CMOs: 7 keys to rebranding success in 2021

CMOs: 7 keys to rebranding success in 2021


Philip Guiliano

To say the least, no one saw 2020 coming. As the ground shifted beneath everyone’s feet, most organizations were forced to focus on survival. The priority became short-term problem-solving –For much of the year, your primary goal may simply have been to respond to each new challenge as it arose. In many cases – rapid innovation and transformation were the result.

Now, as the world has welcomed 2021, many brands (like the people they serve) are looking for ways to regain solid footing to chart a course toward a sustainable future. They are looking to capitalize on the shifts in the market, changes in their company and/or offerings, and other factors that provide opportunity for growth. As they do so, many companies will find that their old positioning no longer aligns with what it is they actually do (or what their markets most clearly want and need). For companies like these, rebranding will emerge as a key strategy to stabilize and drive growth.

But rebranding is no simple exercise. It’s a massive undertaking, one that you must manage carefully to avoid a bloated budget, strain on internal resources, missed timelines that degrade impact, sales disruptions, and risk to expected ROI. So, if a rebrand is in your future, put yourself in the best position to do it right. Here are 7 keys to a successful rebrand in 2021 — and how to execute them.

The top 7 elements of a successful rebrand

1. Strategic, instead of reactive repositioning

Reactive respositioning happens even in the best of times. With so much changing so quickly, and/or if significant threats exist, you may be tempted to reposition your brand based on what’s happening right now. Where the business is right now. Where customer sentiment is right now. Where the opportunity seems to be – right now.

Your organization may very well need to reposition – and today’s problems matter. In fact, for some businesses, they may spell the difference between life and death. However, rebranding is such a significant undertaking – and the process of getting it right is so intense – that it is imperative to take the time to consider the longer-term future of the company, the market, the brand, and your entire portfolio. Does everything really need to change? Can you predict where you will be in 5-10 years? Can you stage your conversion – while still protecting market share, maintaining relevance, and spreading out costs? Taking the time and investing a bit of money find the best answers to these questions returns multiples in ROI, avoids the need to revisit the brand in short order, and makes the difference between achieving dramatic impact, generating lackluster returns, or falling flat.

2. Anticipating all budget pressures (and justifying your marketing spend)

Marketers have long faced pressure to “do more with less.” But in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced that trend into overdrive. Moving into the new year, the pressure to justify spend will most likely be higher than ever.

If you want to get a rebrand approved, be prepared to make a strong business case that demonstrates just how impactful it will be. Include data-driven projections about how your rebrand will drive business results. This isn’t just about increased market share, ability to cross sell, premium pricing, or new lines of business. Don’t forget that leveraging a rebrand can significantly improve operational efficiencies.

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For example, let’s say you’re planning to consolidate several independent brands into a “branded house” (rather than “house of brands”) architecture. Your rebrand represents an opportunity to centralize and streamline your marketing operations. Doing so will make your organization faster, leaner, and more efficient for years to come.

3. Coming up with multiple budgeting options

Many marketers assume that a rebrand budget is an all-or-nothing proposition, one that comes with a distinct set of fixed costs. The reality is that there are hundreds of different ways to execute a rebrand. And no two approaches will cost (or look) quite the same.

If you want to uncover the most strategic and effective rebranding plan and budget, start with scenario planning – meaning two to three options that vary in quality, timing, and scope. Doing so allows you to build multiple budgets based on a variety of factors, including the type of brand change (refresh versus rebrand) as well as the rebrand’s timing, treatment of branded assets, scope, and impact in the market.

By presenting carefully considered budget options, you can present a more compelling case for your rebrand to your leadership team. But that’s not all. Scenario planning also enables your organization to make more informed decisions about how to approach your rebrand — thus improving the chances that one of the scenarios gets approved while also putting you in the position to maximize the impact and ROI of that scenario.

4. Creating a rebrand budget with wiggle room

Planning a rebranding budget is one thing. As many marketers who have rebranded can tell you, actually sticking to it is another. And maintaining focus and momentum to completion after launch – yet another. Take the following precautions to keep your rebrand’s budget in scope and on track:

  • Define the scope of your rebrand — and stick to it. Avoid letting scope creep bust your budget

  • Wait to start your rebrand until you know all of your funding sources (as well as the timing for when funds will be made available)

  • Build an accurate budget, but include some padding to account for unknowns

  • Centralize decision making – and make these decisions before tasking operational areas with rebrand conversion

  • Provide centralized support, track activities, track spend – and do so in real time to anticipate challenges and adjust proactively

  • Rationalize assets and vendors to simplify the conversion and reduce costs

5. Building a centralized rebrand plan

Rebrand projects are notoriously complex, including a mountain of moving parts and interdependencies. If you don’t build a centralized, comprehensive rebranding plan, important details are sure to fall through the cracks along the way.

Your rebrand will touch on all areas of your organization, from marketing and sales to operations, IT, HR, and legal. As a result, you can’t possibly create an effective rebrand plan in a marketing vacuum. To start, put together a cross-functional rebrand team, including each operational unit as well as your legal and regulatory teams. Doing so ensures that each unit is included as you craft a plan and no asset or operational reality is missed.

A centralized project structure is especially critical for decentralized organizations.

As you craft your plan, pay special attention to roles and responsibilities (who is responsible for what?), approval pathways, legal and regulatory requirements, and project interdependencies.

6. Leveraging the rebrand to improve your marketing operations

Rebranding is the ideal time to optimize your organization’s marketing and brand operations. This is a massive opportunity to get the most out of your rebrand – and in some cases, an opportunity to pay for the rebrand itself through operational improvements over time.

A rebrand is a unique moment in time when you are going to touch everything. Why not then also take the time to look at every aspect of your marketing and brand infrastructure? Examine what do we do every day, how do we do it, who do we do it with, and where the opportunities are. While you’re “in there,” take the time to:

The work you do to improve your operations will pay for itself in the form of reduced expenses and faster turnaround times for years to come.

7. Creating a realistic schedule – and sticking to it

All rebrands (even the “fast” ones) take time. In fact, depending on the details, they can take anywhere from six months to several years to pull off! The rebrand you’re planning in 2021 may not see the light of day until 2022 — and that’s okay. Even some of the best rebrand implementations rely on the 80/20 rule of converting 20% of the assets that realize 80% of the impact. If you push for an overly aggressive schedule, you’re much more likely to make mistakes and miss deadlines. Set realistic expectations for each phase of your rebranding project plan, then keep your team on task so you can keep the project on track.

Rebranding is never easy. And in 2021, you can expect some additional challenges. However, by learning the keys to a successful rebrand, you can navigate your rebrand with less strain on the organization while achieving significantly better outcomes.