Knowing when to rebrand

7 Sep 2022 by Steven Giannoulis


I read an article recently that suggested that most organisations rebrand every 7 – 10 years. As I think about our clients, and some of the world’s leading branding I admire, I realise that most companies are rebranding - or at least refreshing their brand - at least this often. In a world that’s evolving fast through technology, globalisation, innovation, digitisation, and rapidly changing customer expectation, I suspect the frequency of rebrands will only increase.

This pondering led me to the obvious next question, how does a company know it’s time for a rebrand? From my experience – as a brand manager within a business and as an agency branding partner for numerous successful brands -  I see six key scenarios where a rebrand should be considered. 

1. The business has outgrown its brand

Over time businesses evolve, recasting their vision, their purpose, their strategy, their operating model, their product offering, and their competitive positioning. These changes can lead to their brand no longer accurately representing who the business is and what it stands for. At best, this is a lost opportunity and at worst, a scenario where a brand is impeding business growth. In this situation, it’s time to evolve the brand story, brand promise, positioning, and visual identity to keep up with where the business has got to and, just as importantly, where it’s going.   

A few years ago, we worked with the Sir Peter Blake Trust, evolving their brand to Blake, a positioning that moved them from their original narrow sailing perception to a wider environment leadership promise. Our recent work rebranding The Reserve Bank is another example of evolving a brand to catch up with the organisation.

2. The market expects something different from your brand

Like business, customers and their expectations are always changing. The experience they expect from a particular product or brand is changing, driving who they choose to work with. A great example is the move online causing customers to rethink beloved retail brands that don’t offer a satisfying multi-channel experience. Another example is changing expectations around purpose, sustainability, employment practices, and community engagement. Earlier this year, we worked with TransDiesel, rebranding them to TDX, as a direct result of a growing market shift away from diesel products. Fortunately, they were smart enough to identify the challenge early and to make the move before it impacted their business.

As businesses move into new markets, sectors, and products, including going global, the variety of customer needs and expectation to satisfy expands. This adds another reason to consider whether your brand is aligning with your customers’ changing expectations.

3. A brand to signal change or drive new momentum

Many businesses use a rebrand to directly address negative perceptions, to signal a new era (for example, following an acquisition/merger), or to help their customers and the market see them differently. Our brand work with Lion, extended the equity in the old Lion brand to reflect the qualities of their recent merger with a diary company. Our work, a few years ago, with law firm Meredith Connell (MC) is an example of changing market perceptions, fuelling a period of huge growth for them. Telecom’s high-profile rebrand to Spark is a great example of using a rebrand to help consumers get over long-held preconceptions and to see an organisation in a new way.

4. To carve out a unique position in the market

We were lucky to be part of the team that rebranded Mercury about 5 years ago. The energy sector had become very same-same, and the introduction of new low-cost players saw a drive to offer the biggest discounts, giveaways and incentives. Mercury chose to create brand value in the mind of consumer, building a brand that transcends price and the latest offer, to create real reasons to join, and remain with, the company. It has been a successful strategy for them, one that a number of their competitors have followed.

On the flip side, we also worked with a client recently to address brand confusion due to limited brand differentiation. The poor service of one of their key competitors - who looked very similar to them - was being attributed to our client.

5. To address brand complexity and fragmentation

As businesses add new products, services, and business lines, they often create new brands to suit their new offering. Over time the core brand feels schizophrenic, brand managers are unclear what brand to use when, and/or audiences simply don’t see the connection between the different brands. Here the sub-brands are not benefiting from the value in the parent brand and are having to work harder to build recognition and association. Conversely, successful sub-brands maybe so disconnected that the parent brand isn’t seeing its brand value enhanced by the sub-brand’s success.

In recent years, we’ve helped a number of clients rethink their approach to brand architecture including NZX, Airways, and Kāinga Ora. In all cases, a huge stable of sub-brands had evolved with changing business needs without a cohesive framework driving how the brands come together.

6. A brand looks and feels tired

As trends and fashions change,  brands can start to look and sound a bit tired and dated. These situations don’t always require a rebrand as much as a refresh in approach and bringing new elements into the messaging and visual toolbox to keep things fresh.

Big brands - like Apple, Coke, and McDonalds - are masters at this, keeping their core recognisable brand assets largely consistent while continuing to update aspects (colours, fonts, imagery, etc) to remain relevant with the new generation of customers. This gentle brand evolution approach keeps the brand current without ever risking the considerable brand equity they’ve earned.

There’s no doubt there are other reasons why companies undertake rebrands. (I don’t know how many rebrands I’ve worked on because the new CEO hates the brand or wants to change it to put their mark on the company!) Whatever the reason, brands have equity and making big changes shouldn’t be taken too lightly or too often. On the other hand, waiting too long to update your brand can see its value negatively impacted.

A good brand manager should ask the rebrand question every few years, and always after major change in the business. On-going brand refinement allows the brand to remain fresh and relevant while continuing to harness the power of the equity (reputation and goodwill) it has invested to build the brand. Regular evolution should also reduce the frequency that major brand revolution is needed.