How to wrangle a giant: 5 things to keep in mind when approaching a challenging rebrand

How to wrangle a giant: 5 things to keep in mind when approaching a challenging rebrand



Rebrands have never been uncommon, but the last few years have seen many major companies unveil new brands for several good reasons. The M&A market has seen unprecedented levels of activity, and every merger, acquisition and divestiture represents a need to redevelop—or create new—brand identities. Consumers are becoming increasingly driven by social values, and brands are triangulating and repositioning themselves to better align with their target customer base. Digital transformation has accelerated because of the pandemic.

Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that each rebrand features its own unique considerations and challenges. In our latest webinar, “Brand change done right: Two companies share the secrets behind their successful rebranding,” we explored the recent rebrands of two large global organizations. Panelists Dana Gandsman, Vice President Enterprise Reputation at Pfizer and Kelly Vives, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Allspring Global Investments (formerly Wells Fargo Asset Management) joined moderator Philip Guiliano, Partner, BrandActive and let us in on a few valuable insights.

1. Rebrands are driven by different factors, and these factors will define the shape of the implementation.

In the case of Pfizer, the rebrand was primarily CEO-driven and presented a strategic realignment of values. “It will be a surprise to many that we started this work in 2019. Albert Bourla became our CEO, and he started to think about the future of Pfizer and our new purpose: breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,” Dana recalled. “He wanted us to consider a science-first brand identity. When the pandemic happened, we didn’t have the design or action plan yet, but seeing where the company was headed, we were all motivated to get it done, get it done right, and start 2021 with a new identity.”

Allspring Global Investments had a very different story. Wells Fargo had decided to sell a number of its businesses, including the asset management division where Kelly served as Head of Marketing. “It really gave us an amazing opportunity, once we were able to announce the transaction, to build something quite distinctive from Wells Fargo and build something from the ground up, with a new brand story, strategy, visual identity, verbal identity, a new logo.” This opportunity, however, came with a daunting legal clause: the company now known as Allspring Global Investments was given a deadline of November 1, 2021, to remove all mentions of Wells Fargo from its materials. Kelly and her team had only a nine-month window to develop, trademark, and roll out a new name and new identity.

Not all rebrands are so daunting in terms of scale and timing. Philip shared that a typical timeline is two to four years, with brands focusing on converting the top 20% of assets that represent 80% of the impact, while relying on operational cycles to convert everything else. Pfizer and Allspring, however, represent two enlightening examples of rebrands that didn’t follow this pattern.

Having implementation on a parallel path at the same time as the brand strategy is critical to success.

2. Implementation planning and management can make or break your rebrand—and getting expert help can make this much easier.

“While we didn’t have the brand identity ready, we did have BrandActive helping us navigate every possible asset that would need to be part of the rebrand,” said Dana. “It was enormously helpful for us to be able to look at every silo in this global company. [BrandActive] got us to three budget scenarios that we were able to put in front of our executive team.”

Having expert help on your side is also valuable when other events are happening concurrently with, and that are impacted by, the rebrand. “We had a lot of things we had to get done right away because of all the attention we were getting. We were rolling this out while the vaccine was rolling out. We had President Biden planning to visit our Kalamazoo site and we had to get [BrandActive’s] help getting that site temporarily rebranded for the visit. We launched the new brand on January 5th and President Biden came on February 12th, and we wanted to show the new face of the company for that,” Dana explained. “I don’t think I realized, going in, what the implementation really looked like and how critical it is to have the right team in place to guide it.”

Kelly agreed. “There are two buckets to a rebrand. One is the fun, creative, beautiful, visual, exciting piece. And then there are the daunting tentacles of implementation,” she said. “I serendipitously found BrandActive right when I was starting to see that, not only would the rebrand impact our marketing materials, but also our legal documentation, our counterparty agreements and contracts with firms like Bloomberg. All of these needed the legal entity name and the new product names. There’s a real need to have a professionally-managed implementation to see the percentage, tracking and prioritization. Having implementation on a parallel path at the same time as the brand strategy is critical to success.”

3. Even the best-laid plans will face road bumps. Navigate the unexpected by maintaining priorities and being flexible when needed.

When dealing with global organizations, having a presence in multiple markets can add additional complexity. In the case of Pfizer, the trademark reviews for the new ribbon helix logo presented a challenge: “We had 92 countries [to clear trademarks in]. We hit an obstacle in China, because of the high volume of patent applications per day, and the process couldn’t really be expedited. In another key market, we had to negotiate to buy the ribbon helix image from another company. All this came up right around the time as we were getting CEO and board approvals.”

What was helpful was maintaining a sense of both agility and priority. “In 91 countries we could use the logo as approved, but in China we could only use the Pfizer name,” said Dana. “We had to have a lot of additional conversations with China. Fortunately, we got approval eight or nine months later. It was not an ideal situation, as China is a key market. But we had made the decision that it was the right thing to do, and we had 91 other countries ready to go.”

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4. A second leg could grant you an opportunity to seek and seize any efficiencies.

Because of the legal requirements and tight timelines of the Allspring rebrand, the rebrand ended up occurring in two stages. “We didn’t have a name until July, we didn’t have a logo until August and we launched the company in November,” Kelly recalled. “From there, we had 30 days to remove all Wells Fargo marks from our digital properties, and 90 days to remove it from all 100K+ assets. We ended up having to do two rebrands because we didn’t have time to fully push through our new visual identity.” The first, which she described as a ‘cancel-replace’, was to swap any instances of the old brand with the new brand to meet contractual deadlines.

The second remains ongoing, and represents a more strategic version of the rebrand, with a strong focus on elevated applications of the visual identity and opportunities to rationalize and capture efficiencies. “We were able to roll out our full visual identity to bring that elevated look and feel and presence. The brand experience is only as good as what our clients see and feel,” Kelly remarked. “The opportunity now is to rationalize, and think about why we have so many assets. We get to slow down, think about where we can automate and build in more user-friendly tools, and be more strategic on automation and implementation. The opportunity is in doing less, better.”

5. Never lose sight of what makes your brand significant: your people.

A rebrand is always a massive undertaking, but especially so on the team tasked with carrying it out. Kelly noted that Allspring’s two-phased rebrand was very tough on morale. To combat this, it was important to develop a sense of community and provide adequate support to those most impacted.

Kelly elaborated, “The teambuilding component is important. Having these milestones that people are working towards, bringing in the cavalry when you need it—we hired contractors, partnered with agencies, pulled people out of their regular roles to help, just so the team felt supported. And we rewarded them with transition bonuses and extra swag. It was a true cross-functional effort, and we kept people going by communicating the milestones and celebrating the progress along the way.”

The wider employee base shouldn’t be forgotten, either. “Once we went live, we sent all 80,000 colleagues a swag box of different items with the new logo on it. I kept seeing people posting pictures of their swag boxes on LinkedIn and showing a lot of pride,” Dana recounted, smiling.

The Allspring team also kept employees engaged through a variety of tools to build excitement within the organization, including videos, newsletters, and company chats. “Sharing something even just the day before it goes out to market makes the employee base feel really special and engaged and like they were part of the writing of this chapter,” Kelly said.

To hear more insights from our webinar, Brand change done right: Two companies share the secrets behind their successful rebranding, watch the full recording.