3 Key Rebranding Pitfalls to Avoid at all Cost
In wrapping up my initial series on digital marketing for the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, I thought I would touch on a topic that is near and dear to me—branding. Specifically, I want to share some information on rebranding in the new millennium. With technology both more accessible and more powerful than ever, many companies—big and small—are looking at ways they can leverage tech to drive innovation both within their companies and within their industries.
With innovation often comes the realization that a brand that has served a company or community well for years—sometimes even decades—is no longer an asset. Traditional colors, typography and visual elements can look dated, or worse, no longer be inline with modern buyers’ expectations of technology-powered companies.
People see the value in—and are looking for—technology. In fact, 42% of Americans credit technology with improving life most in the past 50 years (over medicine and health at 14% and civil and equal rights at 10%).
Look at what’s happening even today right here in New Hampshire. We’ve thrown our hat in alongside Massachusetts and Puerto Rico to land Amazon (more about them later). Have we ever worked so hard to attract such a large employer?
Maybe. But this is a big one. Because there’s money to be made in giving people what they want, cheaply and easily, powered by technology.
And given that technology can truly empower us and help us to take outdated, slow, manual processes and give them new life, it’s important that when we are selling this to new customers, we craft a brand that truly represents who we are—one that is void of gimmicks, trickery, and smoke and mirrors.
Social media has put significant influence of the power of your brand in the hands of your customers. According to Forbes, we’re no longer in the “Age of the Seller” but moving full-speed into an era where the Customer has control. Consider something that you’ve probably already experienced (either in selling—or more so in buying):
“This… shift is largely caused by online platforms that are: 1) increasing the access customers have to information about Sellers and their products; 2) allowing customers to express and share what they’ve learned about and experienced with a business.” With this shift, brand gimmicks, trickery and smoke and mirrors will only get you so far, if they get you far at all.
Since it’s complicated to advise on specific steps that you can take to develop your own truly authentic, unique, transparent, relevant, customer-focused and strong brand in a single blog post (even if it is 2,000 words), I’d like to help you by providing something that is almost as valuable—a brief list of things you should absolutely avoid when you’re rebranding in the new millennium.
Now I’ll probably get a little pushback (I always do)—specifically by those who like to throw around one of my favorites quotes by Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” But in reality, (I’ll paraphrase) you can break some of the rules some of the time, but not all of the rules all of the time. And I believe that it’ll be more helpful to you to know some principles to avoid.
Frankly, any brand expert worth their salt will agree with most (if not all) of the following 3 pitfalls to avoid when rebranding in the new millennium. I’ll work to explain why I believe that my recommendations are valid (and justified by other branding experts), along with providing the occasional guidance to three major business groups that I have some familiarity with:
- A professional services-based business (I have 20+ years of experience branding and growing services-based firms)
- A technology-based business (most of our current clients are technology-driven companies with an international footprint)
- A digital marketing agency (of course, who we are).
Hopefully, armed with the following recommendations, you can avoid some of the catastrophic choices made by other professional services, technology firms, and even some marketing agencies here in the new millennium.
Pitfall 1: A Name Change
Even when launching a new service or offering, you should really consider what a name change might do to you. There are few good reasons to change your name, some bad ones, and few reasons you definitely shouldn’t. Kelly Smith, over at LPK, a global branding agency with 30 years of experience and clients like Coleman, Pringles, Olay and more, says this about changing your name: “CONSIDER A CHANGE IF …”
- “The current name is tied to a single product or technology, and the company is limited by the association.” For example, if you’ve called yourself “Nuts, inc” and you start selling bolts, you’ve limited yourself.
- “The current name has very little awareness and equity, even after years of marketing efforts to improve the situation.” This can happen frequently with smaller—and even some mid-sized service-based, technology, and marketing companies.
- “The current name has been fundamentally and irreparably damaged by a scandal, tragic event or crisis.” This one is self-explanatory. If you’re in the middle of a scandal, you’re probably not reading this post anyway.
- “You want a little separation in your portfolio.” Let’s say that your name is negatively connected with a product or service—and you want to expand in other markets—then a new name might be for you.
- “You’re being forced to, due to trademark infringement issues.” Rare, yes, but it can happen.
He goes on to make a few good points on reasons NOT to rename. Boredom, a fundamentally flawed business, and lack of clarity in a business’ leadership are some of my favorites. So, if you’re seriously considering redeveloping your brand, I would strongly consider reading through more of LPK’s related articles on branding.
Pitfall 2: Avoid Tying Your Rebrand to Gimmicks
I’ll begin with a quick clip from an over-referenced (yet still a guilty pleasure of mine) Madmen. It’s 2 min and 59 seconds.
It’s her line at 1:20 that really gets me: “Sex sells.” And Don’s response is perfect. “Just so you know, the people who talk this way think that monkeys can do this.” While this quote is specific to marketing (would you really want to hire me if I thought monkeys could do my job)—most of you can relate to this: people in your industry who throw around industry jargon (or garbage) like this, pretending to know what they’re doing, “sounding smart” while in reality they’re damaging your industry—and clients—while they do it.
Avoid attaching your brand (which is a long-term commitment) to this sort of gimmick that can be perceived as shallow, fleeting, or gimmicky like this.
