It’s true—you can rebrand your business for cheap. With graphic design and printing software and services, plus the power of social media, a savvy small business owner can get a fresh marketing start using their own talents.
If you own a small business, you’re probably used to doing mountains of work yourself, even if it’s work you haven’t done before. In that way, your rebranding project isn’t much different from installing shelving or running your company’s social media accounts. The same determination and hustle that keeps your business humming is useful here.
Set achievable goals—and stick to them
Of course, there is the same old catch—the only limitation of your DIY rebranding project is time. And you probably don’t have much of that. That’s why you need to take a hard look at your branding and make thoughtful decisions.
Do you want to redesign your logo? Are you making over your website? Is a new awning what you really need? You probably have a bunch of good ideas, but until you sit down and think about what your company really needs, it’s too risky to act on any one of them. And you want to have a good reason for including each element that you want to rebrand. Take logos, for example:
“I think logos communicate your legitimacy from the start,” says Brennan Moring, a Seattle graphic designer. “A great business can put all of its hard work in jeopardy if nobody ever makes it past their logo. And a cheap, sleazy business can still look professional and successful behind a sleek logo.”
You’ll have to decide what you need to do and what you want to do, and then pick which of each is most important. You can use any of the typical tools for this process. A SWOT analysis can be very helpful here, for example.
Once you’ve made your hierarchy of needs, you can create a detailed budget. You might even find, after you’ve priced everything out, that you can do more than you initially expected. Or, in the opposite case, you can be certain about what you’ll cut because of cost overruns.
Use your peers’ and competitors’ branding to your advantage
If your competitor is doing well in a part of your market that you’ve yet to enter, take a look at their marketing strategy. If they’re doing something well, mimic it—after you’ve made it your own. If your competition is doing something wrong, figure out exactly what they’re messing up and correct it.
You should also take advantage of the branding work that friends and colleagues have done. Talk to other entrepreneurs in your space about your rebranding process, and see if they have any tips or cautionary tales.
Get in touch with your trade associations and local chamber of commerce. Either might have programs, staff, or advice that could help you. Trade groups have access to vendors, software, or services that you might not hear about on your own. They might even offer member discounts for certain printers or designers.
Do it yourself, if you can—but hire a pro if you can’t
Rebranding is just like any other project or investment you make in your business: you can do a lot of it yourself. You can make quality posters with apps like Powerpoint or Photoshop, using affordable tools like Shutterstock.
However, some projects will need expertise. Graphic design, in particular, is somewhere you should put your money. If you can’t draw, don’t try to design your logo. You probably had an electrician rewire your lighting—amateurish rebranding can be almost as destructive as bad wiring.
“DIY design can really hit, but most of the time it still ends up looking unpolished,” says Moring. “Like fashion, it can be a one way street: Not everyone can create their own great design, but everyone can see someone else’s bad design.”
You probably won’t want to redesign your logo on your own, but you should consider doing smaller components on your own once your rebranding effort is underway. Small, cost-effective projects like glossy bookmarks or pamphlets, or eye-popping flyers, are easy for anyone to create, and they can really help you promote your rebranded business.
Don’t rebrand out of desperation
Rebranding can do wonderful things for your business, but it can’t solve fundamental problems with your business model or strategy. Take the example of Radio Shack.
Radio Shack has struggled for years as consumers have become more sophisticated in their knowledge of technology, and consumer gadgets have become easier to use. The company’s renown as a source of consumer electronic expertise has become less important. The gadget industry passed them by: radios and TVs no longer draw the consumer’s imagination. Even more troubling for the company, retail stores in general have been in decline since the turn of the century.
In 2009, Radio Shack tried to reverse its slide through a rebranding. It moved to rename itself The Shack, started to change signage, and launched a PR and marketing campaign designed to make the stores seem hipper.
It didn’t work. As of 2018, Radio Shack has reverted to its old name. The rebranding effort did not change the fundamentals of the business, either: in 2015, the chain entered bankruptcy, closed thousands of stores, and was sold. The company entered bankruptcy again under its new ownership in 2017.
The 2009 “The Shack” rebranding effort was perceived as a desperation move, and didn’t help Radio Shack recover any of the business it lost. In fact, the rebrand accelerated Radio Shack’s tailspin.
Promote your amazing rebranding
You might spend tons of time redesigning your website, newsletter, logo, menu, signage—whatever your rebranding effort entails. All that work will come to nothing unless you put money and effort into promoting the rebrand.
Consider Old Spice. The venerable men’s grooming line was perhaps too venerable: the company was founded in 1937, and millennials weren’t buying the company’s offerings. The brand was perceived as a stodgy holdover that was best left to dads and grandfathers.
So Proctor & Gamble, Old Spice’s parent company, rebranded Old Spice. They created a series of commercials that matched a millennial sensibility. They leveraged Old Spice’s grandad branding by tapping into a millennial trend that valorizes dressing and shaving like members of the Greatest Generation in the pages of GQ and Esquire.
But the masterstroke of that campaign was combining the oldness of Old Spice with the newness of viral videos. The commercials, which starred Isaiah Mustafa, were steeped in internet humor. And the company followed through—Mustafa responded to viewer questions directly, using YouTube—with spectacular results.
Old Spice’s example shows that follow through is the key to any successful rebranding effort. You might not be able to mount a national ad campaign and hire a handsome former football player to act in your commercials, but you can make effective promotional efforts using the tools you already have at your disposal. Small businesses can use tools like neighborhood Facebook groups or location-targeted social media ads to get their rebranding campaign to the people who need to see it.
Get everyone on board
Rebranding should be a comprehensive marketing effort that your entire organization understands and is enthusiastic about. Make an effort to talk to every stakeholder before you make any decisions about what to change, and consider the following with each:
- Employees: What part of their work are employees most proud of? When they explain what they do for work to their friends and family, how do those people respond?
- Investors: Where do investors see the most value in the company? What impresses them about the leadership and employees of the company?
- Leadership: Where does the company excel? What aspects of the business need improvement?
- Customers: Focus on repeat customers here—what keeps them coming back? What part of the experience of working with you is most important?
When you’ve finished all these conversations, take a look at your notes. See if anything keeps coming up. A positive aspect of your business that every stakeholder mentions should be at the center of your rebranding campaign.
Rediscover your core identity
As the Radio Shack case study shows, moving away from what makes your business great is a sure way to scuttle your rebrand. The inverse is also true: great companies can struggle, but refocusing and rebranding around core business can be a sound strategy to return to the top.
During the mid ’90s, Apple struggled through a number of disastrous years that nearly resulted in bankruptcy. The company’s legendary reputation for thoughtful design and high-quality, reliable products took a rightful hit.
When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997, after several years pursuing other ventures, he refocused the company on its core business. Apple had spent the ’90s building a wide array of badly-designed computers.
With Jobs back in the fold, the company returned to its roots: Apple scrapped failing product lines like the Newton handheld, and put together a smash hit with the iMac. The iMac was a well-designed, iconic computer on the order of the ’80s personal computers that had established the company’s reputation.
As you may have heard, Apple expanded its business beyond its core areas. But the company recognized that its brand identity was based in its excellent design. That commitment to design extends to new core products like the iPhone.
Moving away from what makes your business great is a sure way to scuttle your rebrand. The inverse is also true: great companies can struggle, but refocusing and rebranding around core business can be a sound strategy to return to the top.
You’re proud of your business. In the end, rebranding it is all about showing the world why.
Bio: Angela Nino is a Training Manager and the blog author at Versitas. She is also a full-time professor and a program coordinator at Richland College