Rebranding; change before you have to change

15 March 2022
Rebranding; change before you have to change

Even before Putin’s outrageous invasion of Ukraine, only 16% of respondents to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Risks Report 2022’ felt positive and optimistic about the outlook for the world. Imagine what percentage that would be today?

This report confirmed that climate change, with extreme weather and biodiversity loss, remains our biggest perceived threat, but ‘geoeconomic confrontations’ and ‘debt crises’ were also seen amongst the most severe risks for the next ten years. Others included ‘decreasing collaboration’, a ‘growing digital dependency intensifying cyber threats’, and ‘frictions over the militarisation and commercialisation of space’.

In the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, with developing countries (ex-China) predicted to fall 5.5% below their expected GDP growth by 2024, the increasing wealth gap between developing and advanced economies is another cause for great concern.

So, what has this all got to do with rebranding?

Rebranding’s purpose is to signal change - often radical change - with a new value proposition, fresh name, refreshed brand identity, or combination of all three, all in order to better engage target audiences and/or reposition a company.

Sometimes this is to distance the business from its past, perhaps from negative associations or toxic ownership; to appeal to different customers, either a new generation or by moving upmarket; to signal different ambitions and directions; or to reflect a merger or acquisition.

Before Putin’s war, one of the main drivers for rebranding was to reflect the move towards sustainability and Net Zero emissions, to show business is doing its bit to slow climate change. Some brands couldn’t make the transition so were remodelled, or new subsidiaries formed to deliver low carbon propositions. Today, we will also see a trend to de-Russify businesses tainted by associations with the aggressor, including sport brands and federations.

With changing attitudes to and within China – and with the colossal Evergrande debt crisis yet to be resolved – Western brands’ strategy need to adapt in Asia, too. How China plays its cards in the Ukraine crisis will further impact these attitudes, with the possibility that a new sense of belonging to liberal west democracies could re-emerge as a theme that symbolises brands of the free world, starkly polarised against those from authoritarian societies. In this recalibration of identity, will ‘Z’ branded businesses reconsider their identities?

Soaring input prices and inflation will also impact consumers, so how do brands maintain premium positions in markets which becomes increasingly price sensitive? Typically, in price conscious times, middle market brands suffer the most, caught in “the squeezed middle”. These brands often need to choose between being commoditised, or repositioning to focus on their premium value propositions.

Change, therefore, is likely to consume us more than ever in 2022, and where there is change, brands need to reposition and rebrand.

Our top 10 rebranding examples

Rebrands, especially those involving new brand names, are not without risk, so our top 10 rebranding examples include a couple of cautionary tales:

  • Facebook to Meta – this company wants no longer to be seen as a one trick pony, and now has its eyes on the metaverse
  • Philip Morris to Altria – toxic associations with tobacco were affecting other group brands, including Kraft Foods
  • British Telecom to BT – reflecting the business had moved on from copper wires
  • AirBed&Breakfast to AirB&B – simplicity rules once air beds were a thing of their past
  • Trade Tech to Finalto – Playtech’s financial trading division repositioned for a profitable divestment
  • Crédit Agricole Private Banking to Indosuez Wealth Management – 12 private banks become a single global wealth management brand
  • Eircom to Eir – simplification and modernisation for a mobile digital Ireland
  • Standard Life Aberdeen to ABRDN – disemvoweled old-fashioned financial brand finds new life in abbreviation
  • PriceWaterhouseCooper to Monday (and back to PWC) – whatever you do, don’t alienate your customers or your staff
  • Post Office to Consignia (and back again) – the gold standard in rebranding cock-ups

How to rebrand your company

We recommend a methodical five-step brand strategy process that starts with understanding why your brand deserves to exist.

If you can answer that question succinctly, you have the cornerstone for a compelling brand proposition. If not, you need some time to reflect and identify what you want your brand to be famous for.

In times of significant change, the need for a compelling purpose - one that unites leadership, colleagues, partners and customers - has never been greater. But it must explain 'why' the brand deserves to exist and be articulated with precision and brevity. Every word should ring true with all stakeholders.

At Nucleus, our brand strategy consultants help clients clearly define brand purpose, vision and mission. We take today's narrative and deconstruct it, add fresh inputs and then rebuild the story in a step-by-step process to define the brand's true purpose for today and tomorrow. This provides the answers to three crucial question: What? Why? And How?

When rebranding requires a new brand name

If change requires a new brand name, we use a similarly methodical process to align the naming with the brand strategy and brand purpose, identifying relevant naming themes and shortlisting candidates using tried and tested evaluation criteria filters, including: distinctiveness, memorability, pronounceability, double-meanings, succinctness, domain name, app store, social media and trade mark availability.

With it being ever more difficult to register new names, we are advocates of branding by numbers, lacing names with numbers to both emphasise meaning and increasing distinctiveness. A recent post explores the potential of numbers in brand naming.

Throughout the process we work with expert trade mark attorneys to ensure no names infringe other trade marks and we can then confidently apply for registration in appropriate classes across international territories.

Brand identity design

Once the brand's strategy, purpose and name have been defined and validated, the brand strategy can be brought to life with a new brand experience to weave together the brand promise, brand name and brand identity. Combining these three elements distils meaning and communicates a powerful and consistent brand promise in every communication – vital when repositioning a brand.

Today’s brand identities also need to be kinetic, using motion graphics and audio to create multi-dimensional brands for today’s digital world – and tomorrow’s metaverse.

Change before you have to

“Change before you have to” was one of Jack Welch’s, ex CEO of GE, most famous quotes. In the end, even he didn’t change fast enough, but with unprecedented challenges impacting all our lives this year, if change in your business requires rebranding, we’d be very interested to talk to you.


Peter Matthews
Nucleus founder and CEO