Hey, old brand. You sure do have some stories to tell. Remember the time your hot new marketing strategy made you #1 in brand awareness for five years in a row? Whew. You were a star.

But you’re slowing down. Your brand equity is a bit, um, devalued. Revenue is declining.  So we were wondering: can we interest you in a little rebranding? Maybe shake up your style a bit to attract some new customers? Lose granddad’s clothes in favor of a more modern look?

It’s a laudable goal: spiff up the old brand to generate some growth. But it’s not an easy task. Risks to the brand are high, and your brand could end up worse off. (And note that we are not just talking about logos. A new logo is the culmination of rebranding, not the rebranding itself.)

“[O]nce a brand has traction in its current position, repositioning is a strategy of last resort, as it is likely to alienate the brand’s core users,” writes Alice M. Tybout in The Dos and Don’ts of Repositioning Your Brand.

So what’s the answer? How do you reposition an old brand to attract new customers without alienating existing customers?

Rebranding is all about strategy. But plenty of strategies fail—just think of Facebook remaking itself as a metaverse company. The new brand name is now a rebranding  albatross, a constant reminder of a big bet on the wrong strategy.

There are (at least) two key strategy elements  to a successful rebrand:

  1. Stay true to the core meaning of the brand.
  2. Know in advance how both existing customers and new customers will react.

At Spark No. 9, we use a process of deconstruction and reconstruction to find the raw material for rebranding.

Every brand is made up of attributes. Lots of attributes. Some brand attributes are functional (Post-Its are “sticky”). Others are emotional (Lisa Frank evokes “nostalgia”). Others still are attitudinal (“provocative”) or associated with a customer profile (“sneakerheads”).

Most brands are composed of 20-30 attributes that come easily to mind. Usually a handful of those brand attributes are the focus of a brand’s communication. Nike’s brand focus is action and provocative and swoosh and cool and maybe some grit.

By deconstructing a brand into its attributes, we find the raw material for new positioning and rebranding while staying true to the meaning of the brand. Put each brand attribute on a post-it. Combine post-its into new formations to generate new  brand positions. Suddenly, you’re seeing your brand with fresh eyes.

Before you jump to rebranding, however, you need to manage risk. Rooting your rebranding in existing attributes likely helps alienating existing customers, but you need to be sure. You also need to validate demand from new target audiences to know that your new brand strategy will drive growth.

That’s where heat-testing comes in. Heat-testing shows how audiences behave when presented with ads and landing pages representing multiple possible strategies. It’s kind of like A|B testing but for strategy, not web pages. Because it’s multivariate, heat-testing allows you to test numerous experiments all at the same time. And because it uses digital marketing as its medium, it captures real customer behavior.

Heat-testing is a great way to assess which of several possible rebranding strategies will resonate with new potential customers. It’s also a way to understand whether existing customers will be confused by a rebrand. Will existing customers click on ads featuring the rebrand more or less than ads featuring the old brand? What do they do after they click? If they are curious about the rebrand—they click on an ad—but convert at lower rates than before, you know you have a problem. It’s back to the rebranding drawing board.

But if they not only engage but also convert  at higher rates, you’ve just derisked your rebrand. Get a similar positive response from new target audiences, and you’re ready to move forward.

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