Despite the clear signs that a rebrand is necessary and even with the obvious benefits of rebranding, some may even argue that the risks outweigh the benefits.
And that’s fair.
Because a rebrand is certainly not without risks. There have been many instances where a rebrand goes haywire.
Within five minutes of Slack releasing its reimagined hashtag logo — conceived by the hottest brand design firm in the industry — it was pummeled for looking like a swastika among other things.
A few months later, Snapchat would reveal it had tweaked its logo with a thicker outline of its signature ghost. Even this minor change constituted an “aggressive” visual shift by its users who then threatened to delete the social media app.
For some, the hesitation stems from a sentimental standpoint. Because rebranding a company entails more than just changing the name or logo. The imprint you've already made in the industry, as well as what might happen if you make significant changes to your identity. The more familiar a brand is in the eyes of their target audience, the more difficult it will be for them to adjust to a change.
During my research on failed rebranding exercises, I discovered that the majority of them resulted from knee-jerk reactions to something negative. Take for example a company that sees rebranding as a new lifeline when a new marketing campaign might be a better solution.
On the contrary, my research also showed what companies that went through a successful rebrand had in common — when the rebrand was done for the right reasons.
So instead of just sharing the benefits or how to do a rebrand, we wanted to share with you Kontinentalist’s meaningful journey so you know what to expect when you embark on yours.
Who is Kontinentalist?
A brief background on Kontinentalist. They’re data-storytellers.
Their mission is to tell data-driven stories about Asia to bridge the gap between research and the public, helping to bring Asia to the forefront of global conversations.
The company was founded in mid-2017 by Lee Han Shih (Hans) and Loh Pei Ying to enhance Asia’s voice in the global narrative and be the go-to company for information and data about Asian societies from an Asian perspective.
Kontinentalist works with researchers, non-profits, and government agencies to turn rich data about Asia into compelling narratives that stick, using creative storytelling and data visualisation techniques. Just take a look at the amazing collaboration they had with Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) that talked about Hepatitis C in Asia.
Starting with asking “why” your company exists.
Pei Ying and her team didn’t wake up one morning and decided to rebrand. Their journey started with a question.
“How can we tell better stories and how can it better achieve our company’s mission and vision?”
Rebranding is more than just a logo refresh; it is an opportunity to ensure that your company is embodying its goals and values. Before making any changes, no matter how minor, consider whether they are consistent with your company's mission and voice.
This exploration took 1.5 years. The team went back to the foundation. They concentrated on developing a new company vision, which would serve as the foundation of their brand in the future, as well as their core brand idea, audience, elevator pitch, and personality traits.
At the end of it, they learnt that not only did they need a more robust website to meet the technical requirements of their data-driven stories, but they also needed to review who their target audiences were. Essentially, the team came to a conclusion that they needed a complete overhaul of their website experience and visual language.
One would say it was an epiphany moment when the lead designer, Joceline, felt that the existing brand did not represent the company’s evolved goals and values, and a rebrand was necessary to complement the infrastructure overhaul.
From day one, Kontinentalist existed to provide impartial and transparent data stories focused on thought-provoking issues in Asia. Today, that core remains, but with a stronger focus on moving readers from insight to action.
Succinctly, the new Kontinentalist aims to answer these questions for their readers, “What is this?”, “Why does it matter?”, and “How can I take the next step?”.
Rebranding can feel like a self-help exercise at times: The first step is to recognize the need for a brand refresh. Consider it for a moment, take a hard look at what isn't working about your brand right now, consider your own feelings about it, and then return to business objectives. Understanding why you're doing what you're doing is a critical first step.
Getting buy-ins from your employees.
Everyone has an opinion about how to get there, let alone a huge feat such as rebranding.
So, how can you make it easier to navigate strong opinions? How do you get everyone on the same page early and often when rebranding feels personal? And, if you're the one in charge, how do you ensure that you'll get the buy-ins from your employees?
As the leader of a rebrand, you have to earn it.
Collaborative decision making was Kontinentalist’s approach. And it was one that Pei Ying attributes largely to the success of the rebranding.
Employee support for innovation and change is more important than ever in the success of any large-scale project, such as a rebranding. The more employees who show support for the change, the more likely the change will be successful and long-lasting.
Your team must understand that you value their feedback and insights. Once they are convinced that your goal is to help the company better reflect the values they hold dear, it becomes easier to move forward without becoming bogged down in a never-ending sea of opposing viewpoints and roadblocks.
Pei Ying and her team strived to create a safe environment that allows everyone to reflect and, eventually, speak their mind.
