Rebranding: the “Should you / Shouldn’t you” guide

Rebranding can revitalize a company… But should you do it?


Have you ever thought about rebranding?

If you’re like many business owners, the answer is a resounding yes.

After all, in the face of stagnant sales, incessant competition and changing markets, the idea of becoming a new, “different” company can be alluring.

But rebranding isn’t a walk in the park—and if you do it wrong, the consequences to your business can be dire.

Should you consider rebranding?

Here are some scenarios where overhauling your brand might make sense.

  • New product. If you’ve recently launched a new product or service that has the potential to confuse your customers, you might think about rebranding that part of the business. We don’t often recommend this approach, though. At BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE, we feel it makes sense most of the time to create one Master Brand and then roll out sub-brands underneath it.
  • New mission. A shift in your most basic reason for being definitely merits a rebranding conversation. For example, if you’ve been providing services to clients and now want to focus exclusively on teaching them, a rebrand is probably in order.
  • New image. If you’ve had a PR disaster—or an actual one—and you’re trying to distance yourself from it, rebranding may help you achieve your goal. This is difficult to do though, especially in a world where the internet can help even the least savvy customers see through your efforts. Witness tobacco giant Philip Morris and their attempt to rebrand as Altria.
  • New customers. If you’ve managed to attract a new market—whether by choice or by accident—rebranding may make sense. In the early 2000s, for example, Andersen Consulting split from its parent because its best clients wanted only consulting services. It then rebranded to Accenture to further distance itself from the accounting giant. (Good thing, too, as Andersen collapsed over its ties to Enron.)
  • New needs from current customers. The Canadian arm of Radio Shack, after being bought out in a consumer electronics deal, initially rebranded as The Source by Circuit City. But when its new owner began to falter, it became simply The Source—a move whose timing couldn’t have been better. Circuits and radios are things of the past, and the new name suggests that no matter where electronics go in the future, The Source will be there to provide that tech to its customers. (And both Circuit City and Radio Shack are now distant memories.)
  • New competition. To say things were different in the 90s than they were in the 50s is an understatement. But through that whole time, Kentucky Fried Chicken had the word “fried” right there in its name. 1991 saw a move to KFC, however, in a move away from that F-word. Too many healthy restaurants were giving the chicken giant a run for its money—so the move made sense. (Unfortunately, they handled the rebranding poorly; rumors persist to this day that they switched to KFC because they were no longer legally allowed to claim their product was “chicken.”)

When shouldn’t you rebrand?

Occasionally, businesses undertake a rebranding for the wrong reasons. Here are three.

  • New management. If all you’ve changed about your company is the management group—and the same problems you’ve always had continue to exist—your rebranding will never work.
  • New whims. Department store Macy’s lost a staggering amount of brand equity when it moved to a “one-brand” policy and renamed iconic brands like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s and Memphis’ Goldsmith’s. At the time, the decision was seen as foolish; Macy’s seemed to have recovered by the beginning of this decade but is struggling again.
  • New internal issues. If you’ve identified that you’re having trouble connecting with your market, is that a branding problem? Or is it because your marketing is horrible, or your customer service is poor, or your services aren’t delivered well? Be careful—not every issue is one that rebranding can solve.


In a perfect world, your competition would never change their strategy, your customers would stay loyal forever, and you’d see exponential growth year after year. This is obviously not the case—and while you don’t want to be too hasty with a rebranding exercise, don’t discount the power of reinventing your brand, either.



Get Out Of Your Own Way!

How to be creative at work, at play, and every day.

“Be creative”, they say. It sounds so simple, but It’s is a much larger topic than we can cover in a single blog post, of course. In this post, we’re going to start at the beginning—harnessing the creativity you already have.

There’s a long-standing narrative about creative genius happening almost magically—behind the scenes, when nobody’s looking, and arriving in its final, polished form to an adoring public.

None of this is true, and the sooner you embrace that that magical creative moment is a myth, the sooner you can get to work!


Generate, generate, generate.

In other words: start. Don’t wait for that elusive flash of inspiration. Rather than trying to be creative as a state, try to do creative—every day.

