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August 11, 2021

The What, Why, and How of Rebranding

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eBrandcast / The What, Why, and How of Rebranding

Branding is a process, not a destination. For the master branders of the world, it’s a job that never ends. And naturally, the question of a major rebrand is an inevitable inflection point for businesses. However, most of us think of rebranding as either a shiny new logo or a Hail Mary after a reputation crisis. You don’t need to wait until the roof caves in to consider a rebrand, because just like branding itself, rebranding is all about maintaining and nurturing better relationships with your customers.

In today’s episode, we clear up some of these myths and stigmas about rebranding. We’ll dive into when you should consider it, and what it actually entails. Not to say there aren’t inherent dangers of rebranding, especially if your business is already healthy and thriving. It can be a delicate balancing act to renew your connection with customers, without sacrificing what people love about your brand.

You'll Learn

What rebranding really is… it’s not just an updated logo or crisis management

How to figure out if your brand needs a rebrand… and why avoiding a rebrand might be limiting your growth

How rebranding supports better customer relationships… and why it sometimes goes wrong

Plenty of eCommerce examples


Full Podcast Transcript

Hello Beings of Earth! I’m your host Neil Verma.

Welcome to eBrandCast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom Brand.

In this episode, I’ll break down rebranding.

What it really is, why it’s important, and how to figure out if your brand needs one.

We’ll also cover lots of eCommerce examples.

But we’ll start with a British luxury fashion brand, Burberry.

It was founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, who apprenticed as a draper.

Initially, the brand focused on outdoor-wear, especially coats, but the English weather proved to be a challenge.

Burberry needed a fabric that could withstand harsh use, be water-resistant to the never-ending English rain, but remain breathable since temperatures rarely fall below freezing.

This puzzle led Burberry to the invention of a new fabric made of yarn that’s waterproof before being woven.

They called it: gabardine.

It soon became the fabric of choice, and Burberry the preferred brand of country-side elites and sports heroes.

It was posh, but tough.

Popular Victorian writer Robert Baden-Powell, who wrote about his war experiences, became synonymous with Burberry.

They also outfitted famous polar explorers like Roald Amundsen, who led the first expedition to the South Pole, and Ernest Shackleton who led an expedition to cross Antarctica.

A Burberry jacked was even worn by George Mallory during his 1924 attempt to climb Mount Everest.

Burberry even invented the famous “trench coat” worn by British officers during World War I.

Once the coat became popular with civilians after the war, the beloved Burberry checker pattern arose as the lining of their coats.

Over the decades, Burberry extended their product line into men’s, women’s, and children’s attire, and no longer confined themselves to outerwear.

The brand’s profile grew steadily, and in 2001, the brand hired a new designer who had experience at Gucci.

The new designer, Christopher Bailey, was determined to update the brand’s image and wanted to remake the brand’s conservative image with more sex appeal.

To help, Burberry hired model Kate Moss as the brand’s new ambassador.

And it worked.

Actually, it worked a little too well.

After more than a century of being associated with the upper class, Burberry was suddenly cool.

Unfortunately, the brand responded to its new status by deciding to capitalize on their success and make the brand more accessible, so they entered into extensive licensing agreements.

It was a lucrative decision, but it ended up creating a brand crisis.

The cool factor of Burberry coupled with its sudden accessibility meant the famous checker pattern was everywhere, from scarves to dog beds.

There was also a flood of counterfeit items bearing Burberry’s pattern.

By 2005, the brand became associated with “chav” culture, a slang term for the old “football hooligans.”

Chavs are stereotypically working-class and seen as violent and aggressive.

In fact, the association with Burberry was so strong that many sports venues and pubs banned clothing with the Burberry check all together.

Sales tanked, and things only looked more grim after the 2008 recession when all luxury brands took a big hit.

Burberry wisely decided they needed a major rebrand.

With new leadership, the brand first focused on regaining control of their intellectual property.

They discontinued certain items, like the Burberry checked baseball hat, and generally pulled back on the products that incorporated the pattern, which now account for less than 5% of their products.

They also hired lawyers to aggressively pursue copyright infringement cases.

