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Pitfalls of a brand refresh

At some point most businesses arrive at that milestone moment – the “rebrand”. For some it happens early on once they’ve discovered who they really are, for others it happens years after outgrowing their brand. I’ve been lucky enough to work on multiple rebrands for food and beverage brands throughout my career, from large-scale brand overhauls to smaller-scale refreshes.

Regardless of the size, business or sector, I’ve found challenges and learnings are often similar. In this article I’ve identified what I believe to be the most common pitfalls that can cripple companies when seeking to redefine their voice and relevancy through rebranding, as well as a few tips to (hopefully) overcome them.

Taking on a rebrand is an exciting yet challenging experience. It’s even more challenging in the hospitality sector, where competition is intense, consumer preferences and trends change at speed, and marketing teams are slim on resources with many largely focused on tactical activity. The right approach is to be clear on the reasons your brand should embark on a refresh. Common pitfalls can be summarised into five categories.

PITFALL #1 Rebranding for the wrong reasons:

Many situations don’t warrant a major change in direction. Getting the timing and depth of a rebrand right is a subtle art, getting it wrong will ultimately set you up to fail. Where might temptations to jump in too hard, too soon lie?

  • A key competitor recently rebranded: While it’s critical to keep an eye on competition – particularly in food to go and casual dining sectors where competition is fierce – jumping into a rebrand just because a key competitor has launched one can leave you unprepared and exposed
  •  A new CMO arrives with the need to make an impact: An ego-fuelled project is bad news for any business, let alone one that doesn’t require a rebrand. A brand’s identity should be dictated by the needs of a business, not by an individual
  • It’s time for a “refresh”: Don’t fall victim to the “lazy” rebrand by carrying out a trivial refresh that lacks substance and strategy and is purely visual. A well thought through and considered approach to a rebrand will ensure you don’t simply gloss over the cracks with pretty pictures

Here are some of the most common reasons when a rebrand is warranted:

  • - Your customers lack trust and confidence in your brand
  • - Your identity is stale and outdated, telling the wrong brand story
  • - You are pigeon-holed as something you (and your customers) have outgrown
  • Your brand is about to embark on a change of strategic direction, including targeting a new audience or market

PITFALL #2 – Ignoring the ugly truth

“What if, and I know this is unprecedented, we listened to and understood our customers a bit better?”

Customers should sit at the heart of the rebrand. You need to understand what customers think about your brand before you start to change it. The hospitality sector relies extensively on gut instinct – rightly so as it’s a sector built on experience and creativity. Regardless, if you’re embarking on a rebrand, customer insight is crucial.

How to overcome it: Use insights to build your brand strategy. At the front end, insights can help identify elements of your brand customers aren’t attached to and those parts they value. It’s also an incredibly valuable tool to help navigate the creative phase, which is typically emotionally charged and full of subjective opinions. Preference-testing design outputs such as logos, colour palettes and packaging with customers often helps you make non-emotional decisions and create a brand identity customers understand.

PITFALL #3: More than skin-deep

Your new brand is more than your logo, colour palette and pretty pictures. Surface-level rebrands are essentially an expensive exercise in vanity while still carrying the same risk of a full-scale rebrand. Brands often make shifts that are only skin-deep and money ends up wasted because the move feels superficial, at least to the customers that matter. When your rebrand incorporates shifts in culture, purpose, positioning, values and ethos, the visuals should ultimately fall into place last, serving simply as the cherry on top of an already successful brand.

How to overcome it: Do the work by creating a unique proposition, meaningful values and a brand purpose. The real essence of branding is about meaningful differentiation, which is much deeper than your brand colours or logo design. Combined with analysing your customer insights, be sure to get your strategy right before you start the creative process.

PITFALL #4 – Only fools rush in

A rebrand doesn’t happen overnight. It may seem easy at first but it’s tough to balance a rebrand while managing multiple commercial marketing activities. The whole rebranding process can take months or even years. Rushed rebrands, often in response to competitor actions or personal egos, are obvious and often fail.

How to overcome it: Set reasonable time-frames and clear objectives for what success looks like at each phase of the project. Your resources are far better directed towards a thorough approach, and this can’t be achieved at break-neck speed.

PITFALL #5 Don’t be a lone wolf and rally the team

Rebranding a business is as sophisticated and dependent on professional input as any other legal or accounting procedure. Try to avoid the temptation to carry it out alone with your in-house team unless you have expert experience. Getting trusted external advice on the process can add a lot of value.

How to overcome it: A professional brand strategist, creative agency or research consultant can challenge your thinking and help you see things from a different perspective. Equally, engaging your internal stakeholders throughout the process (including front-line teams) sees everyone buy into the process and creates a community for change. Often the most rewarding aspect of a rebrand is getting the entire business and team involved in the process at the right points.

How do you achieve a successful brand refresh? Fundamentally it should start for the right reasons and prioritise customer insight. Share in the successes by engaging with your teams and stakeholders on the journey. Your brand is the team of people who work on it so the new identity must resonate with them, otherwise they won’t be able to sell it. A rebrand comes to life when your team champions it.