Try keeping a journal for a month, and commit to writing in it for at least fifteen minutes a day. Don’t think about it too hard—just get in there and do your best James Joyce impression. Write about what inspires you, imitate something brilliant, or even just the same word over and over until you inevitably start really thinking about that word—and write that down.

Ever had a brilliant idea—that doesn’t work for the project at hand? Save it! Keep a “junk” file and save these moments until it’s their time.

And sure, we opened saying inspiration is elusive, but we’ve all experienced those moments. When they do hit, be prepared—carry a notebook if you’re the analog type, or open up your Notes or Voice Memo app.


Go off the path.

We’re used to clear, linear explanations, but in reality, problems don’t tend to solve themselves in such an organized way. Think about what you know—and write it down. Where does it fit? Is it a problem to solve, a solution to provide? Is it a feeling you want to inspire? Is it something about who you want to be?

So for example: let’s say you know you have a great solution for

Now that you know what you know, you need to discover what you don’t know. Make a list of possibilities and variables, or try to create a narrative. Really delve into your topic and continue asking questions—become as much of an expert

Talk to people, even if they’re completely removed—you might be surprised what a fresh pair of non-expert eyes can see or imagine. Do you have a mentor or another expert in your life? Reach out to them!

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be an endless font of creative wisdom—put in time and practice.


Time and space.

Sometimes it feels like we have to sit still and focus on a problem until it’s resolved. But in practice, how many times have you finally gotten up out of sheer frustration and returned with a clearer head—and a solution?

There’s a reason famous creative people walk so much. Plan for these kinds of walls to happen, because they will. Planning breaks helps save time and frustration, and it’s far more effective than multitasking.

Honestly? You probably already know this – but if you’re not doing it, the reminder doesn’t hurt.

What of strategies help you be creative in your work, play, and everyday? Let us know in the comments!


Is Your Brand’s Verbal Identity Sending Mixed Messages?

When people think about branding, they are often thinking about a brand’s visual identity. There’s another, equally important component: your brand’s verbal identity. In an ideal world, these two work in tandem to deliver clear, consistent messaging.

With communication happening at lightning speed, through multiple channels, and handled by multiple people, it’s critical to to develop a strong verbal identity. If you’re not clear on your brand’s voice, it’s easy to go off the rails. And when that happens, your messaging can become confusing, jarring, and you can lose touch with your core audience.

Just like visual identity, your verbal identity broadcasts your message into the world. A company with a strong brand voice uses that voice at every point of interaction – email, customer service, social media, web copy. Your brand’s voice should be specific, consistent, and everlasting.


Be Specific

It’s human nature to want to please everyone, or to attempt to speak to everyone. But in doing so, you can quickly lose sight of your goals in an effort to include as many in your audience as possible.

The solution may seem somewhat counterintuitive: in establishing a brand voice, you should know, very specifically, who you are speaking to. Are they millennials? Moms? Dog people, cat people? Your message will change subtly depending on how your audience sees themself and how they interact with


Keep It Consistent

Maybe you decided to try a more ‘millennial’ approach for a little while, only to double back to your old personality. Take a step back and evaluate what your brand has been saying – and how you say it – to date. How would you describe your brand’s current personality and voice?

Reading through social media, web copy, emails – do you feel like you’re speaking to an individual, or several different voices?

Here’s an exercise to try: you’re out shopping. When you get home, you notice you’ve been overcharged, and you need to call the store to ask for a refund. How would you, as your brand, do this? What’s your strategy? When all’s said and done, can you still shop at that store? If you’re unsure, you may not know your brand’s voice as well as you think.

Once you have established that voice, preserve it! Remember that even if you are part of your company’s brand, the brand voice does not have to reflect you in real time. Transparency is admirable, but raw confession might lead to former brand evangelists burning your products.


Craft An Everlasting Voice

A well-designed brand voice, one with a core message that can allow you to see past and future, is an investment that will set your brand apart. Knowing your brand’s personality, and corresponding language, can prevent the kinds of verbal mishaps that will land you in Twitter’s crosshairs.