Instead, connect your brand to your customers’ and communities’ hearts, values and needs. The folks over at Duct Tape Marketing (I love their name—you can fix almost anything with Duct Tape) have a great post on brand messaging you should avoid. In particular, they have a pretty good take on what mistakes to avoid in brand messaging, including:
- “Not understanding the target audience” Consider the challenges your customers face, and how your product or service can be seen as the solution to those needs. And I don’t mean just bang out some magical copy that stretches the truth to get a sale. Do your research. Interview your best and worst customers. Conduct a competitive analysis. Marketing and branding are smart—and hard—work. There are few shortcuts to deeply understanding your audiences’ values.
- “Failing to speak to the values of customers” Let’s go back to my video example with Don and Peggy. Their customers aren’t thinking about—or valuing—sex when they’re traveling (or in our case hiring professional services, technology, or marketing). In Don’s case—they are focused on their kids. It’s that “you feel something” moment that you should focus on—and connect your brand to. THAT is powerful branding.
Now that being said, I’m not suggesting that you NOT attach your brand to a problem that needs solving today. Consider Amazon’s branding. It’s not about being ANY bookstore. It’s about being the biggest store—in the world. Do you think they made a mistake when branding?
The Amazon river is the longest and largest (by volume) river in the world. Think for a moment about the problem that Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, was looking to solve, or the “Job to be done” by Amazon. “[Jeff] wanted Amazon to be an everything store…” where you could literally find anything you wanted—and buy it online. Ultimately, he really liked the association that the name Amazon came with.
My point is this: when rebranding in the new millennium, choose something long-term, substantial, and based on your customers’ values and needs. Don’t fall prey to the siren song of a gimmick.
Pitfall 3: Don’t Clone Others in Your Market
This is probably the most important of all of the pitfalls. Especially in this new millennium, where it’s easy to hop online, do a little research and comparison shop—it is imperative that you avoid looking too much like everyone else who does what you do.
Think about this: what can a brand truly do? A “brand can literally change what we like,” and “it can literally change how good something seems.”
The perfect example from the post referenced above is the case study of Heinz.
“In the UK, [Heinz’s] baked beans are remarkably successful. One of its competitors wanted to find out why. They ran blind taste tests—and discovered that two-thirds of customers preferred the taste of their beans to Heinz’s. Yet as soon as the brands were revealed, customers preferred the Heinz beans.”
Brands are powerful, and you might think that this power is limited to only big brands. But it’s not. Let’s take a quick look at what a brand is.
A quick Google search will bring you to a number of different definitions of what a brand is—usually tied to marketing consultants who are just trying to make the old seem new again. When you boil it down, D Bnonn Tennant, the author of the above article, nails it (you can tell I’m biased).
“Your brand is simply how prospects perceive you.”
Seems so simple, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t branding be more complicated? More, magical?
Sure. With the wide variety of channels out there and the above-mentioned power that your prospects have today, it takes some work. That’s why at the very least, it’s key that your rebrand accomplishes a few critical elements:
- Focus. Your brand should support the message of the specific value you bring to the table. For example, it took me 9+ months to come up with “MESH”. It was a struggle, but I was challenged with finding something that really captured my unique take on integrating strategy, brand, and technology—yet stand apart from the other agencies that were “tech this” and “marketing” that.
- Values. In a world where you can launch a company in a few days, it’s easy for competitors to pop out of the woodwork and clone your product, services, or even practically your entire online presence. In a case where this can happen with little to no recourse, the best you can do is to clearly establish your values. For example, in our crowded space, it can sometimes be hard to tell one digital marketing agency from another. It was important for me from day one to support the robust safety net that is our non-profit community here in New Hampshire, and we’ve established this as one of our core values—and part of our mission.
- Differentiation. And this is key. MarketingProfs states this quite nicely: “The difference between what you offer and what others offer is important to customers.” Think about that. What happens when what you sell is exactly the same as what the next company sells?
You end up competing on price (hint: don’t do this).
Therefore, it’s important for you to make sure that a) you’re different from your competitors (substantially—not just on the surface through “clever marketing”) and b) that you are clear in how your new brand defines this differentiation.
Can you get inspiration from others in your market? Absolutely! I do. Just look around town. There are some amazing digital marketing agencies in New Hampshire. Gigunda Group, EVR, and Burke Advertising all do amazing work (there really are too many to list them all—and no I don’t get a kickback for mentioning them). With all the great work they’re doing, how could I NOT be inspired by these agencies?
But inspiration only takes you so far. If you take too much from the pot, then you won’t look different to your prospects. And if you don’t look different from the next company, you’re competing on price. And if you’re competing on price…
Whatever you do, differentiate yourself, and capture that essence in your brand. Differentiate your offering. Differentiate your name. Differentiate your color palette. Differentiate your website. Differentiate EVERYTHING.
So take inspiration from those around you who are successful. But be careful to not look exactly like them—because people will notice, and no one wants a “me too” solution.
Rebrand If It Makes Sense, and Do It Right
In wrapping up, I’d like to summarize my points. From the perspective of this particular marketing agency owner, if you are going to rebrand in the new millennium:
- Try to avoid a name change because you run the risk of sending the message to customers that something bad is happening with your company
- Avoid attaching your brand to gimmicks (like sex—especially with current events in the media)
- Avoid looking too much like your competitors.
Follow these simple tips, and your rebrand should be successful!
For more information on how you can gain a better understanding of your competitors’ content and branding strategies, give me a shout today! Or, better yet, download a free sample competitive content analysis report and learn how you can identify key thought leadership opportunities in your particular market.
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