How to rebrand without sinking the ship 2022


This article is part of DBA, a new series on about running a business that features insights from leaders in entrepreneurship, venture capital and management.

I've been an entrepreneur since 1998, when I bootstrapped my first company and ran it out of my own home. Seventeen years later, that company is still alive and thriving, with hundreds of employees on multiple continents.

In fact, we just went through a rebrand. It's an exciting time over here, and it's been a wild ride to get to this point. When we released our first custom-built technology solution in 2012, we realized that the services company we had built over the previous decade-plus would need a new identity that better captured our vision for the future of both our company and our industry.

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While going through the process, it occurred to me that plenty of companies have to rebrand at some point or another, for reasons that vary from accidental copyright infringement to major shifts in the market or their business model.

It's important to understand that a rebrand can have a major positive impact, so it's worth taking the process seriously and getting as much out of it as you can. Here's what I've learned during this process about how to rebrand your company without sinking the ship.

1. Do it for the right reasons

A rebrand is not something to be taken lightly.You should only do it if you have a very good reason. So what constitutes a good reason to change your name or your brand's aesthetic?

Sometimes external reasons out of your control leave no choice but to change things up. You may need to do it because of an event or trend that is external to your organization. But most of the times companies rebrand, it's more about changing the market's perceptions of the company for a good reason. For us it was all about choosing a name that better conveyed our vision for the future of the industry — a name that showcased the exciting changes happening in payments and the role technology can play in helping businesses gain a competitive advantage.

A rebrand is a big step, so make sure that your reasons are solid before moving forward.

2. Understand your brand equity

Image: Flickr, Cas

Before you make the leap from your current brand to a new identity, you need to undergo a very thorough research process. The goal? To fully understand how others feel about your brand. This includes internal stakeholders (a.k.a. your employees) and external ones — ranging from investors to customers to the general public. To do this research, investigate:

Brand recognition

Qualities associated with your brand

Sentiments toward your brand name and your company

The impact of colors, imagery, etc.

We spent a good amount of time talking to employees, partners, customers and beyond to try to understand what our old brand meant to them and what kind of equity it carried. Through analysis we came to the (happy) conclusion that our values — things like trust and ease of doing business — were in-line with the way customers and partners perceived us. These brand associations were and continue to be important to our business, so before rebranding we carefully contemplated the pros and cons of changing our name.

3. Think beyond your name

As we went through the process of building our own technology solution for the first time, we began to realize that the name I had given to our company back in 1998 just didn't capture our vision for the future anymore. It was time to hit refresh.

I'm really proud of the brand equity we've built over the past 17 years. But ultimately, we discovered that our company's positive reputation is connected to far more than our brand name and aesthetics.

The qualities that customers and partners associate with us were earned through our actions and through our amazing, hard-working employees. None of this will change with a new name; we'll still be over here working hard to delight our customers, and the foundation our brand was built on isn't going anywhere.

By the end of our rebranding research, we felt strongly that our customers and partners would continue to perceive us just as positively after the identity change. Hopefully, even better!

If you come to a point where you decide to rebrand your company, it's very important to continue to emphasize the positive aspects of your brand going forward so that people will associate them with your new identity.

4. Consider your culture

A rebrand can be tough for employees, especially if you don't clearly communicate to them why you are doing it and how it will affect them. On the other hand, if you clue them in as early as possible and solicit their feedback and opinions, a rebrand can actually be a great opportunity to make people feel like they have a real stake in your company. Rebrands also can help bring together veteran employees and newer ones by aligning their perspectives and blurring the lines between them.

Never underestimate the importance of clearly and positively communicating the new identity to your employees and showing how it will benefit them. Rebranding, when done right, can help the whole company rally around an exciting future, while still staying true to the company's foundation and core values. It gives everyone a fresh company description to be proud of too.

When done well, outside perceptions of your company will benefit. Rebranding tends to give a much-needed boost to external branding and bring in not only more candidates, but the right ones. For example, our previous name included the word “warehouse,” and it wasn't entirely uncommon for people to apply to be forklift operators for that reason. Unfortunately, as a payments company, we don't hire forklift operators.

5. Bring it to life

Image: Flickr, Ludovic Hirlimann

If you have offices spread over many cities or countries, a rebrand can help shorten the distance and build a cohesive culture. Here are three steps you can take to bring your new identity to life:

Shorten the distance between offices: For example, we overnighted swag to employees working outside of Boston so everyone would receive their T-shirts, brand guides and water bottles on the same day.

Get people involved: Encourage everyone to voice their opinions. Get their thoughts on a new look and feel for the company newsletter or encourage contributions for fresh blog content. You can even stage contests encouraging employees to name new office tools to fit with your brand.

Coordinate decor: Another way to promote cross-office communication is to coordinate decor across each location so the home base isn't the only space getting a makeover. The success of a rebrand is truly in the details — right down to the paint on the wall.

As for the actual name or identity change, it's a good idea to work with an outside agency that can help you conduct the upfront research on brand perceptions and establish a clearly defined brand target, brand promise and brand personality. They can also help you objectively select a new name and/or brand aesthetic that will hold the right connotations and help you achieve your business's goals.

We chose a name that is an empty vessel, one that doesn't already have an associated meaning, especially in our space. Whether you go that direction or select words that you will give new meaning to, it's important to make your brand your own. You want to use the rebrand to build positive momentum while steering the company in a fresh direction that you, your employees and your customers can all be proud of.

Have you ever considered rebranding your company? Tell us in the comments.

Henry Helgeson

Henry Helgeson is the CEO and co-founder of Cayan, the leading provider of payment technologies that give businesses a competitive advantage. Follow him on Twitter, @hhelgeson...More