Rather than a set of hard-and-fast rules, your brand’s voice should be consistent, but agile enough to be used almost automatically. It’s not a script – it’s a toolbox.



Still feeling daunted? We’d love to talk!

Professional Is Not A Personality

If you’re trying to make a brand promise around your professionalism, you’re not trying hard enough.

Do you make money for what you do? Congratulations. You’re a professional—but that says nothing about your brand promise.

It means you’re competent. Maybe even skilled.

But it doesn’t make you intriguing, unique or different from your competitors. You could be the most professional person in the world—and actually be incredibly boring to your customers.


What your brand promise is—and isn’t

Here’s a secret: in most buying situations, quality is assumed. So is professionalism.

We assume that when we hire an electrician, the light switch will turn on. We assume that when we buy a car the brakes will work.

And that means being “good” isn’t good enough. Your brand can’t just be “professional”—because you’re not the only professional on the block.

By building a brand personality on professionalism, what you’re doing is promoting your credibility. You’re making the argument that buying from you makes logical sense.

These are valid arguments to make, and they DO matter in the eyes of your potential customers.

But a brand promise based on credibility and logic is both boring and weak.


Aristotle hated “professional”, too

Noted Greek philosopher Aristotle posited that a solid argument—and argument here means any defensible position, such as a belief or, yes, a brand promise—is based on 3 pillars:

  • Ethos (Credibility)
  • Logos (Logic)
  • Pathos (Emotion)

Professionalism only appeals to logic and credibility, which means, by Aristotle’s definition, any appeal to professionalism will fail.

Let’s make things more concrete with an example.

Let’s say you are a financial planner, and a good one.

A professional.

We all want a financial planner who knows what they are doing—in other words, one that’s credible. And we want one who can make us money—that makes logical sense to hire.

That all sounds well and good, and as a professional financial planner you can deliver on that brand promise.

But without injecting emotion into your brand promise, you’ll only end up telling prospective clients that a financial planner is a wise investment—not that they need YOU.

You’ve successfully advertised for your industry, not for your company.

Aristotle would have HATED that.


Your brand promise needs to make an emotional connection

Your competence at delivering your service or the value built into your product is just a single one of the factors that people take into consideration when making a purchase.

But as we said above, prospects already assume you’re good at what you do.

Customers want an emotional connection with you and your brand. They want to know who you are, what you care about, and what you stand for so that they can self-identify with you.

They want to know you understand not only their life, but also the pain they’re going through or the challenge they’re facing, before they’ll ever agree to let you help them.

Only when you share your history (both good and bad) and your personality with your customers will you start to connect with people on an emotional level—and will your brand promise hit home.

This emotional connection is much stronger than a logical connection, or one rooted in credibility, or even a combination of both.

And this is why your brand promise can’t hinge on being “professional.”



By all means be good at what you do. (It’s assumed you are.) Be prompt, courteous, and wear a tailored suit everyday if you feel it conveys professionalism.

But just know that in order for your brand to resonate, it has to promise more.

Commoditization: What it is, and how to fight it

Is the biggest threat to your business… commoditization?

Here’s the bad news: commoditization is real.

And even the best purpose statement in the world won’t help you if your customers think you’re just a commodity.

In other words, if they think that what you do is the same as what everybody else in your industry does, you’re in trouble.

But here’s the good news: there are strategies you can use to successfully combat commoditization, and they’re probably simpler than you think.


What is commoditization?

If you’ll forgive a dry explanation, Wikipedia calls commoditization the process by which your valuable, distinguishable goods and services lose their uniqueness in the eyes of your customers.

Too abstract? Here’s an example: taxis were quite happy to sit between the bus and a chauffeured limo as “the way you got there when you needed a ride.” Then Uber came along and said, essentially, “We can do that cheaper.” Now taxi companies everywhere are struggling, because getting from point A to point B has become a commoditized service.

Here’s another: Macs are Macs, and have always held a high-priced position at the top of the computer market. But on the PC side, what’s the difference—in the customer’s mind—between a Dell and an Acer?

Not much… Which is why a Mac laptop starts at $1500, and you can get a PC for about $300.


