The top 4 rebrand strategy pitfalls — and how to avoid them

The top 4 rebrand strategy pitfalls — and how to avoid them


Vladimir Kacar

Rebranding entails a high level of investment. In fact, most companies find they must commit a year or more and a substantial budget to fully effect brand change. Because of that, no organization makes the decision to rebrand lightly. Whatever the underlying reason (M&A, repositioning, or other growth strategies), companies ultimately choose to rebrand only when they have a strong business case that suggests the ROI will be worth it.

A lot rides on the success of any rebrand. Unfortunately, though, some rebrands ultimately succumb to pitfalls and fail to live up to expectations.

A reflexive reaction may be to point a finger at the creative and/or the brand strategy. And sometimes, the brand identity work may not resonate in the marketplace as expected. But think about what Thomas Edison famously said: “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” And that’s certainly the truth for rebrands: failure of execution is often the culprit.

Some rebrands fall short because they fail to present a unified brand experience, thus depleting brand equity. Others fail less publicly, in the form of blown budgets, project fatigue, and a lack of internal buy-in to the new brand. In all cases, rebrand failures have deleterious effects.

The most common forms of rebrand strategy failure

  •    Brand conversion is inconsistent, incomplete, or untimely. 

Sometimes it just takes an organization too long to transition the brand. Sometimes this is due to a lack of focus. But when it takes an organization too long to fully transition branded assets, the result is brand fragmentation and customer confusion. The same is true when an organization doesn’t optimize the sequence of branded asset conversion, or when branded assets express the new branding without enough consistency. If a rebrand’s primary goal is to expand market share or boost brand equity, the transition needs to be completed well and in a timely manner, or the rebranding will fail to produce the intended results.

  •    The rebrand goes over budget. 

Successful rebranding implementation requires careful strategizing, planning, and project oversight. A lack of foresight or control  can result in a project that goes way over budget. Of course, that’s a failure in and of itself. But it also puts the expected return on a firm’s rebranding investment in jeopardy.

Rebranding budget checklist - 7 steps for marketing leaders

Whether you’re rebranding a multi-billion-dollar enterprise or a mid-sized business, implementing your new brand requires a substantial budget and focused effort. Download a cheat sheet of the essential steps.

Download now
  •    Internal confusion and disengagement. 

Some rebrands that should be considered failures manage to limp across the finish line without much undue external or budgetary harm. But if the process of getting there was overly disorganized and chaotic, then the rebrand is a failure of a different sort. The result will almost certainly be project fatigue, depressed morale, and a lack of employee buy-in around the new brand. Additionally, if your organization fails to manage a project as large as rebranding well, your staff will lose trust in your firm’s ability to take on bigger initiatives and achieve larger goals.

The top four reasons rebrands fail — and how to avoid them

1.  Not setting a high-level rebrand implementation strategy and/or allocating  the right level of investment.

2.  Not building a thorough enough rebrand implementation plan.

3.  Not creating a centralized rebranding structure.

4.  Not optimizing internal and external roles and responsibilities.

There are many reasons that rebrands are not successful.  Following are the top four reasons rebrands fail — and what you can do to ensure that you set your rebrand up for success.

1.  Not setting a high-level rebrand implementation strategy and/or allocating  the right level of investment.

During the discovery phase of your rebranding project, your leadership team must agree on a high-level rebrand implementation strategy and peg it to a target timeline and budget. But if that’s all they do, then the seeds for failure will have been sown. What happens right after that is critical. Where will the money for the rebrand live? Will the entire budget be put in a special cost center from which your entire team can draw? Will it be pulled from separate departmental accounts and somehow reconciled? If you don’t clearly answer those questions, your organization will lose precious time scrambling to figure out the goals of the rebrand and how to go about executing it. 

 Do this instead: Work with your internal team, your brand strategy agency, and BrandActive to put together a set of guiding principles to ground the implementation strategy. These guiding principles describe the goals of your rebrand and how it will be structured. It should cover why you are rebranding, how long you expect it to take, what the rebrand will cost, your goals regarding the quality of branded assets, and how the project will be financed. These principles should be  shared internally to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Some examples of guiding principles we have used with our clients are “We will launch with impact, in a way that’s fit for purpose and rooted in our culture” and “We’ll look to simplify and remove obsolete items.”

2.  Not building a thorough enough rebrand implementation plan.

A rebrand implementation plan that is light on details is a sure recipe for failure.

Do this instead: Your rebrand implementation plan must be both detailed and nimble. It should include the various lead times to manufacture all branded assets, any legal or regulatory requirements, roles and responsibilities, and other details. When putting together your plan, don’t forget to account for the time it will take for your branding agency to complete the initial creative. That includes internal executive approvals for the new logo and branding materials. You can’t do much actual implementation before the agency’s work is complete—but you can certainly work on the plan. Having a solid framework ready is a lifesaver when it takes longer to get to an approved brand identity than you anticipated, leaving less time in the schedule for implementation.

3.  Not creating a centralized rebranding structure.

All organizations must work in concert to execute a rebrand. But decentralized organizations face an inherently bigger challenge due to their existing organizational structure. If you try to execute your rebrand in a decentralized fashion, the end result is likely to be loosely controlled chaos.

Do this instead: You must start by establishing a centralized project structure to manage your rebrand. This will  mean bringing together cross-functional groups in planning to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

4.  Not optimizing internal and external roles and responsibilities.

If you don’t assign the right people to the right tasks, you will almost certainly set your rebrand up for failure. For example, junior staffers don’t always have the expertise to make the right decisions. But if you go far up the organizational ladder, you may find that upper managers don’t have the time to devote to individual rebranding tasks within larger workstreams. The result? Poor decisions and unnecessary bottlenecks. Choosing the wrong vendors for the job is equally dangerous and could cost you  time, money, and quality.

Do this instead: In order to assign the right people (and vendors) to the right tasks, you must understand the level of expertise required to make individual decisions as well as the most frequent dependencies and time requirements. In addition, you must take the time to carefully vet each potential vendor in order to hire the best-fit providers.

The prospect of a failed rebrand is sobering. But by understanding the risks, you can plan accordingly and  avoid making the most common mistakes.