Rebranding is a marketing strategy in which a new name, term, symbol, design, or combination thereof is created for an established brand with the intention of developing a new, differentiated identity in the minds of consumers, investors, and competitors. Often, this involves radical changes to a brand's logo, name, image, marketing strategy, and advertising themes. Such changes typically aim to reposition the brand/company, occasionally to distance itself from negative connotations of the previous branding, or to move the brand upmarket; they may also communicate a new message a new board of directors wishes to communicate.
Rebranding can be applied to new products, mature products, or even products still in development. The process can occur intentionally through a deliberate change in strategy or occur unintentionally from unplanned, emergent situations, such as a "Chapter 11 corporate restructuring," "union busting," or "bankruptcy."
Rebranding has become something of a fad at the turn of the millennium, with some companies rebranding several times. The rebranding of Philip Morris to Altria was done to help the company shed its negative image. Other rebrandings, such as the British Post Office's attempt to rebrand itself as Consignia, have proved such a failure that millions more had to be spent going back to square one.
In a study of 165 cases of rebranding, Muzellec and Lambkin (2006) found that, whether a rebranding follows from corporate strategy (e.g., M&A) or constitutes the actual marketing strategy (change the corporate reputation), it aims at enhancing, regaining, transferring, and/or recreating the corporate brand equity.
According to Sinclair (1999:13), business the world over acknowledges the value of brands. “Brands, it seems, alongside ownership of copyright and trademarks, computer software and specialist know-how, are now at the heart of the intangible value investors place on companies.” As such, companies in the 21st century may find it necessary to relook their brand in terms of its relevancy to consumers and the changing marketplace. Successful rebranding projects can yield a brand better off than before.
Due to the tremendous impact that renaming and rebranding a company can have, it is critical to take the client through the process with great sensitivity and care. The new company identity and brand should also be launched in a subtle and methodical manner in order to avoid alienating old customers, while aiming to attract new business prospects. There is no magic formula. However, there is a methodical process that involves careful strategy, memorable visuals and personal interactions, all of which must speak in unison for a customer to place full trust and invest their emotions in what is on offer.
Marketing develops the awareness and associations in consumer memory so that customers know (and are constantly reminded) which brands best serve their needs. Once in a lead position, it is marketing, consistent product or service quality, sensible pricing and effective distribution that will keep the brand ahead of the pack and provide value to its owners (Sinclair, 1999:15).
Potential reasons for corporate rebranding
Corporations often rebrand in order to respond to external and/or internal issues. Firms commonly have rebranding cycles in order to stay current with the times or set themselves ahead of the competition. Companies also utilize rebranding as an effective marketing tool to hide malpractices of the past, thereby shedding negative connotations that could potentially affect profitability.
Corporations such as Citigroup, AOL, American Express, and Goldman Sachs all utilize third-party vendors such as Lippincott and Addison Whitney (consultants) that specialize in brand strategy and the development of corporate identity. Companies invest valuable resources into rebranding and third-party vendors because it is a way to protect them from being blackballed by customers in a very competitive market. Dr. Roger Sinclair, a leading expert on brand valuation and brand equity practice worldwide stated, “A brand is a resource acquired by an enterprise that generates future economic benefits.” Once a brand has negative connotations associated with it, it can only lead to decreased profitability and possibly complete corporate failure.
Differentiation from competitors
Companies differentiate themselves from competitors by incorporating practices from changing their logo to going green. Differentiating from competitors is important in order to attract more customers and an effective way to draw in more desirable employees. The need to differentiate is especially prevalent in saturated markets such as the financial services industry.
Rebranding a company’s brand image should be supported by tangible actions to give substance to the message: otherwise, the company is not delivering on its promise. As explained in Kreative Rebranding, a book by Montreal-based rebranding agency Les Kréateurs: “Concrete actions allow you to distinguish yourself from competitors that don’t walk the talk.” 
Elimination of a negative image
Firms rebrand intentionally to shed negative images of the past. In a corporate sense, rebranding can be utilized as an effective marketing strategy to hide malpractices and avoid or shed negative connotations, and decreased profitability. Corporations such as Philip Morris USA, Blackwater and AIG rebranded in order to shed negative images. Philip Morris USA rebranded its name and logo to Altria on January 27, 2003 due to the negative connotations associated with tobacco products that could have had potential to affect the profitability of other Philip Morris brands such as Kraft Foods.
In 2008, AIG’s image was damaged due to its need for a Federal bailout during the financial crisis. AIG was bailed out because the United States Treasury stated that AIG was too big to fail due to its size and complex relationships with financial counterparties. AIG itself is a huge international firm; however, the AIG Retirement and AIG Financial subsidiaries were left with negative connotations due to the bailout. As a result, AIG Financial Advisors and AIG Retirement rebranded into Sagepoint Financial and VALIC (Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company) respectively to shed the negative image associated with AIG.
Brands often re-brand in reaction to losing market share. In these cases, the brands have become less meaningful to target audiences and, therefore, lost share to competitors.
In some cases, companies try to build on any perceived equity they believe still exists in their brand. Radio Shack, for example, re-branded itself as The Shack in 2008, but have yet to see an increase in market share. Some experts believe that is because "The Shack" does not have true equity.
The most meaningful rebrands are those that fixate on the customer and pose an aspirational self-reflection of them. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he rebranded it from Apple Computer to Apple so the company would have customer permission to sell other products, such as the iPod and iPhone. In addition, the new brand came with a new theme line that said, "Think Different," a description of the Apple customer and how Apple operates. In time, Apple has become the world's most valuable company.
