Successful rebranded businesses talk about the changes they made

If your company image isn't right, it needs to be addressed before negative perceptions set firm. GrowthBusiness speaks to rebranded businesses about the changes they made.

In March, two global companies made significant branding decisions that may well influence their market position. Japanese carmaker Nissan resurrected its Datsun brand, saying its erstwhile reputation for value and reliability would help it in emerging markets. Meanwhile, Barclays ditched the name of its investment banking arm, Barclays Capital, in a move to align all of the bank under a single identity.

Of course, large corporates are constantly tinkering with satellite brands in an attempt to fine-tune their offering. But for smaller operators, a total revamp is often the chosen route to re-emphasise or readjust core values.

UK invoice and asset-based lender Venture Finance has been owned by Dutch bank ABN AMRO for 20 years, but in February this year decided to officially rebrand as ABN AMRO Commercial Finance.

The company’s head of marketing, Gary Hurry, says, ‘Despite being a part of a large bank for so long, [Venture Finance] had always traded as an independent business. But during the past three years we’ve become much closer to our parent company, both in terms of a shared philosophy and also through the fact that ABN AMRO had started to provide more business opportunities for us.’

The time was right for a rebrand that would recognise the parent company. ‘You can only punch above your weight for so long and now, being more clearly aligned with an internationally renowned banking group, we can take that next leap on.’

Considering how customers are likely to perceive a rebrand is of paramount importance. Hurry says, ‘We were very keen to stress to our existing clients that it’s business as usual – we have the same people, the same systems and the same services.’

Overall, the company spent some £200,000 on the repositioning. Half of this was on the physical elements of signage, stationery, marketing collateral and website, and half went on the launch campaign. ‘To do it properly, it can be bloody expensive, and it’s not something to be done on a whim,’ says Hurry. ‘There’s a lot of detail to take care of, and a comprehensive project plan is needed to make sure that all the little things are picked up.’

Who are you?

While Venture Finance has gained extra visibility from the prominence of its parent company, other businesses simply need to shout louder – and more clearly – to get themselves noticed.

Recruitment company Staffgroup formerly lacked a marketing department and suffered from a confusing image. Marketing manager Glenn Southam was taken on to reposition the business. ‘Part of my interview for the job was about the changes I would make to things like logos and brand values, while retaining the heritage of the name,’ he says.

Once on board, Southam had meetings with a design agency, discussing colour schemes, typography, letterheads and how the core message could be conveyed better across different media. ‘We were also going through a process whereby we were introducing three new websites, and all of them had to be distinct without confusing the brand.’

The resulting change was a segregation into three brands focusing on energy, finance and technology recruitment under the umbrella of parent company Staffgroup, with staff allocated to each brand rather than everyone working on all sectors.

Once the design changes were put in place, it was important to convince all staff of the merits of a brand revamp, so that the new values could permeate throughout the organisation. Southam says this was the biggest single change that some long-standing staff members had experienced. ‘Sometimes employees are set in their working ways, so convincing them that a new outlook will take it to the next level has been a challenge. However, we’ve succeeded in getting people talking about the rebrand and participating in social networking to boost its profile.’

Since the rebrand, Staffgroup has been listed as the fifth-best company to work for in a Sunday Times list. Says Southam, ‘Part of the criteria for being listed for the award is having a clear knowledge of what your company stands for – a brand mission. Winning this ranking shows that we have turned a corner there.’

The wrong impression

When Warren Bennett started up online tailoring company A Suit That Fits in 2006, the self-confessed tech geek created a utilitarian logo that reflected a technological approach to tailoring. However, as head of marketing Christina Richardson says, over the next couple of years the company started to learn more about its customers. ‘We discovered that our clients like to feel that they are stepping back into a bygone era of bespoke tailoring when people were given a very personal service,’ she says. ‘However, our logo, while impactful, wasn’t communicating anything about our high level of craftsmanship.’

The emblem of the new brand became a gold pin, a tailor trademark that was to be embroidered inside suits and displayed on delivery vans, packaging and across the website.

