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Avoiding an identity crisis: Re-branding tips

- Strategic America Media Relations Director Ben Handfelt submits this guest blog.

When I was a baseball-obsessed kid, I told my mom that I wanted to Ben Handfelt-1change my name to Julio in honor of All-Star second baseman Julio Franco, whose inimitable batting stance had captured my imagination. There were a couple of other Bens in my school, but no Julios, so I would be unique. Memorable. Plus, you’ve got to admit, Julio Handfelt just kind of rolls off the tongue and is fun to say.

Thankfully (or regrettably?) my mother saw this as another impulsive whim of her 7-year-old, right up there with declaring that I was going on an all biscuits and gravy diet or that I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone so I could play the solo from “Power of Love.” My personal re-brand was devoid of strategic thinking, and without that I would have surely moved on to another re-brand by age 8.

Thankfully, in the business world the decision to re-brand is not one that any company takes lightly. To abandon, or at the very least, re-shape your identity -- one that employees, customers, vendors and the public have lived with and known for years -- is a big, intimidating step. There is a certain level of comfort in the known and the safe. To take the step of re-branding, no matter how many focus groups you’ve conducted, is a leap of faith.

But with proper planning (and lots of it), it doesn’t have to be a leap into the unknown, but instead can be an exhilarating (and logical) leap forward into the future, where that sense of safety and familiarity still exists thanks to careful, strategic planning.

To that end, here are three tips to keep in mind when launching a new brand.

The brand isn’t your logo. It’s your identity

A re-brand goes well beyond changing your name (I’m looking at you, Julio), designing a fancy new logo and trying to come up with a tag line that would make Phil Knight envious. Sure, that’s part of it, but a re-brand is about reshaping the very core of your company.

After all, a re-brand is typically done when a company decides that the path it’s currently on isn’t working. So staying on that same path with a new name is just going lead to the same results. A re-brand requires an entirely new mindset, as if it were an entirely different company. Since most people are creatures of habit, this task is more easily said than done. But ask yourself, “Where do we want to be, and how do we get there?” Answering that question (and yes, it’s complicated) goes a long way in figuring out what the essence of the new brand will be.

Get buy-in, or no one will buy it

The new name has been settled on. The logo really pops on all types of cardstock. Despite your best instincts, you want to go to networking events just to be able to show off your new business cards. You even have your elevator speech memorized about the essence of the brand.

And yet, no matter how excited the marketing geek in you is about the whole thing, you’re just one cog in the machinery. For the brand to truly be successful, it needs buy-in from all parties. That starts internally, and should begin at the top and work its way down. It needs to be explained and communicated to everyone from sales to accounting.

When you involve people from the beginning, they feel like they are truly part of the process, not just witnesses to it. With that comes a sense of pride and ownership that will help inform all of the external communications with clients, vendors, prospects and the public at large. When you involve more people in the creation of the story, it helps for the telling of that story down the road. And for all intents and purposes, there won’t be a more important chapter to tell than that first one.

Tell a compelling story

Sure, launching a new name and brand is technically news, but unless you’re Apple, you need a compelling story to go along with it if you want coverage that amounts to more than an empty press release. You’ve lived with this story for months, maybe years now. How do you articulate it so that it’s clear, compelling and aligns with all of your messaging, from internal and external communications to your website and social media presence?

Early on, you should define the voice and messaging of the new brand, and everything should permeate from that. I treat message maps like the Holy Grail and use them to help inform nearly everything that I write.

Identify the news angle and think like a reporter, or better yet, a customer. OK, that logo looks great, but why should I care? Why does it matter to me? How is this different from what you were doing before, or what your competition is doing? Think about how to answer these questions and answer them honestly and clearly, being careful to avoid too much fluff and marketing speak.

Storytelling is about being emotive and forming connections, and the best way to get there is through honesty, clarity and maybe a good turn of phrase or two.

Ben Handfelt is responsible for advancing the image and reputation of Strategic America and its clients by communicating to targeted audiences via local, state and national media relations efforts. He also provides media relations training and other key competencies to benefit clients and SA. Ben joined the agency with over 10 years of experience as a public relations professional in Chicago. His background includes work for a global market research firm and over nine years working for an entertainment PR agency, representing several of Hollywood’s biggest studios and brands.

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