Time for a small business re-brand? Avoid these mistakes.

Is it time for your small business to re-brand?

Long thought to be the realm of the infamous “creative brief” as produced by external agencies, the process of rebranding your business is often misunderstood and poorly done.

Rebranding has always had, well, a branding problem. Change the logo and go from green to yellow, or from blue to red, and the expectation is that somehow the customer will suddenly embrace the new. 

But sometimes it’s not the hue of the new that matters but the shock of it that counts.

A completely new direction is all well and good, as long as it maintains links with the old clientele and entices the new.

Among Australia’s bigger financial players, only Westpac in the 1980s has ever successfully rebranded. Yes, many have refreshed their look and changed the colours and packaging of their products to suit a more modern zeitgeist, but that’s a makeover, not a rebranding.

Typical of a well-known recent makeover is MEBank, which many describe as “rebranded” when it changed its name to ME. This was a mere logo and name change – it included a contemporary black and white logo with new, colourful imagery. 

The name change supposedly reflected how the majority of customers were instinctively referencing the bank – i.e., calling it simply “ME”.

The bank’s name change has also been extended to its tagline – “make the most of ME” – combining the duality of “me” as a person and “ME” as a bank. This is not a rebranding but a makeover. The bank simply wanted a new look and feel – but does that equal a new strategy?

Rebranding is not always the way forward. It was noticeable that Westpac’s takeover of St. George Bank involved no such strategy. 

Indeed, the job there was to convince the old customers that St. George was still the dependable community bank it had always been, not a corporate wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

Westpac spent vast sums on PR to minimise any concern, and it seems to have worked.

Rebranding is about redefining something that has already been defined – for better or for worse. But is your business willing to rethink itself in a clear way?

Lesson 1: Who do you want to be?

Ask yourself what it is you represent and how you come across. What are you changing at a basic level? If the new message is consistent with what you’ve marketed in the past, then you’re not rebranding – you’re revamping or possibly evolving.

If, say, you are looking to attract Gen X and Y clients, your brand needs to be modern, fresh and appealing.

Pat Camm runs P J Camm & Associates, a firm specialising in marketing and practice management for accountants. He points to accounting firms that are “flatlining or in decline”.

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“Their brand is stale and they continue to use their surnames or initials in their brand,” he says.

“We have recently rebranded firms to names like Velocity Accounting, Accelerate Accounting and Upside Accounting, to raise their profile and make sure the brand outlives the partners and that the firms don’t have to go through this process every 15 years.”

Lesson 2: It’s your company, not theirs

The so-called masters of rebranding – the ad agencies – love to refer to their “creative brief”. They’ll talk new objectives, audiences, message/offer and the media to be used. Don’t buy the changes without thinking deeply. Know who you wish to be before you let an outsider take control.

DIY rebranding is possible, and there are some online resources that are relatively cheap. Most rebranding experts say the image must be linked to a slogan.

“The logo should ‘talk’ to the slogan,” says Camm. “Unfortunately, a lot of firms design the image without any regard to the slogan.”

Check out www.logotournament.com to tender the development of your logo to freelance graphic designers – but make sure you set out the basic parameters you want. Graphic designers see it as a contest and respond accordingly; others can help you be the new you, but keep the decisions close to heart.

Remember to ensure that any graphic designer you engage to create your new logo signs over all copyright ownership in any design or re-design of your brand. Get this in writing.

Lesson 3: Why fix what ain’t broke?

When the Spanish Bank of Santander took over Abbey National in the UK, it was dubbed a major rebrand – but it wasn’t. Abbey was known for substandard service, and Santander did nothing to fix it.

Likewise, HSBC took over Midland in the 1990s and ditched the old Midland brand.

Twenty-five years later, after HSBC has suffered a number of scandals, Midland is said to be on the verge of a comeback.

When designer James Greenfield and his team redesigned Airbnb’s new logo, the first step was to “understand the brand on a global scale and specifically the community that underpins the ethos of the brand itself”.

The design team visited 13 cities and stayed with 18 hosts across four continents.

“The logo should ‘talk’ to the slogan,” says Camm. “Unfortunately, a lot of firms design the image without any regard to the slogan.”

“This helped us to understand the spirit of Airbnb and the emotional connection that their community has with the company,” says Greenfield.

If they had just asked an online audience what they thought of the new logo, they might have saved some money. The new look was universally disliked on social media. Airbnb was already deemed a cool company, so why did its logo need changing?

Don’t overhaul anything if everyone already likes the company’s look and it already expresses its goals, message and culture.

Lesson 4: Take them with you

In July 2013, medium-sized accounting firm Clark & Jacobs became part of the global accountancy giant Ecovis International Alliance Network. Ecovis Clark Jacobs was born.

“The thinking was all about new markets and the changing ways of their clientele,” says director Heath Stewart.

“We saw many of our clients needing international work and increasingly needed multi-jurisdictional advice. It was, in essence, all about them.”

Stewart says clients both appreciated the firm being proactive and actually encouraged it on its journey.

“Clients were also assured that by joining the Ecovis network, we weren’t introducing any underlying change in ownership – the message was very much ‘business as usual’,” says Stewart.

By contrast, St. George-based mortgage broker franchise resi became part of the Yellow Brick Road network this year. CEO Chris Christie says he can now offer clients investment, insurance and superannuation products. But were they consulted?

“I think it’s important that [we push the financial advisory side], because that’s something that the client may not even know that they need,” says Christie.

Old clients may not be happy about being given the big sell on a whole lot of new and possibly unwanted products.

Lesson 5: A crisis can be a clean slate

It’s anyone’s guess whether George Wang from the AIM Group can breathe new life into failed broker BBY, which collapsed in June this year, owing millions to clients.

Wang has been brave enough to keep the name – the new reincarnation is simply BBY Asia Pacific.

Since the broker failed, Wang has been out there explaining what the new entity’s aims will be. In a sense, the rebrand was already half complete when the old brand was mortally wounded.

Wang wants to draw on the firm’s 28-year history but serve new clients in Asia and expand local clients’ horizons into the entire Asia-Pacific region.

“Between Australia and Asia, especially China, there is a very big gap,” says Wang, who is betting that moving the focus out of Australia and into Asia will remove the taint.

To re-brand or not to re-brand?

Before you even think about rebranding your business, ask yourself the following questions:

  •   Why are we doing this?
  •    Does the new brand articulate the company’s brand proposition?
  •    Does the old brand tell the wrong story?
  •    Have you defined the customer value proposition?
  •    What are the defined or key attributes of the brand?
  •    Does it express the brand personality?
  •    Is the brand differentiated from its competitors?
  •    What new customers/markets are you trying to target?
  •    Will the new brand alienate old clients and customers?

Read next: 10 ways to give your business the best chance at longevity

December 2021
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