I’m going to start with a big spoiler: It's rarely a good idea to go for a full Rebranding. That advice may sound counter-intuitive from a brand consultant. But there are wiser options like Repositioning or Revitalization. I will walk you through the three re-something options, timing and implications. Keep reading for some practical advice for startup founders considering rebranding.
The Re-something Options
Before I explain each option in detail, here are three and a half options to change your startup brand.
- Repositioning: strategically changing the intended perception
- Revitalization: uplifting the visual branding without changing the positioning
- Rebranding (with or without a new brand name): complete overhaul with a new strategy, new design, and sometimes even a new name
When you strategically change the intended image of your brand, we talk about Repositioning. Positioning is what you want your audience to think about you when they hear your name. Your positioning starts to play out when you repeat it frequently and consistently over time.
The ideal startup positioning is a set of associations:
- That you can authentically stand for and own
- That your ideal customers increasingly want
- That you can deliver better or differently from the alternatives
When startups typically reposition:
- Seed and early-stage startups
A startup has never been positioned well in the first place. Symptoms are missing product-market fit or differentiation from the competitors. This often happens when startup teams focus heavily on a technical advancement or innovation and neglect the market side for a long time.
- Late-stage startups
A startup has outlived its positioning. You can tell it’s time to reposition your startup brand when your point of differentiation becomes a point of parity. Or when you can’t attract a new audience with your old perception.
Repositioning is strategic work and follows this order of operations: An audit feeds into strategy that informs tactics. This is also where most positioning projects fail: They eagerly skip the data-collection and diagnosis part and go right into tactics.
A startup usually needs to be positioned once. Then you hold the course for at least five years. Strategy work is, of course, still necessary. You check in regularly, gather data about perceptions and competitors, and see if anything needs tactical adjustments.
Positioning is foundational work that lays the groundwork for your startup’s success. During our signature offer called Phoenix Brand Transformation Workshop we align product-market-fit, differentiate from competitors and re-connect with your vision.
When you don’t change your brand positioning but adjust your visual appearance, it’s called Brand Revitalization. It uplifts existing brand designs and pushes them to be more recognizable.
Scenarios for startup revitalization:
- Seed and early-stage startups
A startup is relatively new to the market, but the branding was done DIY and lacks quality or a visual red thread.
- Late-stage startups
A startup’s visual appearance has become dated and doesn’t reflect its intended image anymore. Right now, this affects a lot of brands that survived the early 2000s.
When you revitalize a brand, changes are more subtle and more of an evolution than a revolution. For example, you reduce the color palette, make typography more legible and improve the logo's responsiveness.
In 8 out of 10 cases, Brand Revitalization is the smarter option for startups that need a visual update. It retains brand equity while perceived quality and professionalism go up. From my experience, it’s more difficult to get company buy-in compared to rebranding. People often want to see a dramatic change when they invest money.
Now, the most popular of the re-somethings: Rebranding. It’s when you change the strategic position of the brand and its visual appearance. A rebranding sometimes also comes with a new name that makes it a completely unknown player for the public. It’s a dramatic pivot for your company and should be your last resort, as it comes with significant financial efforts. Most of the brand equity you’ve built in the past will get lost with a rebranding.
When startups typically rebrand:
- After mergers and acquisitions. There are often legal aspects that require a new brand name.
- When a startup loses a trademark dispute. Here at the Phoenix Brand Consultancy, this is the number one reason why startups reach out for a rebranding. Trademarks are tedious and, unfortunately, rarely make it into the priority list of a stressed-out founder team.
- After big public scandals. A rebranding rarely solves the problems caused by a PR disaster.
My professional advice is to consider how much you have spent building brand awareness. It’s safe to rebrand when your startup is relatively new to the market–I’d say younger than five years–and you haven’t advertised much. This way, you’re not losing brand equity and can start growing customers and revenue with a strong brand.
Not sure if you need a Rebranding?
Start with a visual brand audit! It’s a relatively low-cost, high-impact approach to get clarity and evidence before making any strategic decision.
A visual brand audit is for you if:
- you’re not sure if you need to rebrand
- you need an unbiased and unconflicted opinion from branding experts
- you need evidence (versus subjective opinions) to discuss further steps with co-founders or investors
- you worry about the quality of your startup branding
Reach out to Victoria (firstname.lastname@example.org) to talk about your brand needs.
Now that we’ve clarified the difference between all the re-somethings let’s quickly summarize the main points.
Repositioning is strategic work and can only be done by digging deep into customer and competitor data.
Revitalization is visual work to improve the quality and credibility of your brand. It’s a cost-effective approach for early-stage startups, and equity-preserving for older startups.
Rebranding is a 360° change to change the strategic position and visual appearance. It’s a drastic move that late-stage startups are better off avoiding.