When a press release about the rebranding of Accent Inns’ hit my inbox recently, it made me think about the do’s and don’t of changing, or updating, your brand image. Many people are under the impression that you should never tinker with your brand for fear of losing customers who might no longer recognize the new you. Several years ago, I helped rebrand a town, a golf course, and a Chamber of Commerce, all successfully, so I thought I would share with you some rebranding tips.
First, let’s remind ourselves what constitutes a brand. Essentially, a brand is the sum total of what people see and feel about us when they see our corporate image, our marketing materials, and when they interact with us. Budget or high-end? Friendly or formal?
Like it or not, people have preconceived feelings — good, bad, or indifferent — about us based on our brand.
Internally, a brand is the visual representation of our corporate culture, our philosophy, and the standards that form the basis of our brand image. When I rebranded the town of Golden, it was suffering from an image problem because people felt the downtown core was not attractive. However, Golden is special because it’s surrounded by some of the best outdoor recreation in North America, so out went “Town of Opportunity” and in came “Kicking Horse Country.” This helped prospective visitors focus on Golden as a place to experience outdoor adventure, not to walk along main street.
Good Reasons to Rebrand
There are more good reasons to rebrand than bad ones, but the most important reason to rebrand is when your current brand is confusing, or worse, misleading your current or prospective customers. Rebranding is not something you do because you want to, it’s because your customers need or want it.
Let’s take a look at Accent Inns: they thought their brand was working, but when they decided to renovate their inns and held focus groups to find out what potential customers really thought, they were shocked. Mandy Farmer, CEO, thought customers would immediately recognize that the inns were affordable but also high quality, eco-aware, socially responsible, locally owned, one of the best places to work, and above all else “cool.” She was crushed to discover the focus group thought Accent Inns was an “American bottom-of-the-barrel budget motel line.” If any of you have ever stayed at an Accent Inns, you’ll know how very far from the truth this is.
The misleading red, white, and blue logo was changed to softer blues and orange (to correspond to the B.C. flag) and its edges were rounded for a friendler look. A rounder font was chosen for the same reason, and the positioning statement changed from “Quality Where it Counts” to “stay local. stay real.” — notice the lower case.
The new colours and a cheeky narrative now pervade the website, room signage, and promotional collateral. This resulted in a successful brand revitalization that has repositioned the company in the eyes of potential guests.
If your product range or services change significantly, ensure your existing brand matches the new reality. The same applies if you are targeting a new market — is your brand still effective in the new environment? Or perhaps you’ve become eco-friendly in a market where this is uncommon. A new brand that reflects this change would give your profile a massive boost.
Many businesses still have the same brand as when their company started. That’s fine if it was professionally orchestrated at the time and still relevant. If, however, it was done in a rush and on a budget, it may no longer represent your business.
Markets change constantly, as do customer expectations, so brands can become outdated. For example, if you are in the food business and your logo shows a plump character, it might be time for a healthier image. Heck, even Larry from the Quaker Oats packet has lost some of his jowls!
Another good time to give your brand image a kick in the pants is during an economic downturn when competitors are tightening purse strings and the industry is talking doom and gloom. Rebranding at this time shows you are alive and kicking, and, more importantly, optimistic about the future.
Bad Reasons to Rebrand
If your well-established brand still resonates with current and prospective customers, don’t change just for the sake of it, or because it might help generate more sales. The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here.
Sometimes, incoming CEOs or marketing directors want to change everything to put their stamp on the company. This can be a dangerous, expensive ego trip if there’s nothing wrong with the brand. Gap Inc. changed its logo a few years ago only to get hit with a barrage of bad publicity and social media slams. There was no reason for the change, except that someone thought it needed updating — a bad reason for messing with the brand.
Rebranding involves discovering who you really are, what you stand for, and understanding your organizational culture. It also involves finding out whether people see you as you want to be seen. If there is disparity, you need to change your brand to better target your market.
Accent Inns did a great job of revitalizing their brand, and a lot of what they did was subtle. The hotels were due for renovation, so they chose softer colours (taupe, grey, and green), refinished entrance pillars in natural stone, changed balcony railings to glass to open up views — and voila a new West Coast image was born.
As for the corporate culture, it wasn’t changed; rather, the brand just became more apparent to guests through every interaction, be it with staff, the website, or humorous signage in rooms.
Farmer’s business cards now have CEO crossed out and replaced with “Bike Lover.” John Espley, marketing manager, is now called “Mountain Man” to reflect his knowledge of local outdoor experiences guests might enjoy. Employees have similar fun monikers, leading to a more relaxed, personable introduction to guests.
Often, it’s the small things that count. Remember: the answer to whether your current brand works or doesn’t lies in how your prospective customers feel, and the judgments they make about you when faced with your corporate image. If you don’t know, you need to find out – and fast.