Knowing when to make a change for a brand’s sake

Photo: Getty Images/scythe5
Aug 11, 2021

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Dave Wendland, VP, strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group and Forbes Council Member. The article first appeared on

Although change for change’s sake is seldom a good course of action, a well-executed brand refresh could be just what the doctor ordered — if the underlying rationale justifies such measures. Refreshing an overall brand identity should be rooted in strategy. Here are five legitimate reasons for doing so:

  • Change In leadership: As companies experience far-reaching leadership changes or are acquired or otherwise absorbed, rebranding is a well-justified course of action. Such transformation serves three key purposes: introduces new leadership/vision, demonstrates reinvigoration and expresses a commitment to growth.
  • Changing competition: Pressure stemming from a competitor’s acquisitions or new product innovation is often a good reason to update a brand and reposition it in the market. Maintaining the status quo may give your competition an opening to pull attention their way. Adding a refreshed look and feel can put a new spotlight on an existing business or product. The key is to have something worth refreshing — you certainly don’t want to put lipstick on a pig.
  • Change of direction: An organization — or one of its brands — may be entering an entirely new market segment or industry, expanding to a newly identified target audience or extending its geographic footprint. Promoting your brand to a new market is an opportunity to consider different ways to convey the unique value you can offer.
  • Change of offerings: The introduction of new or expanded products or service offerings may present an ideal time to refresh your brand identity. Not only will such an effort provide an opportunity to reintroduce core products, but it will also help to attract new audiences who may be drawn to the new offering yet were previously unfamiliar with the original portfolio.
  • Change of look and feel: Sometimes a brand update is as simple as giving a tired-looking brand a facelift. Such modernization could be a result of antiquated graphics, fonts or colors. Perhaps the brand is simply no longer resonating with the current marketplace. Such cosmetic changes are generally not as difficult as a complete makeover, however, if the results can bring a faltering brand back to the limelight.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you consider the right and the wrong reasons to undergo a brand update? What general advice, perhaps from your own experience, do you have around rebrands?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"'Striking simplification' has been the path to success for many major re-rebrands recently."
"Some brands lead, some follow, and some hibernate. And waking from hibernation can present a daunting quest for survival."
"A rebrand has to be a timeless transformation that will remain relevant in the far off future."

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10 Comments on "Knowing when to make a change for a brand’s sake"

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Martin Whitmore

It really all comes down to staying relevant without sacrificing brand integrity. In a retail world now driven by social networking it is critical to remain “current.” Change for the sake of change is seldom the solution. It really takes a well planned, results oriented strategy to be successful. In the off-price world there is the example of Marshalls (before the TJX acquisition) who tried to become more of a department store and maintain depth of inventory. Their sales suffered greatly and they became a prime acquisition target. Once they acquired Marshalls, TJX immediately changed the model back to true off-price and the results were incredibly successful.

Evan Snively

The most common reason I have been seeing rebrands over the past five years is to adjust the brand standards to be optimized for the digital world. Many legacy logos were created to live IRL and their complex dimension or wordmark does not translate to a screen in a hand or an app bubble. The advice I have is to start with the basic lines and add as few strokes as possible. “Striking simplification” has been the path to success for many major re-rebrands recently.

Dave Wendland

Great advice, Evan. “Striking simplification” is a tremendously-powerful rule of thumb. This can and should be transformational for any brand considering a refresh!

Melissa Minkow

A brand update should occur if market research continually proves that a brand’s values and offering aren’t resonating with target consumers. Brand updates must occur though, in a way that isn’t just a move to keep up with trends. A rebrand has to be a timeless transformation that will remain relevant in the far off future. Multiple rebrands is never a good look in terms of conveying trustworthiness to consumers.

Bob Amster

Whim is not a good reason. Change in company direction might be. As a purist, I would not change IBM, NBC, or even Aunt Jemima (even though Quaker Oats did). Brands that have had an established following run the risk of losing part of their consumer base by making changes if such changes are not clearly understood and emotionally accepted by the consumer.

Lee Peterson

One of the most urgent brand re-fresh causes, other than irrelevance, is necessity. Witness both Abercrombie and Victoria’s Secret; their staid positioning cost them millions, to say nothing of gobs of bad press. The turn around can be slow in such cases, but when necessity strikes, you HAVE to refresh. The opposite of necessity is someone like Gap, who, due to creeping irrelevance, also have a powerful need to refresh. In that case, and possibly in the aforementioned brands’, positioning was so set in stone, said refresh has been very slow in coming.

Dick Seesel

A brand “refresh” should only be done occasionally, not as the “flavor of the month,” and not at the risk of brand equity. But when that equity is no longer resonating with target customers — and unable to appeal to a broader base of consumers — it’s time for a change.

That change may be as simple as a logo redesign or a name change (“Ben’s Original” instead of “Uncle Ben’s”), or it could be a revamp of the underlying brand image itself. These are tougher to pull off; the many efforts of J.C. Penney to change its stripes over the past decade are an object lesson.

Jeff Sward
As a baseline I start with understanding that we live in an evolving marketplace. And it’s evolving at a faster rate now than the past several decades. So what is it exactly that needs changing? The strategy, or the tactics? Is the original Brand Promise still valid, or does it just need new levels of implementation in this digital and tech world? I’d argue that the original brand promise of the department store is still valid today. It just needs a vastly different implementation than it did 10 or 50 years ago. And I would further argue that the implementation was better 50 years ago than 10 years ago. I guess that means that a brand has to update just to keep even with an evolving market. Has Nike’s brand promise changed much over 50 years? I’d say not much. Has its implementation changed? Yep. Nike plays offense, not defense. Some brands lead, some follow, and some hibernate. And waking from hibernation can present a daunting quest for survival.
Matthew Pavich

It’s interesting that the “target audience” was mentioned briefly and the rest of the list stemmed from things happening internally to the organization. As some have already commented on, the real key here is the target customer. All of the above are great but the reality is that a great brand resonates with its customers and shouldn’t be changed unless there is a strong enough business case to determine that it is losing relevance with the most important target customers. Most customers don’t really care about a lot of the internal happenings of the organization – they want a brand that they know and trust that aligns with their lifestyle and differentiates itself enough to remain unique. The right loyalty, CRM and customer analytics can help retailers on this journey. Regardless of approach, the customer needs to be front and center of this major, strategic decision.

David Spear
I love this topic. Rebranding is a tightrope walk. So many in the past come to mind like Lee Iacocca at Chrysler. Remember his famous quote, “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” It was so incredible to watch him re-position the company and knock it out of the park. How about Coke’s re-formulation and re-branding of its flagship brand Coke Classic? What an abject failure, but the learnings were immense! Who can forget Apple’s transformation and re-branding that has led it to being one of the first companies to surpass $1 trillion in market cap? But one thing must stand the test of time, and that is brand promise. Does the product or service deliver or not? If the value, utility, and experience are there and continue to excite the senses in the consumer’s mind’s eye, then a re-branding effort is moot — it doesn’t make sense. But if an enterprise starts to see fraying around the edges with its target audience, then a re-branding might be worthy of consideration.
"'Striking simplification' has been the path to success for many major re-rebrands recently."
"Some brands lead, some follow, and some hibernate. And waking from hibernation can present a daunting quest for survival."
"A rebrand has to be a timeless transformation that will remain relevant in the far off future."

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