Here’s why you need to combat commoditization

Commoditization is bad because it erodes your ability to charge a healthy, profitable fee for what you make or do. When everything looks the same to your buyers, they’ll generally settle on whichever solution or product is the cheapest.

That’s why need to be different in the eyes of your clients—and own that difference in everything you do.

As we once said in a previous blog post:

“Be clear about your difference, your advantage, your offering that no one else has and that no one else can match. Let your brand—and especially your copy—speak to that difference. If you want customers to believe that you really are “a cut above the rest,” then show them.”

That can be tough to wrap your head around, so here are three ideas about finding your difference to get your started.


Niche down

If you don’t already sell to a niche—a small section of a larger target—consider choosing one. Customers are often willing to pay a premium for specialized products and services.

To start thinking about your niche, think about which areas your competitors are already well-established in. Then consider what’s being ignored, and where the potential opportunities lie.

Your niche might be geographical—you may decide to focus on offering your services exclusively to businesses in the Chicagoland area, for example. Or you may niche down on the services and products you provide—pay-per-click ad management, for instance, or just a certain type of coaching. Finally, you might niche down on a particular kind of client, like alternative health providers or government agencies.


Stand for something strategic, not tactical

Instead of selling your outputs—whether those are websites or personal training hours—focus on your outcomes… Such as business growth or weight loss. Even this small change will set you apart from many, many of your competitors.


Get creative with pricing

“If you aren’t the low-cost producer,” Harvard Business Review says, “complicate your pricing structures so customers can’t easily make side-by-side comparisons.”

In other words, use tactics like bundling or packaging to make it harder for customers to compare your price to the competition.

If you offer coaching at $100 an hour, for example, it’s easy for a customer to think about a $75-per-hour coach as a better deal. But what if that coach charges $75 and you have a $995 package? Suddenly the specter of endless coaching hours pales in comparison to your neat and tidy alternative.



These ant-commoditization tactics and strategies can feel like they’ll only throttle your business, but the opposite is true. By narrowing your niche, increasing your strategic focus or bundling your prices, you’ll paradoxically draw more of your ideal customer to you… And reap financial rewards in the process.

The positioning statement: your secret weapon

If you can play Mad Libs, you can create a positioning statement.

Do you have a positioning statement?

More importantly… Is it any good?

Recently we discussed three ways to differentiate your business—with your credibility, your uniqueness, or your value to your customer.

But what does that look like in practice? How can you use that theoretical idea—“We’re different because of X”—in the day-to-day of your business?

Enter the positioning statement: a to-the-point description of your business, your clients and how you help them.


What a positioning statement is—and what it isn’t

A positioning statement—also called a purpose statement—isn’t a tagline, or an elevator pitch, or a mission statement.

It’s meant for you and you alone. Your customers should never see it or hear it.

But in some ways, it’s more important than anything else you do, because it informs everything else you show to customers.

Every decision you make about your brand—the name and nature of your services, your prices, your marketing materials, and even things like the way you deliver customer service—should align with and support your positioning statement.


How to write a positioning statement

Good news: you’re only a few ideas away from writing your own positioning statement.

Here’s a fill-in-the-blanks version you can use to get started:

[Your company] [provides/delivers/helps/offers/works with etc.] [your ideal client] … to [outcome of your services] … by [things you do to achieve that outcome].


Here’s how that looks in practice:

Google helps internet users find what they’re searching for in just a click by organizing the world’s information and making it instantly accessible.


If you’d prefer, here’s another formula:

For [ideal buyer][your company] is the [category in which you’re unique] … which provides [main benefit you offer]. Unlike [your competition], which provides [their offering][your company] provides [your differentiators or proof points].


And here’s that formula in real life, using Amazon this time:

For online shoppers, Amazon is the world’s biggest store, providing millions of products at the click of a mouse. Unlike Walmart, which focuses on the lowest price at the expense of just about everything else, Amazon offers nearly unlimited choice, great prices, convenient shipping, and individualized service.

Easy enough, right?


