The decision to rebrand your company can have a profound effect on your existing customer base. Newer startups that make their pivot early on likely don't have much of a "legacy" to hold on to, but for an established company with a strong following, changing a key element of your brand may come as a shock to your core audience.
Therefore, it's critical to consider the way your past and current customers will react to such a shift when changing something as big as your product offerings, logo or name. Failure to do so could lead to a drop in your brand's recognition, reputation and trust among the people who know and love your company.
"One of the challenges [of rebranding] is maintaining value," said Tom Kanewske, senior director of business development at vehicle software company Derive Systems. "[It may] leave customers feeling as if their loyalty has been trampled on."
Whether your rebranding is already underway or you're still in the planning stages, you'll need to have a solid marketing strategy to address this challenge. Marketing experts at companies that have undergone significant rebrands shared some tips for announcing and promoting your brand transition without alienating your loyal customer base. [See Related Story: Time to Rebrand? Follow These 3 Steps]
Keep customers in the loop
Ongoing dialogue and engagement are the most important factors in inspiring customers and protecting your brand's reputation during a rebrand, said Steve Rockman, chief marketing officer of TruFusion fitness franchise. Your customer base should be informed of the changes and, if possible, be included in the process, he said.
"It's always helpful to ask for feedback when making such a big change to your company's brand," Rockman said. "Keep [customers] involved."
Jennifer Jackson, vice president of development at Hungry Howie's pizza franchise, added that customers also deserve to know why your rebranding is important.
"It might be valuable to send out a press release making note of the difference and whythe change is significant to the growth and revitalization of the brand," Jackson said. "This could also be a fun opportunity to promote the branding by offering new company 'swag' to your customers."
Highlight the benefits of the rebranding effort
Once you've informed your customers that you'll be rebranding and why it's happening, you'll want to let them know why it's a good thing.
If you're rebranding due to an acquisition or merger, your small company may need to do a little bit of work to assure its customers (and employees) that they won't lose out on what they love about your existing brand, said Kim Connors, director of strategy at Blue Fountain Media.
Connors noted that you should downplay any potential risks of the rebrand and highlight the potential benefits. For instance, in the case of an acquisition by a larger corporation, existing customers may be concerned about losing personalized attention, and employees may worry about losing their jobs. Connors advised positioning the new parent company as an "umbrella company," with the benefits of an expanded national network, multiplied resources and agility, and an HR program of a well-established organization.
"Leverage the relationships, trust and legacy of open communication previously built, to share the company's long-term vision and align the market with its branding direction," added Kanewske, whose company experienced this firsthand after the successful merger of three smaller automotive technology companies.
Make your messaging consistent
A rebranding effort often accompanies a period of change, growth and evolution within your business. Your marketing decisions from this point on should accurately represent your new vision for the company, Jackson said.
"You want to make sure everyone is on the same page, so it's imperative you stay on-message," she added.
Connors noted that once the company has rebranded, you'll want to make sure that your entire brand presence — online and offline — is aligned.
"There is a lot involved in rebranding, including naming, logo, color/imagery guidelines, URLs, social channels, print collateral and much more," Connors said. "Consistency is key."
Although you may be excited about marketing your new brand identity, Kanewske noted that anything you do should remain true to your core values, to stay connected to your existing stakeholders. Similarly, Rockman said that companies that are rebranding must think about the entire customer experience, and how customers currently perceive the brand.
"You must choose a design that represents that customer experience to the fullest," Rockman said. "Be mindful of what you hope the brand will represent about your business."
Pamela Webber, chief marketing officer of 99designs, an online graphic design marketplace, said rebranding is all about balancing who you were and who you want to be. You're taking a step forward, but you don't want to go so far that your new brand doesn't resonate with the people who made you who you are today, she said.
"You don't want to lose sight of that," Webber said. "Embrace the newness and evolution that comes with a new type of customer base or product, [but also] keep your core fundamentals. Make sure that whatever you do as part of your rebrand is authentic to you, your employees and your customers."
Make sure your team is on board
Although it's very important to focus on external stakeholders while you're rebranding, don't lose sight of the internal team that's helping to make it happen. A successful rebranding requires that everyone connected to your company, including your employees, be on board with the effort.
Webber reminded business leaders that they're not rebranding the company alone. It may not be possible to incorporate everyone's feedback and ideas, but you should give your employees the chance to be heard, she said.
"People do have different beliefs about the direction of [your] business," Webber said. "Everyone has an opinion, [and may] be very emotionally invested in the rebrand."
Finally, make sure to get your entire team on board by creating and presenting a clear plan for the rebranding effort.
"Be clear on what you're trying to achieve and what a successful outcome would look like," Webber said.
For more advice on rebranding any aspect of your company, visit this Business News Daily guide.