One famous case was a Vauxhall Cavalier, a car that was repainted with the check and nicknamed the “Chavalier” by its owners, a Welsh rap band Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

The band attempted to auction the car on eBay, but Burberry managed to intervene and sued the band to destroy the car.

Then Burberry focused on tightening their brand image and telling a new brand story.

Or more accurately, an old brand story.

Burberry re-engaged their history with curated images and storytelling from their past on their website.

This timeline is kept up-to-date as well, drawing a line from Burberry’s founding to their current campaigns, although it’s careful to skip its association with chavs in the early 2000’s.

It’s a way to say that the brand is still what it’s always been.

And their current campaigns have worked hard to re-establish their image of quintessential “Britishness” and respectability.

They often hire young, well-known British actors, models, and musicians for their ads.

They also relocated their runway shows from Italy back to London.

The storied check pattern wasn’t rejected, but it was given a more subtle presence in the brand.

And while they didn’t change the brand name, they did update their logo by again, reaching into their past and reusing a logo design from 1908 and a monogram used by Thomas Burberry himself.

Because they leveraged their history, a brand name change wouldn’t have made sense.

Finally, Burberry aggressively pursued eCommerce and a greater digital presence.

They started using social media extensively and built a mobile-friendly website.

In fact, Riccardo Tisic, their Chief Creative Officer, posted about the creative process behind the logo update on Instagram,

He even posted internal emails and discussions.

It was a way to engage their followers and invite them back into the brand’s story.

Their Regent Street store was even redesigned to match their site design and create an omnichannel experience.

But even the dedication to innovating online wasn’t exactly new either.

Back in 1901, Burberry’s logo was a knight on a horse, emblazoned with the Latin word “Prorsum,” which means “forwards.”

A brand value that once stood for a new fabric, and exploring the blank spaces of the map, and yet seems more poignant than ever.

One of the keys to takeaways from this story, is that rebranding can’t just be a new name and logo.

To work, it must reflect a deeper change within the organization.

Just like branding itself, rebranding requires you to revisit your brand’s purpose and values and reevaluate if these principles are still relevant.

Whether you can communicate that mission more clearly, and whether it’s time to recommit to your purpose with a new strategy or business model.

As Burberry shows us, rebranding is fundamentally about your customers.

Whether you’re trying to capture a new target segment, or re-engage your current customer base, effective rebrands require a deep understanding of your customers.

It’s a process that needs to include the brand’s existing community, to ensure you’re not trying to fix what’s familiar and loved about your business.

This is precisely why Burberry re-engaged their history, and reminded customers of their unique brand identity, and that this history was stronger than a temporary association with a rough crowd.

To that point, rebranding is also often a strategy to better differentiate your brand from competitors.

When it works, rebranding is really an internal change, and new creative elements are then redesigned to reflect those changes.

And finally, the redefinition of your brand messaging has profound impacts on your content marketing strategies, and how you use your online channels to reach and better communicate with customers.

Burberry was able to reach a new generation because they redirected their efforts to eCommerce, for instance.

In other words, like branding, rebranding touches every aspect of your business.

For you as an entrepreneur, though, how do you know if your business needs a rebrand?

Many businesses that decide to rebrand aren’t facing a brand crisis as obvious as Burberry was in 2005.

The answer for you will partially depend on whether or not your brand is in-touch with your core customers.

When you peel back the headlines, this was essentially Burberry’s problem, they lost their target audience.

Unfortunately, after experiencing early success, many brands disconnect from their audience and start subjecting their customers to decisions.

This disconnection can lead to changes that damage the relationship between customers and your brand, including the decision to rebrand when it’s not actually needed.

The Gap made a major misstep when in 2010 they also tried to modernize their logo.

They seemingly threw out their brand identity altogether, and released a logo that received such swift backlash, that they reinstated their old logo 4 days later, and they haven’t changed their logo since.

Familiarity is a core driver of brand preference, and when it comes to iconic brands like The Gap, the old advice “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind.

But no brand is immune to this kind of misstep, especially if they’re not actively and continually nurturing a relationship with consumers to know what matters most to them.

Of course, like Burberry, a tell-tale sign that your brand may need a rebrand, because it’s out of touch with customers, is a bad reputation.

If a new wave of negative reviews are pouring in, or customer service is starting to hear the same complaints repeatedly, you’ll want to consider rebranding.