Ford Motor Company, during the mid-2000s, decided upon naming the vehicle models using the starting with the letter "F" where its Five Hundred sedan (and its Mercury Montego corporate twin) were marketed as a replacement for a vehicle platform underpinning the Taurus and Sable which has not been reengineered for decades save for cosmetic changes. Both nameplates were previously used by FoMoCo during the sixties and seventies — the Five Hundred and Montego were marketed as an alternative to Asian imports which has eroded the Big Three's market share. For the 2008 model year when the Five Hundred was facelifted, Ford executives decided to rebrand the Five Hundred/Montego with the Taurus and Sable nameplates, gaining a market share due to its name recognition status. This also included its Crossover derivative, the Freestyle, to be renamed Taurus X where the company introduced an all-new Ford Explorer (previously based on the Ford Ranger truck platform) to fill the void after Freestyle/Taurus X production ceased.
Rebranding may also occur unintentionally from emergent situations such as “Chapter 11 corporate restructuring,” or “bankruptcy.” Chapter 11 is rehabilitation or reorganization used primarily by business debtors. It’s more commonly known as corporate bankruptcy, which is a form of corporate financial reorganization that allows companies to function while they pay of their debt. Companies such as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, Washington Mutual and General Motors have all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.New Generation Research - Experts in Bankruptcy Research
On July 1, 2009 General Motors filed for bankruptcy, which was fulfilled on July 10, 2009. General Motors decided to rebrand its entire structure by investing more in Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac automobiles. Furthermore, it decided to sell Saab Automobile and discontinue the Hummer, Pontiac, and Saturn brands. General Motors rebranded by stating they are reinventing and rebirthing the company as “The New GM” with “Fewer, stronger brands. Fewer, stronger models. Greater efficiencies, better fuel economy, and new technologies” as stated in their reinvention commercial. General Motors' reinvention commercial also stated that eliminating brands “isn’t about going out of business, but getting down to business.”
As for product offerings, when they are marketed separately to several target markets this is called market segmentation. When part of a market segmentation strategy involves offering significantly different products in each market, this is called product differentiation. This market segmentation/product differentiation process can be thought of as a form of rebranding. What distinguishes it from other forms of rebranding is that the process does not entail the elimination of the original brand image. Dexxa computer mice are rebranded Logitech devices sold at a lower price by Logitech in the low-end market segment without undercutting their mid-range products. Rebranding in this manner allows one set of engineering and QA to be used to create multiple products with minimal modifications and additional expense.
Following a merger or acquisition, companies usually rebrand newly acquired products to keep them consistent with an existing product line. For example, when Symantec acquired Quarterdeck in November 1998, Symantec chose to rename CleanSweep to Norton CleanSweep. Later on, the company chose to reposition its entire product line by grouping products into a bundle known as Norton SystemWorks. Symantec is not the only software company to reposition and rebrand its products. Much of Microsoft's product line consists of rebranded products, including MS-DOS, FoxPro, and Visio. Another example is the rebrands of GeForce 8-series GPU into 9-series by nVidia. The reverse can also happen, as when AlliedSignal acquired Honeywell, Southern Railroad of Long Island acquired Long Island Rail Road, and Chemical Bank acquired Chase Manhattan Bank. In such cases, the acquiring company rebrands itself with the acquired name.
Another form of product rebranding is the sale of a product manufactured by another company under a new name. An original design manufacturer is a company that manufactures a product that is eventually branded by another firm for sale. This is often the case with international trade. A product is manufactured in a place with lower operating costs, and sold under a local brand name.
Small business rebranding
Small businesses face different challenges from large corporations and must adapt their rebranding strategy accordingly.
Rather than implementing change gradually, small businesses are sometimes better served by rebranding their image in a short timeframe – especially when existing brand notoriety is low. “The powerful first impression on new clients made possible by professional brand design often outweighs an outdated or poorly-designed image’s weak brand recognition to existing clients”.
A change of image in a large corporation can have costly repercussions (updating signage in multiple locations, large quantities of existing collateral, communicating with a large number of employees, etc.), while small businesses can enjoy more mobility and implement change more quickly.
While small businesses can experience growth without necessarily having a professionally designed brand image, “rebranding becomes a critical step for a company to be considered seriously when expanding to more aggressive markets and facing competitors with more established brand images”.
- Muzellec, L. and Lambkin, M. C. 2006. Corporate Rebranding: the art of destroying, transferring and recreating brand equity?. European Journal Of Marketing, 40, 7/8, pp803-824
- Corporate rebranding: impact on brand equity
- Sinclair, Roger, The Encyclopaedia of Brands & Branding in South Africa, 1999, page 13
- Sinclair, Roger, The Encyclopaedia of Brands & Branding in South Africa, 1999, page 15
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- ZIBS.com :: Forum: Roger Sinclair on Brand Valuation
- Les Kreateurs, Kreative Rebranding, p.10-11
- News Headlines
- AIGFA To Rebrand Itself As SagePoint Financial | PropertyCasualty360
- Equity, Zacks. (2012-03-13) RadioShack to Underperform - Yahoo Finance. Finance.yahoo.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-18.
- Apple Think Different Campaign. The Inspiration Room (2005-10-07). Retrieved on 2013-09-18.
- Apple Briefly Surpasses Exxon As Most Valuable Company in the U.S. DailyTech. Retrieved on 2013-09-18.
- Chapter 11
- Les Kréateurs; Successful Small Business Rebranding. Kre.ca. Accessed January 2012.
- (November 12, 2010.) New Generation Research — Experts in Bankruptcy Research. Bankruptcydata.com