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A guide to building and executing a successful rebranding strategy

14 min read
Aaron Marquis

Keeping up with the times sometimes requires companies to do a little shifting to realign their images (and offerings) with what modern consumers are looking for. Remember when Netflix was strictly a DVD-by-mail service? Decades later, they’re still going strong — but not as a DVD-by-mail service. Their longevity is attributed to how they evolved with the changing tides of how people wished to consume media over the years.

But rebranding is no simple project. While Netflix’s branding transition may have been gradual, there were no fewer moving pieces to consider: market research, messaging, visual identity, brand positioning, imagery (right down to your color palette!), brand values… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As a major project, rebranding may present challenges with pinpointing a new brand identity or communicating changes across organizations. However, it’s worth it. When done well, a rebrand can transform your company’s brand image and help you attract more customers.

But how do you know when a rebrand might be in order? Sometimes, it’s obvious. Other times… not so much.

Below, we’ll cover how to know when it’s time for a rebrand and how to create a successful rebranding strategy. We’ll also drop our best do’s and don'ts for rebrand success, and show you a few examples of organizations that have pulled off great rebrands.

What we'll cover

When should a company consider rebranding?

Rebranding isn’t something to take on a whim, but there are times when it simply makes sense to evolve the brand alongside the company. When making big changes across the company or modernizing a legacy brand, rebranding can play an important role. Below are common instances where it makes sense to consider a rebrand.

Shift keyboard button with REBRANDING name on it and finger clicking it

Market repositioning

Customers’ changing values and priorities can require companies to reposition themselves to keep up with those changes. For example, many companies have had to add eco-friendly product lines or highlight their brand’s sustainability to keep up with popular demand for eco-friendly products.

Sometimes, to grow as a company, you also need to reach out to new target demographics. A company that primarily targeted Gen X or baby boomers may need to find a way to appeal to younger generations as their original target demographic ages. Or, a company with a good reputation in a niche industry may need to demonstrate their usefulness to new markets. A secure document software geared toward the medical world may have to reposition to appeal to higher ed and construction management.

Outdated brand identity

An outdated brand identity may contain fonts, colors, and graphic elements that are too reminiscent of an older era. If a company seems dated, customers may assume that their solutions and products aren’t relevant in a modern environment. 

Apple’s old logo evolved from the maximalist, colorful rainbow in the 80s, to the techy, glassy logo of the early 2000s, to today’s clean and minimalist logo. Apple’s logo evolved with contemporary design sensibilities to demonstrate they’re always on the cutting edge of aesthetics.

But beyond keeping up with the times, rebranding can also help address issues with your current brand. In response to rising social tensions surrounding their original name (considered a racial slur), the American football team formerly known as the Washington Redskins rebranded to the Washington Football Team in 2020 before finally settling on the Washington Commanders in 2022. The rebrand aligned with society’s growing intolerance for racial injustice.

Business milestones, mergers, or acquisitions

Big milestones or shifts in company operations may come with a branding change to signal their new direction. A brand evolution can be an important part of a pivot to demonstrate how they plan to operate going forward or to preserve the brand equity of multiple large brands.

When two powerhouse publishers Penguin and Random House decided to merge, they unveiled a new name: Penguin Random House. The new identity allowed them to keep the brand recognition and respect customers had for both brands and demonstrate that the company will continue publishing imprints from both publishers.

Adding or refreshing product/service offerings

Adding new products or services that may appeal to an expanded demographic may warrant a rebrand. Take General Electrics (GE) as an example. The company, widely associated with its household appliances, recently rebranded its umbrella company to three separate spinoff businesses: GE Aerospace, GE Vernova, and GE HealthCare.

While each company carries the signature GE logo, you’ll notice that each site has some distinct branding differences. Each appropriately reflects the parent company’s professionalism and values. However, all three have their own spin in terms of visuals and messaging that appeal to their respective audiences.

This was a smart move on GE’s part: The familiar logo builds trust and brand recognition, but the separate branding for each company creates a unique voice and message for each one’s audience.

(And don’t worry — you can still find all their appliances on a fourth site, GE Appliances.)

How to build a powerful rebranding strategy step-by-step

Rebranding can be overwhelming, even for those who are experts in brand management, but breaking it down into steps can help you understand what to do next. 