A rebrand can signal that these issues have been addressed, and the company is ready to make a new commitment to consumers.

Likewise, rebranding as a response to a brand-trust crisis is also common.

For example, Barclays faced severe public backlash as one of the banks widely criticized for contributing to the 2009 financial crash, and one of the only institutions fined for falsely reporting interest rates.

However, they were able to weather the crisis.

First, they reframed their brand purpose to “helping people achieve their ambitions – the right way.”

Then, they engaged employees to create higher purpose programs.

And shaped a new communication strategy to announce their new values and share the real stories of customers.

Within 5 years, a span which only saw trust in the financial sector grow by 5%, Barclay’s trust soared by 35%.

Similarly, when struggling companies hire new leadership, rebranding often signals imminent changes, with a new vision at the helm.

But there are positive reasons to rebrand, too.

In fact, for eCommerce brands, rebranding needs to be a strategy you keep in your back pocket, because the eCommerce market changes so quickly.

Because it lives online, eCommerce evolves at a much faster pace than traditional retail.

Markets and customer expectations change like the weather, and rebranding can be a way to signal to your customers that you hear their changing needs, and are prepared to address them.

Not to mention, new competition seems to crop up overnight, and rebranding to differentiate your business from a sea of copycats may be needed.

When it’s done for the right reasons, rebranding in eCommerce can broadcast to consumers that your brand is a leader.

This is one of the reasons Burberry has managed to salvage its brand long-term, because they’ve continued to innovate with their digital channels, even as they lean on their history.

Because it’s that unique history that makes the innovation meaningful.

Tech companies, on the other hand, have to be careful about leaning on history because history often equates to outdated.

So many of these brands are quick to rebrand to preserve the consumer perception that they offer modern solutions.

And when a rebrand is in response to new insights and commitments made to your target audience, rebranding can build trust and increase your brand awareness.

A good example in the eCommerce world, is eSellerPro, an eCommerce platform that provides retailers with technology to manage their channels.

They were founded in 2006, and allowed entrepreneurs who were selling their products on multiple channels to integrate their inventory data and management systems into a single place.

Whether you’re selling on Amazon, eBay, your own store, or any number of other channels, the service allows you to aggregate all your orders and keep inventory up-to-date on all channels simultaneously.

With seamless integrations with Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce, PayPal, and WorldPay, by 2014, eSellerPro had seen 40 million items sold through its platform.

As one of the first companies of their kind, they recognized that their brand name needed to do some of the heavy lifting, to educate consumers about what they do.

‘eSellerPro’ suggests it’s for eCommerce entrepreneurs who are serious about taking their business to the next level, with innovative tools.

In 2015, however, their exploding growth called for a rebrand, to signal the next phase of the company’s evolution, and to allow them to develop new tools for the eCommerce community.

They rebranded to Volo, which means “flight,” suggesting their commitment to helping eCommerce businesses “take-off.”

They also introduced a new tagline: “Adventures in eCommerce.”

Which positions them as their customer’s business partner, through the journey of establishing a successful business online.

Now that eCommerce has evolved to the point, where the average entrepreneur is aware of the various tools at their disposal, it was an ideal time to change the name.

Its founder, Chris Farrelly, explains that the switch from eSellerPro to Volo indicates that Volo goes “far beyond just the technology.”

And the rebrand signals “the next phase” in the brand’s life to “[energize] and [fuel]” their customer’s revenue growth.

This brand name change was also accompanied by a total overhaul of the company’s aesthetics.

Consumers were still attracted to the brand for the positive reputation of their technology and expertise, but they’re sold on the platform due to the brand’s investment in their partnership with customers.

eSellerPro was a software company.

Volo helps customers do more with the resources they have, and is committed to finding new solutions for each step on the “eCommerce adventure.”

The rebrand has also allowed Volo to expand their services, including the creation of a new support forum for sellers, for non-urgent inquiries and updates about software and coming products.

This forum has allowed for a thriving community to grow around Volo’s brand, that has even spilled onto other channels.

There’s a popular gaming group on Steam for Volo customers called VoloDrome, where entrepreneurs first brought together by eCommerce and Volo can game together.

