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Rebranding your business: lessons from a portfolio company

Rebranding can be an effective way to keep your brand relevant, but there are pitfalls involved in refreshing your identity. Here’s how to do it well.

Make sure the business case for rebranding is rock solid

Changing the brand of a business is a big undertaking. Depending on the thoroughness of the rebrand, it may mean forgoing brand equity in your existing name, as well as require a mental adjustment from your staff and customers.

Everyone in the business should understand the purpose of the rebrand. UNRVLD, formerly known as Kagool, is a digital agency that received BGF funding in 2020. The team at Kagool decided to pursue a rebranding exercise after merging with another digital agency, Delete. “There was brand equity in both names,” explains James Bearne, executive creative director at UNRVLD. “But we felt it was important to unite everybody under one vision.”

Work out your brand’s personality

If your brand were a person, what kind of person would it be? This thought experiment can help to determine a new brand identity. When the team at UNRVLD considered the question, they came up with terms such as confident, knowledgeable and sophisticated, whereas words such as quirky, fun and playful didn’t feel right for their brand. “Our customers want us to be serious because we’re dealing with complex business needs,” says Bearne.

Bring in outside help, if you need it

It may help to engage a branding consultant. Being a creative agency, UNRVLD decided it had the skills in-house to go ahead with rebranding, but for many businesses it makes sense to seek outside advice. “Rebranding can sometimes seem an easy thing to do but it requires consideration,” says Bearne.

Buy that all-important .com domain

As soon as you have a potential name, check the availability of internet domains, particularly the .com domain, which is still seen as the domain with most authority. There’s nothing to stop a business using a different domain such as for its main website, but Bearne says he would not go to market with if the same .com was owned by another company. “If so, you’ve got instant competition.”

Grab the social channels too

You’ll also need accounts on social media in your new name. This may not be easy because users are snapping up usernames on these platforms all the time. Bearne says it sometimes feels as though “we’re running out of names”. If your preferred username is taken, don’t despair. If the account is inactive, with few followers, the social channel may be willing to pass the name to you. In other cases, you may have to negotiate with the owner about buying their handle from them.

Alternatively, you may decide to use a different name format for your social channels. UNRVLD uses @unrvldagency on Twitter, for example. Don’t forget to keep an eye on emerging social networks too. You’ve thought about LinkedIn. What about TikTok?

Do your research on trademarks

Trademarks exist to protect consumers, but unfortunately they can present a minefield for businesses hoping to rebrand. Use the website to do a free trademark search to check for potential trademark infringements that might apply.

Potential infringements must be taken seriously; however, they are not necessarily fatal to your plans. The important thing is whether the competing trademarks are registered in the same class or classes. If not, they may be able to coexist with yours without infringing one another.

Legal advice can be invaluable. UNRVLD engaged two trademark lawyers, one to advise on the UK and Europe and one to advise on the US. Bearne says that even a newly formed start-up can benefit from paying an affordable trademark lawyer to do initial searches.

Expert advice can be particularly important for future-proofing your brand. You may have no plans to enter the Russian market today, but what about in three years’ time? The more a business grows, the more it tends to penetrate new markets, and that’s when trademark disputes can arise. “You have to think about longevity of your brand,” says Bearne.

Pick a style that suits you

Once you’ve done your due diligence, you can start to think about style. You can keep things simple by using an existing word in its normal spelling, such as Orange. Alternatively, you may use one or more surnames, such as Marks & Spencer. Contractions such as FedEx (formerly Federal Express) are well-known, as are misspellings of common words, such as Lyft. UNRVLD chose to use all capital letters in an abbreviated style. This was done partly to cope with a difference in spelling between British and American English (Americans tend to spell unrivalled with one ‘l’), but partly because the abbreviation seemed to echo one of the company’s missions, “to simplify complex challenges”.

Once the main direction is decided, you can create your brand toolkit, consisting of elements such as logo, typeface, colour scheme, tone of voice and more. Many businesses would engage a creative agency to develop the brand toolkit for them, UNRVLD did this work itself.

Don’t rush your rebranding, or risk repeating it

Rebranding is a big commitment. In theory, a business could rebrand itself in two days. In practice, the process may take 12 months. “Aim to get something as right as it can be,” says Bearne. “You don’t want to be changing the brand again in three months’ time.”

A key consideration is the new brand’s ability to stay relevant, adapt and scale as a business evolves. UNRVLD’s growth ambitions meant its brand would need to flex in line with wider requirements. The team were confident they had developed a brand that was more than fit for that purpose.

BGF Insights 09.29.2021