Powerful rebranding strategy step by step table

1. Determine your target market

The first step in any branding strategy is to decide who you wish to target. Customers can be a source of inspiration for any rebrand strategy. Loyal customers provide an authentic point of view that your team can build upon. This is especially important during rebranding: How do you build loyalty with your existing audience while creating a relationship with a new audience? Straddling that line is the trick of any successful rebrand.

2. Conduct a brand audit

Before making changes, know how your current brand is functioning in the marketplace. What about your brand performs well? You may want to keep those elements as you evolve your brand. Where are your weaknesses? How can you address those weaknesses in the re-brand?

3. Look back at your brand’s past for future inspiration

Right now, nostalgia and retro nods are performing well. The history behind a rich brand story can help customers feel connected to your product and develop trust. Take a look at major league sports teams, which have been designing “throwback” jerseys that teams play in on occasion and are also available as merchandise.

Taking a look at your brand’s history can provide inspiration for a brand that calls on nostalgia while looking toward the future.

4. Analyze the competition

While you shouldn’t imitate your competitors, examining what else is happening with branding in your market can provide clues for what strategies could succeed and which could flop. It also allows you to ensure your brand distinguishes itself from others in the market. What trends have your competitors jumped on? How have they performed? What’s missing in your industry that your brand could capitalize on?

5. Define a clear brand identity 

Defining a clear brand identity means determining what values and principles will define your brand for your new target audience. A well-developed brand identity will include a name, a slogan, clear brand messaging, and a defined brand voice.

This step may take a long time and involve several iterations, as well as conducting market research and working with focus groups to see how your new identity resonates with your target audience.

6. Reimagine your visual identity

One of the most visible and obvious parts of a brand identity, the visual identity will determine your brand colors, typography, logo, logo variations, and requirements for packaging, digital, and more.

In a rebrand, changes in visual identity are often subtle — you still want your loyal customers to identify your product or services. But, you want the changes to be bold enough to stand out to your new target demographic, too.

7. Establish brand guidelines

Brand guidelines are documents that clearly outline a brand’s identity, including the company’s mission, brand positioning, voice guidelines, style guide, and visual identity. Brand requirements, dos and don’ts, and more will be useful guides for any creative working with your brand. 

These documents will be reference points across the organization to help ensure that branding remains consistent whether a creative asset was developed by a marketing team in Denver or a freelance packaging designer in New York City.

8. Communicate the rebrand internally

One of the most challenging parts of a rebrand  is ensuring that it’s implemented across the organization so that all new creative is consistent. This is even harder for brands in large and more complex organizations.

When launching a rebrand, an internal campaign to communicate the changes is key to a smooth transition. Getting manager buy-in is an important first step. Employees follow the lead of their supervisors and creative directors. A series of internal messages highlighting how the change will benefit the company will help get the buy-in of on-the-ground creatives, too. 

Finally, you will need to train employees on the changes. Getting creative can help speed up understanding and adoption of the new guidelines. Imagine a hands-on creative workshop led by the visionary behind the new brand, or a celebration launch party with signage featuring the new brand elements and a presentation highlighting the most important changes.

9. Launch the rebrand externally

As a company, you will need a plan to launch the rebrand externally. Create timelines to ensure people are on the same page throughout the company. Devise messaging to communicate changes to current customers — a name change may warrant an email campaign targeting current clients to explain the change. Social media channels may also be a good resource.

Do’s and don’ts for developing an effective rebranding strategy

No rebranding will go perfectly smoothly — but our experts have tips to help you avoid rookie mistakes when rebranding.

Two business professionals discussing company rebranding strategy by the cafe window desk

Do engage stakeholders early

The easiest way to guarantee pushback from stakeholders is to blindside them with your plans for a rebrand. Involve stakeholders early on to show that you value their perspective on such an important change within the company, garner support across the company, and get valuable insights from multiple viewpoints. Getting buy-in early on will ensure a smooth transition company wide.

Do create a comprehensive brand brief

When creative assets fail to adhere to a brand, it’s usually a communication issue. A big rebrand warrants extremely detailed briefs with both positive and negative examples, explanations of the logic behind the new brand choices, and more. This will help creatives across the company understand the new changes and ensure consistency across all touchpoints.

Do establish brand compliance processes

To maintain brand integrity, a brand governance process must be put in place for the brand experts to approve any new assets. Plus, the experts must be able to provide constructive feedback for staying on brand. 