Even the company business cards featured a fabric sample to make a striking impression on those receiving one. ‘We’re proud to show people these beautiful business cards, and touches like this have, in turn, made our people proud of being part of the company,’ says Richardson.

She also explains that the business turnover is up by 23 per cent for the year following the rebrand, from £2 million before the change. ‘It’s not solely the branding that has contributed to our growth, but as a branding expert I do not believe we could be where we are now without the image overhaul.’

A brighter future

Another company for which a rebrand has had an impact on turnover is food manufacturer Alara Wholefoods. Founder Alex Smith worked with the Design Council in an effort to make his muesli product stand out more on the supermarket shelf. The result was a new logo based on a sun motif, and brighter colours on both the packaging and the website.

‘Prior to our rebrand in 2010 our muesli was doing £800,000 in sales, but afterwards for 2011 we did close to £1 million,’ says Smith. ‘We’re working in a sector where organic sales have been decreasing by about 12 per cent over the past three years, so it goes to show how effective a rebrand can be.’

David Thorp, director of research and professional development at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, says that a company’s brand can be its single most valuable asset, and it needs to be consistent at every point at which the customer interacts with the business. ‘If your corporate literature, customer brochure, call centre and HR director are all saying different things about what your business is, the brand may need a refresh to coordinate each department’s output,’ he adds.

Related: Building a brand: Hotel Chocolat

A brand revamp need not cost the earth, though, adds Thorp: ‘A brand can be revitalised without a complete overhaul by simply ensuring that the look, language and messaging of the business’s channels are all aligned.’ 

Lessons from the big rebrands

A brand is a company’s personality. It comprises a promise to customers, a way of working, a visual identity, brand name and logo. Companies may rebrand for a number of reasons, and it’s a decision that can make or break a business. Hana Ballard, CEO of The Bridge Marketing, takes a look at what growing businesses can learn from the rebranding successes and failures of the big players.

Two rebranded business triumphs

  • In 1978, Blue Ribbon Sport rebranded to Nike – after the ancient Greek goddess of victory. The punchy name and ‘Just do it’ slogan, combined with the clean, crisp ‘swoosh’ logo, successfully communicated their bold, active, can-do personality to their target market, becoming a mantra for an entire generation.
    TIP: As a good friend once said: ‘Clean up, calm down and concentrate.’ Be clear on what you stand for, and communicate it confidently and consistently to your customers.
  • TV channel UKTVG2 was suffering from uninspiring ratings and a lack of audience awareness but couldn’t afford to add any new programmes. Luckily, people liked the shows but just couldn’t remember which channel they were on. So, in 2007 UKTVG2 rebranded to a more recognisable, easy-to-remember name: Dave, because everyone knows someone called Dave. Within a month Dave increased its audience share by 35 per cent; in three months it attracted an extra eight million viewers; and in six months it delivered £4.5 million in profit.
    TIP: Remove barriers to sale. Listen to your customers and give them what they want. Make sure that all aspects of your brand accurately reflect your corporate personality.

Two rebranded business disasters

  • In 2001, the Post Office wanted a name that covered all three of the services it offered – post offices, Parcelforce and Royal Mail. They decided to jettison the established legacy built up since 1514 and go for ‘Consignia’. It was badly publicised, and people didn’t like it, understand it or remember it. In 2002, they sheepishly reverted to the Post Office.
    TIP: If it’s not broken don’t fix it. If you do change it, make sure it achieves the objective before you launch it.
  • At the end of 2010, Gap quietly released a new logo on its website. Social media, the open forum where brands and customers can interact freely, was the stage of a public outcry, as the new design was criticised for being uninspiring and insipid. Gap panicked and made things worse by asking customers for alternative logo suggestions – an empty gesture that was undermined when the old logo reappeared within a week. As a result, the clothing chain appeared weak, insecure and reactionary.
    TIP: If you’re not confident in your new brand, it’s not good enough to release. Don’t waste a good brand on poor delivery.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of and from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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