The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Rebranding

In 2001, Pabst Blue Ribbon did it. Ten years later, Target took the leap. Even Burberry, whose aristocratic heritage had been inadvertently relegated to the working-class, made the same accomplishment. It’s a successful rebranding, and it’s an important skill-set for any digital marketer.

Let’s take a dive into the rebranding mindset, learn the guiding principles, and see how other brands did—or didn’t—turn their proverbial ships around.

What Is Rebranding?

It’s easy for rebranding to come off as simple as a shiny, new logo ornamented across various marketing channels. On the visual front, this is what consumers see. However, rebranding is much more than new visual assets; it’s a strategic re-thinking of the brand that aligns values with content. It’s about connecting your story, knowing your products and place in the market, and understanding how customers feel and what they want. Then, it’s about using all that information to give your brand a fresh and relevant image.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Rebrand?

There comes a time in every brand’s life when a dramatic shift happens, that threatens to make the brand irrelevant. This is when it’s time to rebrand.

It could be a demographic change, where your audience has aged and a new, younger audience takes their place with a different set of values and expectations. Your brand could be challenged by new technologies in the market. Maybe your company has grown or outgrown, and your original brand doesn’t communicate the entirety of your product offerings. Google just rebranded for this reason as they renamed Google AdWords to Google Ads.

No matter what the situation may be, if you’re around for long enough, your brand will likely require rebranding at some point.

What Are the Benefits and Risks of Rebranding?

Like most areas of business, there are pros and cons. When your company is struggling to survive, however, it really comes down to understanding what you’re up against; so you can take advantage of the benefits and prepare for the risks.

Benefits of a Company Rebrand:

  • Reinvigorate & re-establish relevancy
  • Appeal to new customers or reacquaint with existing ones
  • Embrace innovation
  • Generate excitement and awareness
  • Improve chances of company survival

Risks of a Company Rebrand:

  • Loss of brand awareness
  • Costs to prepare for and launch rebrand
  • Negative sentiment toward rebranding
  • Loss of heritage/legacy
  • Forfeit of loyal customers or supporters

Who Got Rebranding Right—and Who Didn’t? 

Target is a fun case study in rebranding. Not only did they successfully take on a significant rebrand effort in 2011, but in 2017 they also started the process again.

Target recognized it was facing stiff competition from Amazon (who isn’t?), particularly in the grocery and retail market. To stay competitive, they needed more ways to connect with consumers whose shopping behaviors were changing. In essence, Target needed to rebrand for more than one reason: new technologies in the market (online ordering/fast delivery), and changes in consumer preferences (easier shopping/upscale products).

The company also introduced four new upscale clothing labels to stores, eliminated now-irrelevant ones, and is updating the design and layout of stores to make shopping easier and more inspiring for customers.

The result? A 3.7 percent traffic increase (their strongest traffic growth in more than 10 years), a 3 percent increase in comparable sales, and a 28 percent increase in comparable digital channel sales.


But what happens when rebranding doesn’t go as planned?

Applebee’s, which tried to attract a new kind of customer—millennials—couldn’t quite turn the tide. Even with its updated image and more sophisticated cuisine, the younger generation wasn’t interested. In the process, Applebee’s also irritated long-time, loyal customers who longed for the all-you-can-eat specials.

What Should You Consider Before Rebranding?

As you can see, rebranding comes with huge responsibility. Not only do you need to know when and why to rebrand, but you also have to weigh the benefits against the risks.

The good news is, if you’re thinking about going for it, there are a few key areas you can focus on: 

  •  Keep the brand true to itself (link to your past)
  • Keep the rebrand meaningful but powerful enough to make a difference
  • Determine your key products
  • Understand your share of the market
  • Get to know your customers—loyal and new—on a granular level
  • Define your goals for the future 

Whether a rebrand is in your future or not, it’s important to recognize the situations where one may be necessary. You never know when a new technology or customer base is around the corner, and you want to be prepared with the right steps as you take your new branding out into the world.

The research that goes into a rebranding strategy incorporates all branches of digital marketing, from social media to SEO to a deep knowledge of your marketing personas and buyers’ journey. Before and after the rebrand takes place, analytics is monumental. Marketers must understand what benchmarks they’re reaching, what impact they’ve made, and how the market has responded to the shift. Advanced training in all areas of marketing is essential for a marketer that’s preparing to take on a project as risky and important as a business rebrand.

About the Author

Rob SandersRob Sanders

Rob Sanders is a digital marketing veteran with over 20 years of experience. During that time, Rob has helped a wide range of companies utilize new and emerging technologies to increase sales and profitability. As founder of RSO Consulting, Rob helps clients maximize their digital marketing efforts via SEO, SEM, SMO, and Web Analytics. He is responsible for many facets of the web analytics value chain, from identifying business goals and objectives to developing strategies and translating those into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Rob also teaches digital marketing and analytics classes throughout the U.S. and abroad. As a contributor for Simplilearn, Rob creates expert thought leadership content on a variety of digital marketing and analytics topics.

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