Rebranding in turbulent times: Stories from frontline marketers across key industries

Rebranding in turbulent times: Stories from frontline marketers across key industries


Eniana Vrenozaj, Robert Sokoloff, Kavya Paul, Ade Ajibola

Like just about everything in 2020, the world of rebranding underwent major changes over the past year. And as the new year dawns, many pandemic-driven challenges remain. In fact, it’s fair to say that marketers planning a rebrand now find themselves operating in a difficult reality — one marked by tight budgets, unpredictable timelines, a shifting vendor landscape, and the need to collaborate remotely.

As brand implementation experts, we’ve been guiding clients through major rebrands for decades. We know from experience that rebrands always require a careful balance of thorough planning and flexibility. But in 2020, our clients faced a hearty dose of uncertainty and a host of new obstacles. In order to seamlessly execute their rebrands, organizations needed to plan for a much larger set of unknowns — and adjust on the fly as the ground moved beneath them.

The good news? Most organizations we work with succeeded in doing just that. The following rebranding stories show how our clients successfully navigated some of the top COVID-19-related rebranding challenges while ensuring a consistent brand.

Navigating shifting timelines and budgets during a rebrand

Marketers spend a great deal of energy and effort exploring various rebranding scenarios and defining the right budget and timeline in advance of a rebrand. But in 2020, COVID-19 upended many marketers’ carefully thought-out plans. That was true for our clients whether they worked in a frontline field (like healthcare) or were simply exposed to the general turbulence wrought by the pandemic.

For example, we worked with one electronics firm that was preparing to launch a new brand in the spring of 2020 — right as the pandemic began to spread in the U.S. Suddenly, their team was more consumed with the details of transitioning to remote work than transitioning to their new identity. Not only that, but several of their staff actually came down with COVID, disrupting normal operations.

We worked with this organization to proactively adjust their rebranding plan and identify a new realistic launch date in the fall. Ultimately, pushing out their rebranding timeline was much simpler thanks to a well-structured rebranding program.

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Some organizations took longer than expected to rebrand as a result of the pandemic. But some actually moved faster. For example, we worked with one major pharmaceutical company to execute a rebrand at a much faster-than-usual clip. In order to make a shorter runway achievable, we carefully prioritized activities in order of impact. We also leveraged a few provisional stopgaps, including temporary signage, to facilitate a faster launch.

Many of our clients found themselves facing reduced rebranding budgets forcing them to make strategic choices about how best to leverage their remaining funds. Not surprisingly, physical touchpoints — think trade show displays and business cards — were less relevant in the short term and could be easily deprioritized. Most digital touchpoints, on the other hand, became critical and the became the beneficiary of the available funding.

Managing rebranding optics in impacted industries

The pandemic forced companies of all kinds to re-evaluate and reprioritize their objectives, including rebrands. But that was particularly critical for “frontline” industries. Healthcare organizations, in particular, needed to think carefully about whether (and how) to rebrand in 2020. Those that decided to proceed knew they had to strike the right tone.

One of the healthcare organizations we worked with already had a rebrand in the works prior to the pandemic. After much deliberation, they decided to continue as planned. However, we worked with them to adjust their rebranding rollout plan to focus primarily on the exterior components of hospital campuses (such as signage and wayfinding). Doing so allowed us to implement the rebrand in a way that made an impact while protecting the safety of hospital staff and avoiding disruption of operations at a critical time.

Another healthcare organization we partnered with handled their rebrand during COVID another way. They leveraged the launch of their new brand with a campaign emphasizing safety protocols and used it as a way to invite patients back into their health system.

The challenges of “remote” rebrands

Remote collaboration was a new challenge for many organizations in 2020 — one that could be especially troublesome in the context of rebranding projects. After all, rebrands are inherently cross-functional efforts that touch many aspects of where your brand lives. On top of that, many of the usual planning activities, such as site visits and prototype reviews, benefit from in-person, on-site interactions.

We led our clients in establishing new protocols for remote collaboration. For example, we used a combination of virtual prototype reviews and physical samples to facilitate the prototyping process from afar. In doing so, we made it possible for our clients to make informed decisions about major branded asset categories, like signage and fleet, from the safety of a remote environment.

Engaging employees — remotely

Building employee engagement for a rebrand while working remotely also comes with a unique set of challenges. Unfortunately, the pandemic threw a monkey wrench in many organizations’ internal rebranding activities. In-person kick-offs and events were off the table. It was time to get creative.

One healthcare organization we partnered with had been working hard on a big, in-person launch event to celebrate their new brand and build employee commitment to the new direction. Instead, they used the rebrand as a way to reinforce their commitment to their employees’ wellbeing and mental health at a time when everyone was stretched thin.

Proactively managing supply chain and vendor disruptions

As the pandemic spread around the globe in 2020, “business as usual” immediately became a thing of the past for most companies. For those in the midst of a rebrand, that meant turbulence in carefully managed supply chains and the vendor ecosystem. In this context, proactive contingency planning was even more critical than usual.

In our work with one financial services organization, we responded to an anticipated supply chain disruption by value-engineering our client’s signage to avoid the impacted materials altogether. For example, we foresaw a shortage in some acrylic and LED products. This allowed us to identify alternative components that we knew would be readily available and a good fit, keeping the project on schedule and within budget. At the same time, to protect against increased vendor instability, we adapted a multi-vendor strategy thereby mitigating the risk of disruption by spreading orders among a larger pool of vendors. While this expanded the procurement and coordination requirements, the increased certainty of being able to meet project timelines was deemed to be worth the effort.

Rebranding in the midst of a pandemic isn’t for the faint of heart. But with the right strategy and comprehensive planning (and the experienced experts to guide you) it’s possible to smoothly transition to your new brand. Interested in learning more about how BrandActive can help your organization achieve its rebrand objectives?  Let’s talk.