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January 10, 2017

Cindy Penchina, President

The Power of Rebranding

The only constant in life is change.

Markets churn. Business conditions evolve. Trends come and go. New technology and social conditions give rise to new demands. And every change represents a new opportunity to re-engage the public and adapt your image to meet the new situation.

In other words, if your business has been open longer than a couple of years, you aren’t operating in the same environment as you were when you first set out. That means that keeping up to date isn’t something you can neglect. Whether that means refocusing your brand in an entirely new direction or simply updating your logo, a successful rebranding needs to be undertaken with thoughtful consideration as to what you’re going to gain – and what you’re going to lose, too.

Mutatis mutandis.

Case Study: Uber

You know Uber? Of course you know Uber. There are very few examples of a company becoming so unbelievably ubiquitous so quickly. And coupled with ubiquity of service is ubiquity of branding; the Uber “U” logo very rapidly came to stand for the very concept of on-demand car services itself; not even Lyft’s bright pink glowing mustache – itself a work of branding genius – could compete.

But Uber, which was originally designed as a luxury service designed to summon BMWs for people who wanted to “roll around San Francisco like ballers,” had significantly evolved since it was founded in 2010. In place of the elitist service catering toward high-end customers, Uber had become something much more accessible; its services came to be differentiated into multiple markets, including non-luxury driver and carpooling services with different price points.

And it had expanded well past its original San Francisco location to become a truly global business, operating in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Something about the existing color scheme – steely, luxurious, cold – seemed inappropriate for a business that operated car services in Cairo, Indianapolis, and Dakar.

A comprehensive rebranding seemed in order, because the logotype and icon they had didn’t represent the company they were: their values, mission, and goals had significantly changed during their short life. Uber conducted the usual branding exercises, establishing over eighteen months five pillars on which they wanted their brand to rest: grounded, populist, inspiring, highly evolved, and elevated.

Once those pieces were in place, Uber, under design director Shalin Amin, started discussing what story they could tell visually that would communicate those principles, rather than simply drawing an icon they hoped might illustrate them. They landed ultimately on two very powerful design elements: the universal bit, represented as a single square, the constant heart at the center of a variety of geometric shapes, and locally representative patterns. The latter is an important development, because it emphasizes a key part of what makes Uber Uber: it might be a local brand, but it’s a local business, and it’s different across the world. Each driver network is designed to match the local setting; in Lagos, Uber accepts cash. In Colombia, Uber will drive your drunken self home in your own car.

This company was clearly something much bigger than what it had started as.

The local patterns were intended to drive home (ahem) that what Uber is in San Francisco or New York isn’t – and can’t be – what it is anywhere else. That allowed Uber teams to craft their own messaging to appeal to local markets.

In other words, Uber rebranded to match changing realities on the ground and properly communicate what they wanted their business to be.

What Uber Did Right

Uber understood that branding isn’t just a logo with your name on it; it’s about what you want to communicate about your business and how you want it to be perceived. Uber’s leadership looked around one day and realized their brand no longer reflected their place in the market, and decided to take bold action to rectify that.

Identifying their brand pillars – what we like to call a company’s “core,” was a key step; it determined what they believed was at the root of who they wanted to be and how they wanted to be seen. That meant recognizing that their identity had changed, and taking stock to figure out what the company had become. A complex and time-consuming process, this kind of company introspection is vitally important to figuring out how you want to position yourself.

Additionally, Uber was correct in realizing that the company was different on the ground depending on the location, and making local identification a key part of its brand strategy. That’s a unique way of exercising a powerful part of any brand strategy: knowing, and reaching, your market. By eschewing a generic brand, they were able to amplify the power of their company’s global reach.

Takeaways

Branding matters, and rebranding is a powerful way to help keep your image consistent with who and what you want your company to be. While tradition and consistency are important factors to consider, keeping up with changing market realities and the real, on-the-ground role your company is filling is more important. For another real-world example, consider how Netflix has rebranded their thru-the-mail DVD offerings as “DVD.com” as the Netflix brand has become almost exclusively associated with streaming services and original programming. This slight rebranding of an aspect of their business strengthened their core message: Netflix is primarily a digital streaming and programming company.

In short, you need to approach rebranding whenever the real situation your company is in has for whatever reason rendered your brand less of an asset than it could be, if not wholly a liability. Strengthening your message only improves your ability to reach your customers – and convince them that you can meet their needs.

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