One of the things brand strategists run up against from time to time is the issue of so-called “re-branding.” Most of the time what’s actually being requested is a brand makeover: a trim, a little freshening up, but nothing much more than a few cosmetic improvements.
Every so often though, there’s a request for something more radical, and here I’m speaking of a true re-brand: the invention of a whole new identity. What’s so difficult about a re-brand is that it’s like asking your best friend to not only to dye his hair and get plastic surgery, but to change his personality as well.
It’s a nigh-impossible task. Assuming for a moment it can be accomplished, there’s the further problem of convincing the rest of the world. For what too many brand architects tend to forget is that brands, while they may be company assets, are only partly company property. The true owners of brands are consumers, to say nothing of employees, vendors, investors…even competitors.
That’s what makes a major brand overhaul such a challenge, and why a true re-branding can take years and hundreds of thousands — or millions — of dollars accomplish.
No wonder that when a major brand alteration becomes necessary, more companies opt to pull the plug on their old selves, reorganize, and make a fresh start under a new name and identity. For in the end, while it is possible to change yourself, you can’t really run from yourself. Consumers are smart people.
It is for these reasons that BP and Toyota — this year’s brand catastrophes — are going to be so interesting to watch over the next twelve months. Will they disappear and go into the brand equivalent of the Federal Witness Protection Program? Or will they show up at the family reunion wearing a wig and dark sunglasses? Only time will tell.