Rules of Engagement

Rebranding. Whatever level you’re operating at, whatever the brand or sector, it can be an emotive issue and easy to get wrong. So how do you get it right? We say open your ears well before the sketchbook… In comparison to creating a brand from scratch, rebranding is a far more difficult proposition. Taking an existing identity and reinventing it, repositioning it, adjusting its visuals and values, affects the owners and customers of that brand, as it fundamentally shifts their perceptions of the company they have an association with or in some cases, an strong emotional attachment to.

“That’s the point” we hear you cry, and of course that’s right. A well judged, considered and executed rebranding exercise should prompt a shift in perception. It’s pointless otherwise. But for us, the key to success is in deciding whether the client needs to do it at all.

Many companies seem to periodically ‘freshen things up’, almost as if it’s the corporate equivalent of redecorating or moving the furniture around. Now, the cynics amongst you (and we’re sure there are some) may ask why a design agency would care. Why not just do whatever work the client’s asking for and pocket the fee? Well, here’s why…

When working with a client who has decided to rebrand, our first question is always ‘Why?’ Closely followed by ‘What are you hoping to achieve?’ We then ask ‘Can you achieve the same objective with your existing identity?’ These three questions tell us whether it’s an aesthetic issue (ie the client has an outdated identity) or whether it’s a cultural / strategic challenge (often brought about by an evolution of the business, be it through merger, acquisition or change in direction) or whether it’s both.

Often, the challenge is more about the building blocks of the brand, realigning the client’s brand compass, creating updated, refreshed values and a certain amount of new visuals. This is where our strategic knowledge perfectly complements our creative ability. One such challenge for us was a financial services sector client that really just needed a review of their current activity and some assistance on the strategy, rather than a root and branch rebrand. At the other end of the scale, we’re currently working on a completely new identity for an education client that is in the process of becoming independent after a decade of being part of a multinational blue chip brand. As much as we’re providing them with ‘stuff’ like exhibition stands and business cards we’re helping them define who they have become and advising them on the cultural shift their newfound status requires.

Some time ago, the author was working 'client side' in the automotive industry. A seemingly endless run of ‘limited edition’ models were being churned out, when someone piped up with the memorable phrase; “We can’t keep putting lipstick on the same old pig, can we?” That stuck with me, and as a consequence, we always ask questions and then listen carefully to the answers before reaching for our makeup bag…


OpinionPaul Hartley