The Trekk team has executed quite a few rebrands for our clients over the years (as well as a few for ourselves) and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way. I sat down with some key players on our biggest branding projects to pick their brains on the process. A well-rounded team joined me for the conversation: Kristi Nelson, Senior Content Developer; Mike Wilson, Creative Director; Sam Basile, Director, Technical Services; Bryan Marsden, Online Marketing Specialist; and Sarah Mannone, Executive Vice President. Here's what they had to say.
When undertaking a rebrand, what’s the most important thing to keep in mind?
Mike: Remember the “why” — why you originally wanted to do a rebrand. Don’t lose sight of where you’re coming from, what you’ve established, and where you want to go from there.
Bryan: Exactly. What’s the objective?
Sam: And you’ve got to keep in mind both your current client base and your direction for the future.
Kristi: And potential new target audiences! Understand the messages, imagery, and brand personality that resonate with those audiences.
Sarah: It all comes down to this: Will this rebrand capture the hearts and minds of those audiences? Clients usually come to the table with a lot of brand history — where their brand has been — and ideas about where they want it to go, how they want it to look and sound. Our job is to make sure that their brand ultimately resonates with their audience. The audience, I think, is the single most important thing to remember.
What do you enjoy the most when working on a brand identity?
Sam: From the technical perspective, I enjoy recreating and refreshing the websites and apps — creating the vision that the designers proposed and the client approved. Usually, it’s such a drastic change. SwedishAmerican was a classic example. The brand they were presenting on the website had been around a long time; it had served its purpose. SwedishAmerican purple was SwedishAmerican purple — we didn’t change that. What we gave them was a better product for their customer. It’s a great sense of satisfaction to help a company be more relevant and useful to their customers.
Mike: As a designer, what I really enjoy is the process of identifying the solution. We’re problem solvers. With the talented people we have here, we craft a new voice and tone. We develop an identity that works hand in hand with their new voice. It’s exciting to see the big picture, to see it come together like puzzle pieces. I enjoy seeing how our clients then build off the strong foundation we’ve created for them.
Kristi: I really like understanding a company, diving deep into the audiences and the industry, and understanding how that company goes to market. I find it really interesting to know what a company does, who their customers are, what they need, and what recommendations we can give them.
Bryan: I like the technical aspect, the onsite stuff. I want to make sure that whatever traffic and rankings the site had beforehand will come back as we launch the new site and Google recrawls everything.
It's not uncommon for the brand workshop to reveal — either positive or negative — some sort of blind spot or opportunity.
Sarah: I love when we're working through the branding workshop and the discovery process, and all of the stakeholders at the table have this “Aha!” moment of discovering who they are and what they’ve been missing. You hit on something that they’ve been looking for and couldn’t figure out on their own. It’s not uncommon for the brand workshop to reveal — either positive or negative — some sort of blind spot or opportunity. And that's what's really exciting to me about our discovery process — it allows that to happen. The next best part is when we put it all together and have this completed brand guide and can really see how all the parts and pieces — the messaging and the positioning and the logo and the color palettes and the photography and the iconography and the graphics — start to work together. That's always really rewarding. But I live for that moment of “Aha! We got it!”
What is a telltale sign that a company needs a rebrand?
Sam: You can see age. It’s more obvious on the technical side when you start looking at websites and they don’t scale, there’s nothing mobile about them, or they’re hard to navigate — all telltale signs on a technical side. Visually, they just don’t look good compared to things that are kept current and up-to-date.
Kristi: It could be a visual look that seems stuck in the 90s and needs to change, but, just as often, it’s a change in the industry or market. There may be new business models or innovations that are changing the way people buy a company’s products or services, and you can tell if a company hasn’t kept up with the marketplace.
Bryan: Declining web traffic is also a good indicator.
We pay pretty close attention when major companies rebrand. What are some missteps you’ve seen out there?
Kristi: Everybody tends to think that they need a new logo or a new color palette, but really that’s just a part of it.
Mike: Companies sometimes think they need a rebrand when all they need is a refresh. Their brand voice may be dated or just not hitting on all the marks. Before making any moves, companies should identify what needs to change. Are they changing their voice? Are they changing to adapt to the times (which can be very fickle)? Or are they trying to do a better job of speaking to their target audience? Spend the extra time in the beginning to really see what you need to do.
Sam: I’ve seen some companies underestimate the value of their current brand. Rarely does everything about a brand need to be thrown away. An older example: IBM should never change their blue. They can tweak their logo, but IBM blue is IBM blue. Sure, bring a new twist to an old brand, make it look modern. Bring it up-to-date with what’s been happening since you last rebranded. But keep in mind there may be things people connect with in your current brand. People are emotional and they stay with brands sometimes because of emotional attachment.
Bryan: One misstep I see is not considering SEO. Are you changing your URLs? If you're basically creating a new website and not just re-skinning, you really need to go back through your SEO checklist again and do the URL mapping properly, do your keyword research. Anytime you do major work on a website, you might as well run an SEO audit just to be safe.
Sarah: On the strategy side, a common misstep is not understanding your buyer personas, which ultimately comes back to the first question of how you really capture the hearts and minds of your audience — to do that, you have to know who they are. It's not just a target audience, it's not “C-level executives within manufacturing in the Midwest region of the US” — that's a target audience. A buyer persona is who these people are on an emotional, personal, and professional level, what they're facing on a day-to-day basis. That's what drives a good brand identity.
What is the hardest thing to change when it comes to rebranding?
Sam: Going through a brand at the content level. You might have thousands of pages of content on a site — and, whether or not you rebrand, it’s likely that a lot of it is irrelevant. As you rebrand, you have to validate the content and overall assets to be sure they align with the new brand. We call this a content audit. With each underperforming piece of content, we have to figure out, is this not being used because it can’t be found? Or is it just not relevant to the audience?