The perfect positioning statement

Doug Stayman, on the Cornell University blog, gives these tips on writing a good positioning statement:

  1. It should be simple and memorable.
  2. It should instantly differentiate you from your competitors.
  3. It should be believable, and your brand should be able to deliver on its promise.
  4. You need to be able to “own” your position in a way that no-one else can.
  5. You should be able to use it to evaluate whether the decisions you make—about a strategy, or a product name, or a logo, for example—are in line with your brand.
  6. It should leave room for growth

With those maxims in mind, here are some things to ask as you’re writing your new positioning statement:

  • Does this feel like “us”?
  • Is what we’re saying true?
  • Can we prove it—do we have things like testimonials, case studies or LinkedIn recommendations to back up our claims? If not, can we get some?
  • Does the current expression of our brand across our website and marketing materials reflect this positioning? If not—or not yet—can we make the necessary changes?
  • As our business gets bigger, could this positioning statement grow with us?

Ask those questions, and work it until it feels good—until you’ve settled on the one that’s most… “you.”

When you’re working, try to get to know your customers and zero in on the benefits of what you offer, not the features. Remember to talk not only about what you do, but about how your buyers are changed by what you do. For example, you don’t sell courses to women—you transform work-at-home moms.



The best marketing in the world won’t help you if your customers still think you’re a commodity. You need to be different in the eyes of your clients. A positioning statement, created with thought and insight, is a great first step toward achieving that differentiation.

Brand relevance: How to get it (and keep it)

Brand relevance can be elusive—but it’s easier than you might think to stay top of mind.

How does a brand stay dominant in a world of constant competition—and one in which a PR disaster seems to lurk around every corner? Brand relevance.

Think of brand relevance as a stool on which your happy, devoted, most loyal customers sit. That stool has three legs—resonance, alignment and transparency.



First, your brand’s purpose needs to resonate with your customers—and it needs to be articulated so clearly that customers know it in an instant.

Consider TOMS and their “One for One” promise; buy a pair of TOMS shoes and they’ll donate another to someone in need. There are lots of socially responsible companies—even socially responsible shoe companies, but TOMS owns a big part of this space. If you buy into the idea that you can do good while you treat yourself to some hip footwear, you’re pretty much a customer for life.

When your purpose itself attracts customers, brand relevance comes baked in.



Second, everything about your company—from your products and prices to your emails and tweets—needs to align with that brand promise in the service of the customer.

That includes customer experience—a fact which Toys R Us, after filing for bankruptcy protection, has sadly discovered.

The toy-buying experience has changed; more and more busy parents get their toys online from the Amazons of the world.

And the brand that was once a giant in the industry—who else remembers “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us Kid”?—is foundering. Yes, TRU has an ecommerce store, but when competitors stock more items and deliver faster, how can Geoffrey the Giraffe compete?

Toys R Us simply stopped being relevant to its customers, and is seeing the results at the bank.



Third, when your brand makes a mistake—and you will, eventually—you need to own your “oops” and try to get things back on track as soon as possible.

For just one example, look at Taco Bell.

It goes without saying that no-one’s going into Taco Bell expecting a fine dining experience. But even still, the 2014 revelation that their meat contained only 88% beef sent shock waves.

The brand weathered the crisis, however, by being direct about the ratio of meat to seasoning and filler, gambling—correctly, it seems—that 100% pure beef tacos just weren’t relevant to their customers.

Take whether you want to eat their food, or whether you consider it food at all, out of the equation, and you can see that Taco Bell’s décor, their menu choices, their prices and their branding all align—and their directness about what they are and what they’re not complements it all.

That’s brand relevance to a “T.”


When brand relevance disappears

Has anyone else noticed that brands don’t ever seem to learn how to use resonance, alignment and transparency to stay relevant?

That’s bad for them, but good news for us—because we get to cackle over recent brand fails like these:



It’s easy to be smug about brands losing their relevance, so it’s best not to gloat. (Not for too long, anyway.) The better strategy is to consistently check whether your brand still resonates with your customers, whether all your touchpoints are aligned with your purpose, and whether you’ve got what it takes to own up to your mistakes.