Rebranding after a reputational crisis: expert advice on how to get it right

Rebranding after a reputational crisis: expert advice on how to get it right


Philip Guiliano

Every crisis has the potential to transform an organization. But when it comes to a reputational crisis, transformation in the form of a rebrand may be the only way to achieve that other, more important transformation: a renewal of consumer trust and a repaired reputation.

Rebrands resulting from an evolved business model or a new acquisition often have the luxury of moving at a more gradual pace. Not so with a reputation-driven rebrand. You need to move fast, but you also shouldn’t rush. Smart strategy, precision planning, and expedient execution are all a must.

Here’s what to keep in mind to successfully manage the delicate balance of rebranding after a reputational crisis.

Your reputational rebrand begins with a change of heart

When faced with a reputational crisis, it can be tempting to rush into rebranding mode. After all, the situation is urgent, and you want to right the ship as quickly as possible.

But the first step toward a successful rebrand in these challenging circumstances is to first meaningfully address the wrongs that resulted in your reputational woes under the auspices of your existing brand. You and your executive team should only embark on a rebrand after any missteps have been identified and you’ve developed a plan to course correct. Without a real shift in your company’s culture, values, and modus operandi, your rebrand may fall short of your goal to regain stakeholder trust. In fact, a rebrand could even become a crisis situation of its own if there is any hint that you are simply putting a Band-Aid on a wound that actually requires full reconstructive surgery.

Put simply, the market’s last memory of your legacy brand should be of the measures you took to repair the damage.

To that end, be transparent about your efforts to reconstruct your reputation, both internally and externally. For instance, if you’ve hired a quality assurance leader to address product deficiencies, share what steps that person is taking to remediate issues. If you have changed processes and procedures, communicate what you’ve implemented. It’s not yet time to reveal your executive team’s ultimate vision for the future of your company. But by demonstrating that you have taken tangible steps to address what led to the crisis, you will set up your eventual rebranding launch for success.

Meanwhile, start thinking carefully about where you want your new brand to take you. The answer should be more than simply leaving your past reputation issues behind. Ask yourself: Is your crisis propelling you toward innovation? Are you acquiring assets or partnerships in order to reposition? Do you have a new product or service line that can re-establish you as a leader in your industry?

Whatever your plans, it’s paramount that your leadership team and employees are fully aligned around your new direction before you introduce your reimagined brand and new brand experiences to the market.

Communication is key to re-establishing trust

Now that you have a brand direction, it’s time to move forward to bring it to life. As you progress down the path toward creating your new brand and setting your rebrand launch date, plan to communicate robustly both internally and externally all along the way, from early days of rebrand planning through the launch and activation of the new brand.

Internally, be sure your communication plan around the rebrand goes deep, not just wide. It’s not enough to have one top-down brand training that outlines the changes you’re making. Rather, implement a strategic communication plan that extends into each department. Companies are made up of people. Make sure all of your employees understand their unique role in bringing your rebrand to life.

Externally, you’ll want to address each of your various stakeholder groups, including existing customers, the media, and analysts. Help them understand what your new brand really means — and be sure to tie it to your updated offerings and brand experience so stakeholders can see that your brand change is more than skin-deep.

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Assemble a focused team to create and execute a rock-solid rebranding plan

Now that you have done the important work of determining your strategic direction and beginning to communicate with stakeholders, it’s time to move quickly to implement your rebrand. Given the circumstances and the need for a speedy turnaround, it is more crucial than ever to appoint a high-performing, dedicated, and capable team to craft and carry out your rebranding plan. After all, there is a lot of pressure that accompanies any rebranding implementation. But in a crisis situation? The expectations are dialed up even further.

Your rebranding implementation team will need to consider a number of key variables on a short timeline in order to develop a workable plan. Whereas a typical rebranding timeline may span years, your emergency plan may need to be executed in a few short months. Therefore, your plan will need to address the financial and operational implications of your rebrand within the context of a truncated timeline for completion. You may find your internal team needs the support of external partners to help them navigate this uncharted territory.

Invest in a robust rebranding budget

Unlike a traditional rebrand, in which you may be able to save money by taking advantage of naturally occurring operational replacement cycles, your crisis rebranding strategy must be streamlined and quick to market.

Within six months of launch, you should plan to replace the majority of your branded assets (think 80%) in order to achieve the full benefit of your rebrand. Unfortunately, that means your budget likely can’t be funded across multiple fiscal cycles. So be sure you allocate ample funding from the get-go.

When building your budget, factor in everything from replacing branded assets and overhauling your website to training employees on your new culture. It won’t be cheap, but it will be worth it.

Replace — and reimagine — your branded assets

In order to effectively implement a rebrand across all branded assets, be sure to take a complete inventory of all the elements your brand touches. When rebranding as a result of a reputational crisis, you’ll need to be thorough. Your goal is to completely scrub your legacy brand from your new identity to minimize confusion and to build the value of the new brand.

In that vein, it’s not enough to redesign your logo and select new brand colors. You’ll want to create a new brand experience that reflects the changes you’ve made. You’ll likely need to dig a little deeper and address the subtle nuances that still carry echoes of your old, familiar brand.

That extends to the materials and construction of your branded assets. For example, if your legacy brand contains proprietary design elements such as shapes and textures, you’ll want to rework those details, as well. If you put your new logo on signage with a distinctive legacy shape, your new assets may continue to unintentionally evoke your retired brand.

It’s time! Launching your new brand

In many rebranding scenarios, companies rebrand because they have changed and evolved over time. Therefore, the launch of their new brand feels like another building block on an already-firm foundation. But when it comes to a crisis-driven rebranding launch, it’s essential to achieve a clean break from your legacy brand.

Now that you have transformed your company culture, envisioned a new brand identity, and laid out a clear plan of action, it’s time to launch your new brand with a bang. Go all out. Invite the media. Tell a compelling story and ask your stakeholders to believe in you again. Do all you can to make a splash with your new brand. Because by now? You’ve earned it.