Bryan: It can help to keep a log of public-facing content at all times, so you can be sure you’re presenting your brand and message accurately. Content management systems help prevent your audience from finding a really old article out there that has nothing to do with you and doesn't make any sense anymore.
Sarah: I find clients have a hard time with the logo change. People are really attached to their logos. Sometimes they have been handed down for generations. They’re open to changing their positioning statements and their messaging, and they're willing to revisit their vision, mission, and values, but that logo is sacred ground!
Mike: From a creative perspective, the hardest thing to change is the client’s mind. Clients often have in mind what they “want” but it isn’t always what they “need”. We present design directions from every angle: what has been asked, what might be needed, and often an out-of-the-box approach. Every design choice we make is presented with a rationale to support it.
Kristi: I agree that mindsets are the hardest thing to change. A rebrand or a new market direction need to be supported at the very top of the company. Staff and sales teams need to not only understand but rally around what the new brand is expected to accomplish. That way, they’re all on the same page and speaking with the same voice. It’s an important piece that can make the difference between success and failure.
Do you think it’s necessary for most companies to eventually do a rebrand?
Mike: It all depends. If you have a strong identity, you know your market, and you’ve started off right — that’s great; just keep riding that.
Sarah: Agreed. If your brand is still strong, leave it alone. That said, it should be evaluated at least every 3 to 5 years. If there are parts that are working and parts that aren’t: keep the parts that are working, cut the parts that aren’t. But always be evaluating.
Sam: I think any company who has success over generations is eventually going to have to at least refresh to stay relevant.
Kristi: Think about the brands that have been around for hundreds of years. They’ll tweak their look, make it a little more modern as time goes on, change the way they talk. The ones who really need a rebrand are those losing market share as the market changes, those that are being left behind. Every brand needs to stay in touch with the marketplace.
Sarah: It’s also important to sit down on a regular basis with your ideal customers and interview them to get a sense of what they need and how you’re responding to those needs. It’s iterative, not static. It’s something to always have an eye on.
Mike: And remember that refreshes and rebrands are two different things. Can a visual refresh be part of a rebrand? Yes. Can a visual refresh be done outside of a rebrand? Yes.
What’s a misconception many clients have about the rebranding process?
Sam: That it’s a finite thing. That they go through the rebrand and once it’s launched, they’re all done. It’s more of an evolutionary process. Maybe, initially, you can just catch up with a big push, but then you need to continue to stay fresh, current, and relevant.
Bryan: They think that it’s easy — change the logo and you’re done. It’s not that at all.
Kristi: Agreed. A rebrand is not a logo.
Mike: Companies aren’t always aware what their commitment level needs to be throughout the process. They’ll buy into and understand what a rebrand is, but they don’t realize that they have to be able to follow through on all levels of the rebrand. On the frontend, we need to understand the nuances of their target audience, so there’s a lot of homework involved. My son’s coach tells him when he steps into the batter’s box, “You swing hard, or don’t swing at all!” You can’t come into a rebranding process, go with the flow, just move the bat, and maybe you’ll hit the ball. You have to swing! You have to swing hard.
Sarah: There’s also a misconception that a rebrand can be done in a silo — that only the people in marketing should have a say in it, or that this is “marketing's job.” Yes, your brand managers sit within the marketing department. But ultimately, representation from the entire business should be involved in some way. Because everybody from the owner or the CEO of the company to the people in the mailroom all need to be able to align around this brand. If marketing comes up with a great brand, but that doesn't align with how sales goes out and sells or how the executive management team runs the business, or how customer services answers inquiries — if all of those groups don't align around what the brand is, who they are, their promise to clients, how they behave and talk, and their values, it's going to fail. Rebrands are spearheaded by marketing and managed by marketing, but ultimately you need to have the collaboration of your key departments and stakeholders to ensure a brand is truly cultivated and adopted across an organization.
Once a company has rebranded, what’s something that you think they should do to ensure long-term success with their new vision and voice?
Kristi: The biggest thing is to be consistent in how you’re speaking.
Bryan: Listen to your audience. How are they responding? Do you need to make adjustments?
Sarah: Make sure that you have a plan for communicating the brand both internally and externally. It's not just an external effort. And, no matter how many agencies you work with, appoint somebody as the keeper of your brand. Whether you work with one agency or ten agencies, somebody has to be in charge of managing your brand across all your executions. The larger the company, the more parties are going to be involved, so it’s important to have a partner that performs your checks and balances and ensures your brand is being executed in the way it should be.
Trekk went through its own brand workshop last fall. What was that like?
Kristi: It was interesting to hear everybody’s perspective. If you get everybody involved, then everybody knows what it’s about and what we’re trying to accomplish, and everybody has great ideas that they bring to the table.
Sarah: The people in the room spanned weeks or months of experience with us to 22 years of experience with us, so hearing what Trekk meant to two or three completely different generations of employees was really pretty cool. It was also really exciting to put the rebrand in our team's hands and see what they came up with. I think it's awesome! It's also not at all what I had in mind. At all. Watching what happens when other people take our brand and take ownership of it and seeing what they can do is really exciting. And I think part of it is being willing to let go, and that's hard for managers or business owners to do. But ultimately, that's a huge part of it. Your employees driving your brand, as opposed to you having to tell them what the brand will be: it doesn't really get a whole lot better than that.
Any other thoughts?
Sarah: If you really want a rebrand to succeed, you have to be very intentional about it and dedicate yourself to the time it's gonna take to do it right. It's like building a house. If you don't build a solid foundation, you are going to have problems the whole time you're in that house. You’ll repair cracks in the foundation, issues with the plumbing — something will always come up. But if you do it right, it will last.