In this case, rebranding to Volo was a tool to not only reflect the brand’s growth, but to help differentiate them from other eCommerce technology platforms that were entering the market.

Whereas eSellerPro’s primary selling proposition in 2006 was exclusive technology, today it’s more of an emotional appeal, for a committed partner and an engaged, caring community.

Their reputation for being innovative experts is now a bonus.

Another reason to rebrand that’s particularly relevant to eCommerce is often referred to as “category creep,” but is traditionally known as brand extension.

Amazon, for instance, was founded in 1994 as an online bookstore.

Their initial appeal to consumers was that they could sell millions of titles, including thousands of niche items not available in most stores.

This is because, being an online business, Amazon didn’t have the same overhead as traditional bookstores did.

With a brick-and-mortar location, booksellers have to ensure every square inch of their store is profitable, which motivates the practice of selling fewer, but more popular titles in bulk.

They don’t want to take up limited shelf space with titles that may never sell.

Amazon could offer a wider range of titles, and by also undercutting retail prices, caught majority market share quickly.

Today, it’s hard to remember the days Amazon was little more than a book retailer, but rebranding has enabled them to grow from a bookstore, to a full-fledged marketplace.

In some ways, this has been a natural evolution, they’ve simply applied the same logic they did to books, to other consumer products.

The advantage of not having store shelves, has meant Amazon can offer a dizzying array of products for every niche interest out there.

In this example, we see a really smart approach to branding.

In their growth to becoming a marketplace, Amazon didn’t need to change their name, because their original choice already signaled a jungle of options consumers can explore.

Because ‘Amazon’ is a metaphor, it was easier for Amazon to rebrand as a marketplace, without the marketing challenge of needing to educate consumers about a name change.

eBay has done something similar.

They also launched in the very early days of eCommerce, in 1995, originally as a platform for users to auction off their own stuff.

Over the years, eBay has also made a transition to being more of a marketplace.

By introducing stronger buyer protections and other policies to combat counterfeit items, eBay has been able to attract larger businesses to sell on the site.

This was accompanied by a rebrand of their logo that turned it from an eclectic, fun wordmark, to a sleeker, more professional design.

The change reflected growing trust and its legitimacy as a marketplace in its own right.

A more recent eCommerce example is Ro, a digital health company.

They offer consumers a platform for diagnoses, prescriptions, and subscription services for medication.

Originally, Ro was founded for men, to help them speak to a doctor and receive treatment for erectile dysfunction.

A topic they understood was difficult for a lot of men to approach their real-life doctors about.

Over time, Ro expanded their offerings to address a range of men’s health issues, like treatments for cold sores and hair loss.

It wasn’t long before they also saw an opportunity to create a similar channel for women’s health.

Ro recognized the relative anonymity of eCommerce made stigmatized issues more approachable, so offering 2 separate platforms – one for men, and one for women – made the most sense.

That way, each group could feel like their privacy was being protected.

In this case, rebranding helped Ro diversify and reach a totally new audience.

First, they rebranded the men’s health service as Roman, then created Rory, their platform for women’s health.

Recently, they’ve also created a third platform, called Zero, which offers a range of smoking cessation products and treatments.

Ro is now a house of brands, the parent company from which Roman, Rory, and Zero operate – which all contain the umbrella brand’s name of Ro in them.

Rebranding has helped Ro cater to different markets while still offering the same infrastructure of health services to each audience.

This kind of brand extension has been common in eCommerce in recent years.

Bonobos, for instance, started with a single pair of pants, but now see themselves as a “comfort” company who also sell uber-comfortable t-shirts and socks.

Casper started with a one mattress model, but is now a “sleep company” that also offers pillows and dog beds.

One critical advantage that eCommerce has over traditional retailers is that eCommerce brands are more agile and can adapt to consumer needs more quickly.

Direct-to-consumer brands, many of which are online only, are especially adept at expanding their brands and reshaping consumer perceptions.

But also, online retailers have a mass amount of consumer data unavailable to brick-and-mortar brands.

When this data is smartly collected and managed, brands can closely keep the pulse of their audience, and gauge when changes are needed.

While eCommerce brands are more vulnerable to needing to rebrand, because the market shifts so quickly, they’re also the best equipped to know how to manage their brand in order to stay relevant.

