How To Tell If Your Rebranding Is A House Of Cards

When it comes to rebranding, its easy to get caught up in the visualization and forget the foundational elements required to build an enduring success. Here's how two companies did it right—and the 13 telltale signs that your rebranding is nothing more than ephemera.

As it turns out, even houses of cards are no longer the simple, flimsy structures you and I built when we were kids. Oh no—they are now fodder for Guinness and its eponymous book of records. Just two years ago, Bryan Berg architected the world’s largest “house” using 218,292 playing cards; Berg was already the record-holder for the world’s tallest house of cards at a staggering 25 feet.

But irony and relevance await: for Berg to prove he used no glue or tape, he had to blow down his super structure shortly after its creation—44 days of labor dashed by a blow dryer in mere seconds. And a similar fate could befall branding initiatives that don’t hold up to scrutiny, let alone the winds of change.

Unless, of course, you're a senior marketer like Wendy Newman or Lisa Fawcett, who rebuilt their respective brands, AMN Healthcare and CooperVision, from the ground up. The two offered these 13 telltale signs that your new brand is, in fact, a house of cards.

1. Our rebranding started and ended with a new logo
Though a new logo is often perceived as the most important card in the branding deck, sophisticated marketers place it behind values, purpose, and brand voice. Confirms Fawcett, VP of global marketing for CooperVision, the billion-dollar maker of contact lenses, “A brand is a whole lot more than your visual expression of it.”

2. The whole rebranding process was a snap
Even if your deck is loaded with great data, rebranding is not a quick game of Go Fish. Instead, marketers often need to do extensive and time-consuming research among employees, prospects, customers, analysts, and other stakeholders. "It was critically important that we took the time to develop and test our branding strategy—the process got very complex and took us about a year to complete," says Newman, SVP of marketing for AMN Healthcare, the largest health care staffing and workforce solutions company.

3. We did the whole thing in-house to save money
Trying to do a rebranding project in-house is simply a bad bet. Newman explained that to bring fresh perspectives and best practices into the project, she worked with “several outside partners” on the strategy, brand architecture, and research design. Fawcett also looked outside her organization, sticking with branding firm Siegel+Gale from start to finish.

4. Your executives stayed out of the process
Playing solitaire is fine in a pinch but not a great approach to a new branding program, especially if your company is large and/or global. Coaches Newman, whose rebranding initiative involved multiple subsidiaries, “Executive support and buy-in is critical on such a transformational undertaking. The team may not always agree, but keeping the shared vision in mind, profound progress is ultimately achieved.”

5. Everyone on the branding committee has an equal vote
Just as poker requires a dealer who picks the game, so too must a rebranding project defer to an ultimate “decider.” Both Fawcett and Newman had steering committees with executives from different departments that met regularly during the process. But, as Fawcett explains, “you do need a couple of core decision makers that finally say, 'Okay, I’ve heard everyone, and now here’s where we’re going.'"

6. The more brand values you have, the better
Texas Hold 'em owes its popularity in part to the fact that ultimately only a player’s five best cards matter. Marketers, too, are wise to be able to count their new brand values on one hand, increasing the likelihood that employees will be able to remember them and act accordingly. Newman’s process revealed “five core values” for AMN Healthcare, while Fawcett whittled CooperVision’s down to just four.

7. Your new values are empty words
Bluffing is fine for poker, but not branding, where shallow and vague values are losing hands. CooperVision’s four values—“dedicated, inventive, partners, and friendly”—have become welcome “guiderails” for employee decision-making, and they even have been incorporated into the evaluation process. In this way, explains Fawcett, “employees know these are behaviors we value at the organization.”

8. Your stated “purpose” has no real purpose
Lots of gamblers play for the “entertainment” value and leave the table empty-handed. Without a meaningful purpose, brands, too, will fold. Fawcett summarizes, “Our purpose is the difference that we try to make in the world—we help improve the way people see each day.” In applying that philosophy to more than just their products, CooperVision’s purpose also explains “why we come to work each day.”

9. Your new brand proposition is as complex as the process you went through
The enduring popularity of blackjack is due to its simplicity—assuming you know how to count to 21. Great brands are equally easy to understand, yet getting to “simple is hard,” Newman remarks. “Because we did this in a very concerted way and a very disciplined way, we got to something you could describe in two seconds: inspiring connections.”

10. Your employees aren’t excited about the new brand
Poker faces are a must in Vegas but don’t cut it as employee reactions to a new branding initiative. After creating a “brand book” for employees that they could also share with their customers, Newman reports, “they started feeling an acute sense of pride and ownership in the work they did for AMN—it was pretty amazing!”

11. Your rebranding efforts don’t impact the company culture
Going “all in” is the make-or-break moment in poker. With branding, “all in” means that everyone in the organization will live and breathe the new brand. “I hear feedback constantly from all different functions that they use [our values and promise] to help guide their meetings, decisions, and responses, whether they’re internal or external,” says Fawcett.

12. Your new brand isn’t all that different from your competition
While poker players try to hide their unique “tell,” brands need to do the opposite and put forth a distinctive and differentiating identity. For CooperVision, this meant first defining their promise, purpose, values, and voice before designing a new logo and packaging. Says Fawcett, “We were able to find white space that was credible and relevant…with a breakaway look from all our competitors.”

13. You haven’t figured out how to measure its impact
There’s nothing like stacking the deck to ensure a successful outcome. For branding, this means going through a process that involves the key internal and external stakeholders from start to finish. Once implemented, a program’s success can be measured via brand equity surveys for the external target and, just as important, via internal adoption of brand values. "Because our brand values are more clearly defined, the entire organization can deliver upon these values every day," says Newman.

Final Deal
So, I’m grateful for the hand I was dealt by The CMO Club, which gave me a chance to interview marketing aces like Newman and Fawcett at length. You can find my extended interviews with both now on TheDrewBlog.com.

[Image: Flickr user Shenamt]

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5 Comments

  • Pull Brand Innovation

    For many organizations "branding is decoration" and it stops there. True enough visual associations are important and not to be underestimated, but "living the brand" is a completely different matter. Brand voice is the talk, brand experience is the walk... this is extremely difficult for many organizations to master... www.pullinc.com

  • Parissa Behnia

    I would add another: you haven't figured out how to make the new brand promise follow through on its proof points.  If you've not figured out how the customer experience reflects the new brand, you're not even half done with your owrk.

  • Stephen Stanley

    This is the first time I've heard the horrible verb "branding" used in a useful way.  Bravo!

  • Addison Whitney

    Rebranding is a difficult process that requires step by step consideration from start to finish. Logo branding in particular can be difficult because people associate your brand with an image, and during the rebranding process, you need to ensure that it goes deeper than that. www.addisonwhitney.com