Do plan a proper launch

A proper launch ensures that new brand guidelines are clearly communicated and that the entire company changes over to the new brand at the same time. A well-planned launch prevents new creative assets from lingering in the old brand, or a confusing identity with external customers.

Don’t change everything all at once

Especially with large rebrands, a phased approach can be best. Not only does it make it more manageable for your internal team, but it makes it less overwhelming and confusing for your customers. 

If you have a name change, you may want to include “Formerly [Old Name]” for a certain amount of time. Food products may include a badge on their packaging that says “New Look, Same Great Taste!” to signal that the product is the same, trusted item even if the branding is different.

Don't force your brand to be something that it is not

Lying about who you are is an easy way to lose customer trust. Many brands have engaged in “green-washing,” which essentially means they make a claim they’re sustainable when they’re not. While jumping on the eco-friendly trend may gain new customers in the short term, in the long term, you’ll lose trust when customers realize your practices haven’t changed.

Don't lose your genuine identity

The customers you already have are the people who keep your company afloat. Staying true to your primary core values will help you keep those customers, while subtle updates will help you reach a new audience.

Don't overcomplicate things

Apple has had the same apple-shaped logo since almost the very beginning—only the colors and look have changed. Sometimes, subtlety is best. Making more changes than necessary to achieve your rebranding goals can overcomplicate the project and create unexpected negatives.

Don't rush

Being reactionary is never ideal. Take your time to develop a thoughtfully considered rebranding process — three to six months, or even longer, isn’t unheard of. The time, research, and effort will pay off with a successful transition.

Real-life examples of successful rebrands

Real-world rebrands can offer lessons in how to communicate a new brand and how to stay true to the authentic spirit of a company. Below are a few examples of businesses that have pulled off highly successful rebrands, retaining their loyal customers while expanding to greater heights.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin donuts sandwich, shake with a donut and fries

Dunkin’ does more than just donuts — they’re known for their coffee beverages and other breakfast items, ranging from hashbrowns to breakfast sandwiches. In a decision to embrace that expanded identity, Dunkin’ decided to go for a partial rebrand. They dropped the “Donuts” from their name.

To ease the transition, they kept their iconic font and color palette. They also launched a rebranding campaign to highlight the change for customers. Clever copy, like “Our Friends Call Us Dunkin’ was splashed all over billboards and commercials to endear customers to the shortened moniker.


Mailchimp user interface desktop and mobiel views with website

Mailchimps’ branding redesign was a dramatic overhaul, with new typography and a simpler, modern color scheme. They kept true to the old brand by keeping the same monkey face silhouette recast in simple black. They also embraced their quirky, fun-loving heritage in a new way. A new, quirky illustrated visual identity stays true to the spirit of the company but expresses it in a modern way. 

Visually, Mailchimp signaled they would keep their personality while catapulting their brand into a modern tech landscape. The rebranding efforts paid off with a newly beloved look for the legacy software.


Front of the Walmart store with huge Walmart sign on the wall

Walmart recently changed their in-store experience. Walmart has a strong brand and is known for a strategy of stacked, full aisles, they decided to offer more department-store style displays of home goods and other products. 

The more luxurious experience highlights Walmart’s partnerships with celebrities and brands. They rolled out the new store experience slowly, testing it at one store and making adjustments before expanding the new experience to stores across the nation. This research-based approach made the rebrand successful, as it allowed them to start small and scale gradually to ensure a smooth transition.

How do you measure the success of a rebranding strategy?

The success of your rebranding strategy depends upon what your goals are. You can measure goals through Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

  • Sales numbers and profits
  • Number of new customers
  • Purchase amount per sale
  • Engagement with your brand online
  • Types of products or services sold

A mix of KPIs can give you multiple signals to help understand how a rebrand affects your business.

Discover how to maintain brand compliance with Ziflow

Ziflow UI with comments and Giving Feedback label on sidebar

Ziflow is an online collaborative proofing platform. For creative teams, it helps manage the feedback process for all types of creative assets, from graphics to video. 

When tackling a complex project like rebranding, Ziflow can help you manage feedback and approvals with all stakeholders. Plus, it can help you ensure creative assets comply with the new brand guidelines.


Ready for us to show you more about marketing compliance (including the four most common compliance oversights)?

Check out our free e-book: The ultimate guide to marketing compliance.

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