Rebranding is a major strategic undertaking for any organization. Whether driven by a merger, acquisition, evolving customer needs or a crisis, a rebrand requires significant time and resources. However, the ROI can be enormous. A successful rebranding can reinvigorate a company’s reputation, value proposition and growth potential. 

Here are seven critical lessons learned from my 15 years of experience guiding global B2B technology companies through rebranding initiatives, as an internal team member and external consultant. 

1. Start with soul searching

What is your why? Don’t default to talking about the products or services your company provides or how it delivers them. Start by examining and then articulating your purpose because it’s the “why” that people actually buy. 

Consumers aren’t moved by facts and figures or long lists of features, regardless of how amazing they may be. People are hardwired to take action — such as buying hardware and/or software — based on how they feel. And technology buyers also buy on emotion. 

Revisiting your why will guide your rebrand and the development of your messaging framework, including your brand story. You also may need to adjust your mission, vision and values, requiring input/buy-in from your leadership team and assistance from human resources. 

Dig deeper: Innovation vs. rebranding: How to choose the best change for your business

2. You may not have to start from scratch 

If the company name doesn’t need to change, your rebrand could occur in three to six months. In one case, my internal team of three digital marketers and I worked with an outside design firm, one with whom I had prior experience, to refresh the corporate and product logos, update the color scheme and then redesign the website and product data sheets. 

We worked with executive team members and product management to rewrite all that content to unveil our new look within about 14 weeks — just in time to commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary. We successfully met that deadline, effectively turning the rebrand into a larger event, because we didn’t start with a blank slate and we had trusted design resources who could start right away. 

3. Work with outside experts 

If you’re changing the company name, work with a branding agency. They’ll be able to suggest numerous names based on a variety of types: 

  • Acronyms (e.g., IBM).
  • Descriptive names (e.g., E*Trade).
  • Hybrid names (e.g., Microsoft).
  • Invented names (e.g., Google).

If you do business outside the U.S., they also will help you avoid potential cultural issues or misunderstandings in terms of translations. Additionally, they can help you acquire a new domain for your website, including negotiating with a broker if necessary and checking availability for social media handles. 

It’s best to use an outside design firm when developing your new visual identity. These agencies have expertise and specialized skills for doing this. Also, that enables your internal design team to stay focused on the day-to-day marketing activities that help keep the lights on. 

The branding agency you select may also provide graphic design and web development services, or you may elect to work with multiple agencies or contractors. Start this vetting process by seeking recommendations from trusted sources and realize that you’ll need someone to manage the entire scope of work.  

4. Listen to the voice of your customer

If you hire a branding agency, they should conduct surveys and/or interview several of your customers. It’s also a good idea to talk with employees at various levels across the organization — from senior executives to sales and support. Don’t forget to talk with key stakeholders, including partners and vendors, to get input about how they view the company. 

As part of a recent engagement, a client changed its corporate name based on direct customer feedback. Two words uttered by two different customers were combined to form a new corporate brand name that clearly explains the value proposition. 

Granted, that was some unusual marketing magic. But listening to your customers will lead to other marketing gold: blogs, case studies, testimonial videos, campaign themes — and let’s not forget the development of new features and use cases or even entirely new products.

5. Always emphasize value

Branding is a promise of value that tells people why they should do business with a company. A great example of this is a case study from St. John’s University called “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It discusses how this phrase simply and elegantly summarized BMW’s value proposition and became the company’s longest-running slogan. 

I know B2B sales and marketing are more complex, but “clarity sells,” according to Donald Miller, author of “Building a StoryBrand” and “Marketing Made Simple.” I highly recommend these books whether you’re just starting out or are a marketing veteran. Miller emphasizes the importance of clearly explaining what problem your company solves because “stating the problem adds value to your products.”

You should be able to clearly and concisely explain how your company makes your customers’ lives better. Miller suggests creating a “one-liner” using the formula of problem, solution and result. (OK, sometimes you might need two sentences.) And please skip the jargon. Use real words that most people will know and understand.      

I’m a huge fan of the original “NCIS.” Agent Gibbs’ rule No. 13 is “never, ever, involve a lawyer,” but when you want to trademark a new name, logo, icon and tagline, you’ll need legal expertise. 

Your branding agency can run an initial search in the U.S. However, you’ll need additional trademark guidance from attorneys who can determine how likely your top name choices will clear searches in other countries where you want to protect your marks. 

You don’t want your executives and investors to get attached to a name with high clearance risks. And you can’t start work on your creative assets until you’ve nailed down the name. And someone from IT needs to be on the rebrand team so you can launch in a coordinated and consistent manner, with website and email domains in sync.     

7. Launch from the inside out

Unveiling either a refreshed or net-new brand requires awareness and ongoing education —  internally and externally. In addition to planning an external splash at a user conference, industry trade show or other relevant event, involve your employees. They can help build enthusiasm to investors, customers, partners, vendors and prospects. 

Such brand ambassadorship starts with making sure your leadership team is informed about the project and its rationale and updating them throughout the process. 

One client opted for managers to nominate top performers to take part in a focus group. We explained the naming methodologies and showed them the top three choices to get their reactions. They felt valued and were excited to be involved in the project, which carried over to the official unveiling of the new name, logo and other artwork during a special town hall for all employees. 

We scheduled that event a few days before the public launch at an industry conference and followed up on Day 1 with lunch at each office — complete with cupcakes decorated with the new logo — and the delivery of new SWAG to each employee’s home.     

On rebranding timelines

The timelines of the initiatives that informed this article varied from three months to the more common year, spanning from the day the decision was made to rebrand to the day the new website was published and the press release issued. Also, most of the organizations I’ve worked with are small businesses or mid-sized enterprises, so we were able to make a lot of decisions quickly.

Each project was equally exhilarating and exhausting, whether I was part of the internal team or an external resource tasked to manage the messaging framework, visual identity system and other content.

Essentials for a successful B2B rebrand

Today’s consumers expect to be delighted — from the sneakers they wear and the cars they drive to the technologies they use at work. To clear the hurdle that is the high bar of this expectation, a company’s brand/rebrand must permeate everything: products, services, support, recruiting and every other touchpoint. 

An eye-catching logo and memorable tagline are important, but they’re only part of the brand/rebrand strategy for creating a favorable impression in your customers’ minds. Some additional soul-searching and subsequent changes across the organization may be required to ensure a new brand delivers true ROI.  

Dig deeper: Reimagining a brand website

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