Imagine your future: Your brand identity has been in place unchanged since the organization was founded in the 50s; the marketplace has shifted; your brand characteristics are diffuse and have drifted and meandered virtually unguided for decades; your organization offers different benefits than it used to, because that’s what the membership has dictated; and the membership base has shifted away from the traditional manufacturers and service suppliers to a full range of peripheral industries around a few core large members. It’s time to rebrand! Now what?
Rebranding can offer your organization many things, almost all of them good. But to take advantage of them, you have to actively and proactively manage the change process. To do that, it all starts with research, planning, education and communication within your organization, almost all of it between your marketing department and the executive staff.
Start at the Top
Getting good data is key to making good decisions – that’s an axiom that few can argue with, but that very few organizations take to heart when making strategic decisions. Rebranding is a very strategic decision, so in order to do it with the greatest positive impact, some critical research is in order. A good, old-fashioned SWOT analysis will lead you down the right road in almost all instances if done honestly and thoroughly, with a little imagination thrown in.
Knowing your members’ needs, desires and concerns is also critical – it’s their club after all, and without them there is no need to have a brand at all! If you have a stranglehold on what role your organization plays in their personal or professional lives, you’re a good way toward the goal of crafting an effective new brand around that group of members.
Knowing where your organization stands in the competitive spectrum in their professional lives, and what goods and services they turn to you for, puts you even further down the right road. Ask the tough questions – if you can use a rebranding to jettison unsuccessful programs because your research shows that no one uses that program or doesn’t think of you as offering that, you form a tighter brand identity, and create an opportunity to offer something similar but better later.
The last piece of research should be to hunt for similar or related brands in your own and other related industries. If the one you want to use is taken, you need to know that before you get too far down the path, to avoid infringement of trademark problems later.
Create a Plan
Rebranding is an organization-wide event and it touches everyone in the organization to one degree or another. Some elements will take longer to prepare than others, so your action priorities should be ordered upon implementation times and logistic concerns, so that all the pieces come together at a specific point in time at the end. You’ll want to launch the new brand in a short, intense period of activity, to discourage backsliding and create impact. Some groups have tried to sneak the new brand in under the radar, with no fanfare or celebration. Those types of soft launches usually take longer to enter and become retained in the public consciousness among your audience, and ultimately cost your organization time, money and credibility.
Knowing your members’ needs, desires and concerns is also
critical – it’s their club after all, and without them there is no
need to have a brand at all!
Derive a set of newly-generated brand characteristics from your member research, and task your marketing department to create a summary statement describing the new brand in those terms. Use that statement to graphically craft a representation of its meaning and create the new brand. If done properly, it will carry all the critical information and translate those characteristics into an image that communicates them clearly. Your plan should map out these steps and give a rationale for each of them that makes concrete sense to the internal audience. That plan is the basis for your communication both internally and externally.
TEST, Test, Test
Most organizations don’t get it right on the first try. And most don’t know they’ve got it wrong until it’s too late, because they don’t test. Internal and external reviews, focus groups and first-hand interviews will give you tremendous insight as to the accuracy of the image in projecting your brand’s characteristics, and will give you insight as to the level and speed of acceptance you can expect among your target audience. If you meet with resistance, or it’s not memorable or not accurate, you can waste precious resources trying to correct it later. Research is relatively cheap insurance against launching a poorly-crafted new brand. Done correctly, it can give you the confidence to launch the new brand with pride and have it met with predictable success. This type of research has some nuances to it, and many organizations don’t have the specialized knowledge and skill sets on staff to do it justice. For them it makes good financial sense to hire out to the experts for this portion. Most cities have a selection of reliable research firms that would be happy to help you launch your new brand correctly.
Communicate, Early and Often
Once you have what you feel is the definitive brand identity nailed down, a little preliminary education is in order. The mantra that good public speakers and presenters follow will work well here as well: “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.” That first step, the advance alert is important, so that there is some warning, and the launch isn’t completely cold. It lets the audience know that there’s a change coming and they can brace for it. It gives you a chance to set the stage, set expectations and show a little of your rationale behind the change, show the advantages it offers and show the benefits of the change in a positive light. The better you prepare the audience, the faster your adoption curve will evolve, and the higher your acceptance level will be – and that saves you time and money. The more easily they accept the new identity, the less time and money you have to spend to convince them.
“Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them
what you said.”
Repetition and consistency are two great keys to success. The more places they audience sees that new brand, and the more consistent that presentation is, the higher your acceptance will be. The repetition is largely a budgetary issue, but operations needs to get in on the game here too. As part of your planning, you should have conducted a brand inventory, showing each and every instance where your brand appears and in what context. Pull out that inventory and review it now, so you can order the list of changes in priority order.
The highest time priority should be awarded to the most visible instances, the places with the highest volume and widest impact. Letterheads, envelopes, business cards, forms, newsletters and other items that number in the tens of thousands used per year, and distributed in large numbers on a regular basis should come first, as those will give you the highest penetration for the dollar. Items like shipping crate stencils, and the sign on the building can come a bit later. Fax cover sheets, e-mail signatures, and meeting signs are often overlooked initially, but those are fairly high-priority items. Brochures, membership kits and the like, while produced in high numbers, aren’t distributed in high numbers, and have relatively low impact initially. Websites, blogs etc. change instantly (virtually) and should be high on the list as they are often the destination for many of your other marketing efforts. Take the ego out of your decision-making and use impact sphere to guide your priority decisions.
Out With The Bad, In With The Good
One of the resistance points you’ll likely encounter is the so-called “waste” that goes along with a rebranding. Backsliding and phasing in the new brand as supplies run low or out will slow adoption and give mixed impressions to the audience. Make a clean break, and dump everything that carries the old brand – don’t use it. Part of your planning and communication process should have been to influence decisions by those who resupply the organization, to help minimize waste. In the long term, getting rid of the 22 leftover tradeshow tchotchkeys with the old brand on them isn’t really a waste if it prevents an diluted message from being transmitted to your audience. Dump it all!
“. . . items that number in the tens of thousands used per year,
and distributed in large numbers on a regular basis should
comefirst, as those will give you the highest penetration for the
Timing Is Key
The decision on the timing of the new launch will differ from group to group, but one tried-and-true solution is to use the Annual Convention or other major meeting as a platform to launch the new brand. This type of timing gives you more bang for your marketing buck, and allows you to reach a greater percentage of your intended audience at once, in a controlled environment over a limited time span. It forces you to hit deadlines, to create a definitive point of impact and allows you to create the kind of repetition and consistency required to make this effort work.
Do The Paperwork
Don’t forget to record the date of first use for your new brand, you’ll need it for your new trademark application, which of course you’ve been preparing all along the way, to protect your new brand. File the initial paperwork as soon as the first use and three subsequent public uses can be shown. Launching at the Annual Meeting makes that easy, as the initial and other uses are all virtually concurrent, and you can show the quantities distributed and the reach of the new mark very easily.
Rebranding is a challenging process, but one that can drive all sorts of positive change throughout your organization. Handled thoroughly and thoughtfully, it can pay significant benefits in both the long and short term.