But rebranding doesn’t just have to be about your product line.

One of the more profound evolutions happening in eCommerce, is that consumers are looking for purpose-driven brands.

Rebranding in order to better reflect your brand’s values, or signal a new commitment to your mission, is a perfect reason to consider a revamp.

Lingerie retailer Aerie, for instance, coupled their visual rebrand, with a new commitment to encouraging body-positivity.

They accompanied their rebrand with the announcement that they’d no longer retouch their advertising images, allowing for body imperfections that would usually be airbrushed away, to shine.

Aerie then also created a content marketing strategy around these values.

They created the hashtag #aeriereal and encouraging their followers to embrace their perceived flaws by posting unedited photos of themselves wearing Aerie’s products.

For Aerie, the visual rebrand was a signal that their mission wasn’t a seasonal campaign or an ad-tactic, but instead, that it is the brand.

Finally, another relevant rebrand-driver of eCommerce is internationalization.

Because eCommerce has a global reach, growing brands need to be aware of how their brand identity is translated in different markets around the world.

Crabtree & Evelyn, though not an exclusive eCommerce brand, is a good example in this case.

Originally from the UK, Crabtree & Evelyn is a retailer of body, fragrance, and related home care products.

One of the markets they struggled in was Singapore, and in January of last year they were forced to close their brick-and-mortar locations in the country.

They also suspended their online sales for a week, while they regrouped to relaunch their brand with a new look, new line of products, and a new business model more suited to the local market.

CEO David Stern has explained that the situation was bad enough they “made the daring decision to discontinue all of our existing products, close all of our existing stores, 

and reintroduce the brand behind a dynamically different product range and a social and digitally driven business model.”

The essential nature of the brand isn’t going to change, instead they’ve had to find a new way to communicate their uniqueness, which is summed up in their tagline, “Born curious. Grown wild.”

This new approach includes chat commerce, and exploring the potential for video in their content marketing strategy.

The products themselves have been given a facelift with a cleaner, chicer look, as well as the launching of a “genderless” line which aligns with the brand’s “All for one. One for all” values.

In addition to restricting their product architecture, they’ve introduced a new portfolio of complex fragrances and advanced textures to their products.

It offers the market new sensorial experiences.

Of course, updating an outdated look is another core reason to rebrand, but eCommerce brands need to be careful that their rebranding is backed up by changes that are actually relevant to consumers.

Staying in touch with your target audience is the core of a rebrand that will speak to customers, and take your business to the next level.

You may not be in a position to need a rebrand today, but you should keep it in mind.

Rebranding isn’t just the last resort of a scandal-ridden, struggling brand.

It can also be a powerful way to boost growth and expand your brand’s horizons.

But by the same token, you don’t want to undertake a rebrand if it will confuse loyal customers.

Your brand needs to be doing two things to guard against a rebranding mistake.

First, you need to ensure that while your business continues to evolve, the heart of your message and purpose should stay the same.

Burberry didn’t jettison their history or try to totally re-invent themselves.

They reframed their past and connected it to their present, making their values relevant again.

Likewise, keeping the core of your brand the same will help you measure when a leap in evolution is an iteration, and when it’s a bell-weather shift that needs to be signaled to the market.

Second, your brand needs to stay in touch with your target customers.

Again, Burberry’s rebrand was explicitly designed to reconnect with the right customer base and strengthen that association with the brand.

The fact that in a few short years Burberry was able to go from being banned at venues to considered a luxury fashion brand again speaks to their success at redefining their customer base.

Whether or not reintroducing your brand will require a full rebrand, or just a change in strategy, requires knowing the real-world experience your customers associate with your brand.

You then want to make sure your brand continues to evolve with your target audience as their needs and lifestyles change.

Rebranding certainly isn’t a process you want to undertake lightly, but it might be the best way to deepen your relationship with customers, and help your brand stand out from the competition.

But the best way to avoid a brand crisis that requires a rebrand is to remember that the work of branding is never done.

Even well after you’ve launched and earned a reliable base of customers, branding is an on-going process that nurtures consumer relationships and keeps you in-touch with your core audience.

So whether you’re building a brand for the first time, or refreshing it after decades of success, it has to be deeper than a new logo.

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