“Address all doubts before making a decision. See if the questions are legitimate and see if we can answer it as a team. Take the time to explain the why behind the reasons.” says Pei Ying.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, these guiding questions could serve as a good starting point.
- I really like what you said about ______, can you go a little further?
- What do you mean by that?
- Why do you feel that way?
These questions are deliberately open-ended and meant to catalyze discussion.
The tip for such discussions is hearing what isn’t being said. Don’t just listen with the intent to reply instead, listen with the intent to understand.
Keep an eye out for recurring patterns and organize content around those pillars as you filter through these discussions: words that come up frequently, problems with the existing brand that everyone is aware of, and sentiment surrounding the brands that get mentioned.
Research, research, and more research.
During the brand identity development process, conducting research helps the team determine whether the brand strategy and visual identity system are resonating with audiences prior to the launch. It is preferable to modify the strategy and design in response to any potential negative feedback before launching it than to spend unfathomable sums to fix the problem after it has been launched.
The feedback Kontinentalist received from their existing readers gave them hypotheses around how to evolve, but it wasn’t sufficient to drive actionable change. At this juncture, it’s crucial to put your hypotheses to the test and see what works and what doesn’t.
One lesson the team learned was that the original group of user personas they created did not fully represent their actual readers.
The team then proceeded to conduct additional surveys and interviews with each audience: internal employees, existing customers, and non-customers. This information not only helped them redefine their target audience, but it also provided them with insights into the psychographic differences between current customers and future markets.
Allowing you to take bolder, more confident approaches. While research cannot predict the future, it can provide critical insights into how customers and end users think, feel, and act, giving everyone on the team (designers and clients) the confidence to be bold and unique. If you want to try something completely new, research provides a way to put your ideas to the test. Take for example, Kontinentalist’s “aha” moment when they were testing out their new content classification and users responded positively to it.
You can identify where the existing brand is and where it needs to go with a solid sense of the lay of the land, and plot this journey in a way that makes sense for customers and employees.
Research may be omitted from a project for a variety of reasons, including timing, budget, and so on. However, we have seen how it can impact project success. In many ways, research is about bridging the gap between intuition and data, and it's the building blocks for success.
Staying steadfast against all odds.
There’s this misconception that there’s a finish line in a rebranding exercise. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There will always be a work-in-progress, new enhancements, new updates as you work to bring the best for your users and clients.
With the average rebranding process taking 12-18 months it's important your team bring proper planning, engaged leadership, and a strong dose of stamina for this marathon.
Not everything will run smoothly. Adopt an agile mindset. Expect to have some components and assets going back-and-forth. Be ready for changes to product specs and priorities.
To clarify, there’s definitely a deadline to which you want to shout out to the world that you’ve rebranded. But instead of a final fixed product, you’re actually releasing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
This is the most pared down version of a brand that can still be released. A MVP brand has three key characteristics:
- Enough value that people are willing to use it
- Demonstrates enough future benefit to retain early adopters
- Provides a feedback loop to guide future development
In other words, you work towards building the basic foundation, messaging, and visual identity in such a manner that it is still strong enough to make a statement and capture users' attention, while also having the ability to adjust and improve in the next version based on feedback.
There definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to do it. Kontinentalist, being a creative team at the forefront, approached it with a standard nonlinear design loop.
“We research, ideate, iterate, get feedback, and then it’s back to the beginning.” says Joceline and Amanda, their Product and Experience Designer and UI/UX Architect respectively.
Ask anyone on the team what the hardest part was and they would unanimously tell you it was having to accept that not everyone is going to like it and you can’t satisfy everyone.
Take a breath and have faith in the research that has been done. Trust that every decision that has been made best represents your values.
Back to you as the leader of the pack.
As the leader of the pack, you must be equal parts leader, moderator, pioneer and rogue creative. You must have a strong point-of-view, but also be open-minded. You must have theories and be ready to validate them (or have them proven wrong).
Changing your brand's story and perception requires you to investigate where you've been as a brand and constantly remind yourself of where you're attempting to go — which, once again, requires stamina.
It takes a close examination of your customer, your positioning, your market, and your competition (today and in the future). More importantly, it takes courage to avoid explaining away gaps between your vision and reality.
This journey will be long, daunting, with many curve-balls.
A word of advice from Pei Ying and Joceline - know why you do it and do it for the right reasons.
This is going to be trying, probably one of the toughest journeys you’ll embark on. That’s not to say it isn’t worth every drop of sweat (and maybe a few tears).
Read more about Kontinentalist's rebranding journey here!