that when his team went public about the reasons for HEART's rebrand, his customers stepped up to offer their encouragement and support. "Our customers are thrilled that we are trying to expand our mission to other communities," he said.
Kris Gösser, the chief marketing officer for healthcare cloud compliance company Datica, oversaw the company's rebrand right before their industry's largest trade show of the year. With such a high-profile event coming up, Datica's team had to talk publicly about the rebrand and the reasons behind it. This, said Gösser, was good for the company.
"We had an overwhelming positive reaction from our customers. They definitely liked our new name, new identity, new aesthetic and new vibe in the market," he said. "… [Customers] were more happy to associate with Datica than they were with [our former] brand."
Don't drop the ball on existing customers.
Strategies, like being transparent about your rebrand and having a clear plan for how to accomplish it, go a long way toward retaining customers. But the best way to avoid a drop in business is to focus on maintaining excellent service, no matter what else is going on.
"If possible, ensure that the rebrand affects your existing clients as little as possible," advised Prasad. "It will take time for the new focus to start paying off, so you do not want the current revenue flow to drop."
In the course of its rebrand, his business narrowed its client-acquisition focus to the healthcare industry. But Prasad also made sure that existing non-healthcare clients knew they were still a priority. "We sent a blast [via email] telling them that we will only accept healthcare-related businesses as new clients and that nothing will change for them. Our clients like us, and no one had any issue with our repositioning decision. We even kept our old website live … and told our non-healthcare clients to use [it]."
The ultimate goal of any rebrand should be to grow the company by better serving your customers. Sometimes that requires putting client services ahead of the rebrand. That isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Hughes found that his firm's rebrand took longer than anticipated in part because existing clients had to be the company's top focus. "The process of rebranding will take longer than you expect," Hughes said. "Competing priorities – especially client or customer-facing priorities – will always require your time and attention ahead of the rebrand."
That willingness to delay the rebrand in order to focus on service paid off, Hughes added. The firm didn't lose a single client during or after the rebrand, and old customers are just as happy as new ones.