The Ugly Truth About Rebranding: Don’t Try This at Home, You Need a Professional

heather_ripley_headshot_0.jpgEven the most long-lived brands evolve over time. Perhaps your franchise has changed or expanded its offerings. Maybe public taste and fashion has changed and you fear getting left behind.

Rebranding is a natural part of your franchise’s evolution, keeping you relevant in a changing world. We’re seeing this play out with established brands today as they respond to millennials’ desire for more plant-based food options. It’s startling to see brands like KFC or Burger King offering meatless menu items, but these decisions are keeping the brands relevant in today’s market.

Home service franchise giant Neighborly, originally the Dwyer Group, is an amazing example of rebranding done right. After 37 years in business representing brands like Molly Maids and Glass Doctor, the group changed its name to Neighborly in 2018 to match its successful online home service platform. The name change highlights the franchise’s friendly, consumer-facing culture and emphasis on simplifying the way local homeowners get things done.

In an article for Entrepreneur, Amanda Bowman wrote:

Even the best companies change their brand identity. For example, did you know that Google started with the name “Backrub” or that Accenture started out as “Andersen Consulting?” It’s not unusual for a company to outgrow its name and look for a fresh, unique business name that can help grow its business. Maybe it's time that your company do the same.

So, whatever your reason, it can be beneficial to your franchise to rebrand.

That is, unless it’s done wrong.

The marketing world is full of tales of rebrands gone wrong — and rebrands gone right — but while a laughable logo or dropping the word “Donuts” from a brand name makes headlines, the pitfalls of rebranding are less well known and more dire.

Rebranding is an exciting yet complex process full of nuance and risk. There are plenty of public relations and marketing initiatives that you can tackle on your own, but rebranding is not one of them. Because of the hazards of rebranding, I strongly recommend that franchise brands partner with a public relations agency with plenty of rebranding experience before starting the process. An agency can steer you past the worst mistakes and ensure that your new brand collateral is a benefit, not a liability.

Questions of Copyright

Some rebranding efforts fail in the court of public opinion, but the worst mistakes can land you in a court of law. Litigation and copyright infringement are real risks when rebranding.

Copyright law is complicated. A simple Google search might not turn up all the companies who are already using your brand’s new name or logo. And some of those companies might have the resources to take you to court. Their complaint could be over something as minor as your color scheme, so proceed with caution.

Avoid using online services to create your logo. These services are often located overseas and have limited knowledge of copyright law in the U.S. They may create a logo too similar to another brand’s, so be sure to carefully research any service consider using.

Without research conducted by a professional rebranding firm, you won’t know that your new name and logo infringe on someone else’s copyright until you receive a cease and desist letter — after you’ve spent the time and money to rebrand, change signage, print new materials and redesign your website. You may have already informed your staff and customers of the change, too, and retracting that message will be an embarrassment.

Partnering with a professional rebranding agency can help you avoid the legal risks of rebranding, giving you peace of mind that your great idea won’t result in a lawsuit.

Send the Right Message

Your company’s name and logo are two of the most valuable assets you have. Changing either will have huge repercussions for your franchise. You may gain or lose customers. Employees and location owners may buy into the change, or they may not. If you make a change, it’s vital that the change appeals to your target audience, including your customers and potential franchise location owners.

When considering rebranding, thorough market research is vital to the process. That research will let you know which changes will make you more appealing to your target audience and which changes will cost you customers and leads.

A professional rebranding agency brings a wealth of market research and expertise to the table. They will be able to guide you in choosing small details that make a huge difference. For example, the color palette and design elements you choose will communicate as much about your brand’s personality as the name. And those colors and designs will be everywhere, from your signage to employee uniforms. Make sure all aspects of your rebranding are sending the right message to the right people.

Hone Your Vision

Rebranding doesn’t stop at your name and logo. If you’re updating your franchise to suit new offerings or market tastes, you might be looking at a change in your franchise culture. Consider crafting a new mission/vision statement for your brand, along with new procedures, training materials and employee handbooks that align with your new direction.

A public relations agency can help you craft these statements and materials for the most effective impact, ensuring that your new brand message is reflected across all aspects of your organization.

Partner for Success

Rebranding has such broad implications for your franchise, both beneficial and harmful. Before you begin the process, make sure you partner with professionals who can see you past the pitfalls. Do extensive research and hire an agency that has plenty of experience with rebranding, with franchises, and with your specific market. They will bring a wealth of industry knowledge to your rebranding effort, protecting your investment and guiding you towards success.

Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in franchising. Orange Orchard, a division of Ripley PR, champions franchisors that cater to environmentally-conscious consumers. For additional information, visit www.ripleypr.com or www.orangeorchardpr.com.