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The OCR Glossary


Laurent Muzellec

Rebranding is the marketing practice of launching a new name, term, symbol, design, or combination thereof for an established brand with the intention of developing a new, differentiated position in the minds of the company’s stakeholders. Rebranding purposes and means can therefore vary. The purpose is to signal to the stakeholders that something about the company has changed, as the prefix re implies a change between an initially formulated corporate brand and a new formulation. While a slight modification in the marketing aesthetics may be called rebranding, the terminology usually implies a more radical change in the positioning and marketing aesthetics, symbolized by a change of name. For the latter, rebranding carries a high level of reputational risk. The next sections detail the rationale, challenges, and processes of corporate rebranding.

Rationale for Rebranding

The concept of branding is at the crossroads between identity (what the company is) and image (how the company is perceived). Not surprisingly, rebranding is therefore often triggered by a necessity to bridge a potential gap between identity and image. Consequently, rebranding may be driven by internal considerations or the external environment. A change in ownership is overwhelmingly the number one driver for rebranding. This includes mergers and acquisitions, spin-offs and demergers, or going from private to public ownership. In this instance, it is often presented as a tactical necessity following a decision of a nonmarketing nature. Another major driver of corporate rebranding is to signify a shift in the overall corporate strategy, such as diversification or divestment, and internationalization or localization. In these two instances, rebranding is the subsequent process used to signify to the external stakeholders that a change has taken place internally—that is, a change in ownership and/or strategic reorientation. Sometimes, corporate rebranding is driven by external factors such as an outdated image, a reputational crisis, or degradation of the competitive position. Changing the brand name and/or the marketing aesthetics typically aims to reposition the company, occasionally to distance itself from negative connotations of the previous branding or to move the brand upmarket. In these instances, there may not be any specific event that triggers the change, but the desire to shape a new image in the minds of key stakeholders is the primary driver. Another useful way to categorize these rebranding trigger factors is therefore to distinguish between proactive (e.g., proactively shaping a new image for the company) and reactive (e.g., engaging in corrective action to realign brand image to a new ownership structure and/or corporate strategy) factors.

Rebranding Challenges

At first sight, the practice of rebranding can be perceived to contradict the marketing and corporate reputation literature. If a change of name, more than any other marketing activity, presents the opportunity to project the company’s distinctiveness, renaming is also about damaging the basis of brand equity by eradicating an established corporate name. The main inconsistency therefore revolves around the idea that brand equity is encapsulated in a brand name that will be destroyed in the rebranding process. Brand equity is a set of assets (and sometimes liabilities) linked to a brand name and symbols. Since name awareness is a key component of brand equity, a rebranding involving a change of name could theoretically wipe out the positive mental images that the brand usually stimulates.

Time Frame.

Another difficulty inherent to rebranding pertains to the time frame. Newly created corporate brand names must not only take into consideration the heritage of the corporation but also should set a direction for the future and maybe create a sense of new departure, particularly following a reputation crisis or a merger. Related to this initial problem is the issue of the degree of change a name can support. Should continuity with the old name be favored or, on the contrary, should a totally new name be created signifying a clear break from the past?

Target Audience.

A new name must be noticed by external stakeholders but must not alienate the internal audience. Likewise, the values induced by the new name should not only reflect the actual identity of the corporation but also appeal to the marketplace. As a result, a corporate brand name has to be assigned the mission to inspire and to carry the set of values that define the corporation.

Rebranding Processes

According to Dale Miller, Bill Merrilees, and Raisa Yakimova, senior management’s commitment, experience, and leadership in driving the rebranding process are the major enablers of rebranding. For example, in the rebranding of Burberry, it was senior managers with experience in functions such as director of design who were critical to the repositioning of Burberry as a distinctive luxury fashion brand.

In addition, there are essentially two critical phases that enable the rebranding process to be successful. First, an audit of the current corporate brands needs to be conducted. Through quantitative or qualitative methods, the marketing department can develop a deep understanding of the perceptions of the brand by employees and senior management (i.e., the corporate brand identity) as well as by key external stakeholders (i.e., the corporate brand image). This phase allows for the identification of crucial gaps between image and identity as well as current versus ideal brand attributes. It will also enable the firm to make an informed decision on which revised brand attributes should be rolled out in the second phase. For example, a brand audit conducted by Enterprise IG for the Irish telecom services provider Telecom Eireann suggested the name of “Eircom,” which, contrary to the name “Telecom Eireann,” tested as being “flexible, lively, international and professional” (Muzellec & Lambkin, 2006, p. 814). Yet, while those were ideal brand attributes, they did not comprehensively reflect the corporate identity of the company, and as one employee explained, “Of course nothing had changed. One day we were Telecom Eireann, a bureaucratic company, the day after, we were eircom, a customer-oriented company, but really except for the paint on the wall, nothing had changed” (Muzellec & Lambkin, 2006, p. 816). This illustrates how critical it is to maintain some level of continuity with past brands in order to be successful in the implementation phase. One of the key success factors during this second phase is indeed the ability to get onboard key stakeholders, such as the employees in the case of a rebranding of two merged entities. The success of the rebranding will also be determined by the quality and exhaustiveness of the integrated marketing program. The rebranding of Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), Vodafone (formerly Eircell in Ireland), and HSBC (formerly British Midland in the United Kingdom) provides excellent illustrative examples where advertising, public relations, web design, and company livery were seamlessly integrated.

Gotsi, M., Andriopoulos, C., & Wilson, A. (2008). Corporate re-branding: Is cultural alignment the weakest link? Management Decision, 46, 46–57.

Hankinson, P., & Lomax, W. (2006). The effects of re-branding large UK charities on staff knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 11, 193–207.

Lambkin, M., & Muzellec, L. (2008). Rebranding in the banking industry following mergers and acquisitions. International Journal of Bank Marketing, 26, 328–352.

Lomax, W., & Mador, M. (2006). Corporate re-branding: From normative models to knowledge management. Journal of Brand Management, 14, 82–95.

Merrilees, B., & Miller, D. (2008). Principles of corporate rebranding. European Journal of Marketing, 42, 537–552.

Miller, D., Merrilees, B., & Yakimova, R. (2014). Corporate rebranding: An integrative review of major enablers and barriers to the rebranding process. International Journal of Management Reviews, 16(3), 265–289.

Muzellec, L., & Lambkin, M. (2006). Corporate rebranding: Destroying, transferring or creating brand equity? European Journal of Marketing, 40, 803–824.

See Also

Alignment Between Identity and Reputation; Audiences; Brand; Communication Management; Communication Strategy; Corporate History; Crisis; Familiarity; Integrated Marketing Communications; Legacy Organizational Identity; Management, Corporate Reputation; Marketing; Reputation Change; Reputation Continuity; Reputation Gaps; Research Methods in Corporate Reputation; Stakeholders; Value

See Also

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