Marketing Hack: How to Ace a Rebrand (Part 2)

In the first post of this series, we touched on the pickle that runs marketers ragged. Without research-driven solutions to offer company leadership, lead marketers lapse into a coordinator role, instead of a strategic visionary. Marketers who position themselves correctly prepare themselves for a rebranding process built on trust with company leadership.

This second post focuses on the marketer’s role in the initial phases of the rebranding process and conversations that arise during those meetings.



Have you ever broken a bone?

The experience is awful. Not only is the initial pain shocking, the following visit to the doctor is also unpleasant. Who wants their wound poked and prodded by some stranger?

Typically, when we have a wound or sore, the last thing we want is for someone to take x-rays, touch where it hurts, then agree with a “yeah, looks broken.”

Brand work is in many ways similar. We often encounter clients who know something is broken. They want it fixed yesterday and want it to be painless. And while we make the healing process relatively painless, digging into the root issue can be uncomfortable.

This often looks like someone in the C-suite or on the marketing team pulling back in hesitation at some point.

This can lead to tricky conversations between marketers and their team members or a marketing director and a skeptical CFO. Brand work is powerful, and it has a way of bringing emotions to the surface.

That doesn’t mean you as the marketer can’t prepare for these interactions. There are ways to navigating these tender parts of the rebranding. Below are a few common questions marketers have during a [re]branding process.

How should marketers best prepare in-house teams for brand change?

We know leaders who work diligently to cultivate a productive environment filled with mutual respect. Unfortunately, strong cultures are just that…strong. This means that ushering in change will be met with resistance, both seen and unseen. Don’t let a “better the devil you know” mindset to prevail.

When this happens, we advocate for teaming up with outside expertise. We advise leaders to do this to keep their culture healthy. Having an outside partner will help you navigate the minefield that is office politics.

One advantage to bringing in outside help is that allows you to skirt certain office politics. Don’t forget, your team members and direct reports also have a network of alliances in the organization. Are they on a first-name basis with your boss? Or, is your department filled with tenured employees? Rebrands unearth emotions about shared values and the future direction of the company. Left uncontained, any negative emotion devolves into a long-term liability.

At the same time, bringing in an outside entity can upset a talented designer on your team who thinks the work should be theirs. This is normal. Be sure to stress there will be enough work to go around with ample opportunities to collaborate. Stress that you still value their contribution. If the agency presents an idea the two of you don’t like, feel free to unite against the idea.

How can marketers encourage buy-in from overly hesitant staff?

Find an agency partner who conducts leadership interviews. Why does this matter? Nobody likes to see strangers coming in to work on a secret project in their conference room. This presents you an opportunity to make folks in your company feel valued and insightful.

Agencies should meet with key stakeholders to soak up organizational wisdom. They should be willing to work alongside in-house designers who undoubtedly have opinions about your brand.

If you have a team member doubting your new direction, be curious. This will serve you more than taking a dismissive posture. What is the underlying issue? Rebranding is a convenient excuse for disgruntled staff to resist because rebrands symbolize change.

On the surface, you will see tangible items like logos and stationery change, but while this is happening, a deeper level will quietly appear. These interpersonal obstacles in a brand change present opportunities to redesign culture. Rebranding presents a brief window to shuffle the deck and start anew.

How will marketers know if an agency is the right fit?

In the previous post in this series, we discussed the benefits of delivering research-forward insights to your CEO. This is impactful because it helps you provide precious clarity to the core issue facing your organization.

A skilled agency should know how to provide clarity.

Do you often come to an agency with a problem already solved? If so, you won’t get the ROI you seek. Agencies should help you reframe and distill your true problem.

Come to the table with ideas and communication goals. Put an agency to the test by asking them to solve your problem. If you can develop a strategy with an agency, the creative work will be much more potent. If an agency can’t engage you on a strategic level, the work will likely shine but lack a certain depth.

RFPs are not your friend.

If you want to cultivate multiple sub-par offers, have your staff send out a Request for Proposal (RFP).  Often these cumbersome packets are encouraged by consultants who claim an RFP will get you multiple offers.

We saw an email directed to marketers about RFPs which said, “It puts the power in your hands!”

It does not.

Many RFPs ask for a creative concept to be presented. From an agency’s perspective, it looks like you are asking for free work. This is tough because the work is the thinking behind the creative concept, not just the final deliverables.

Too often the RFP is discarded. Or worse, an agency principal kicks the RFP down the food chain to an inexperienced staff member. Likewise, you as the marketing leader won’t have time to field all the incoming RFPs, causing you to delegate the task downward as well. Neither organization puts their best foot forward.

Instead, bypass the RFP process. Do your homework and meet personally with a few agencies. Ask them to bring relevant case studies and describe their process and relationship with those clients.

You will get a feel for the potential partnership. Plus, the agency will understand what it is like to work with you, an involved and engaged client.

Should new marketing leaders retain an incumbent agency partner?

First, determine if the agency is willing to help you meet your goals.

Does your current agency partner maintain a primary allegiance with someone else on your team? It is no wonder many CMOs feel most comfortable with a new agency partner when arriving at a new organization. Alliances are crucial to new hires.

If the incumbent agency can help you grow as they engage strategically, keep them around. The conversation then moves to specific capabilities. Where is their core area of expertise?

If the agency is on your team, but you get the feeling they can’t meet your needs, be honest. Though, severing the relationship may not be necessary. Pursuing a different direction doesn’t have to result in a fatal breakup.

What can marketers do and say to make the most out of meetings with agencies?

Think of these meetings with agencies as a series of meals. You are the host, and you’ve asked the agency to serve as chef. Both you and the agency want to create a remarkable experience for your coworkers, the guests.

But what do you want this meal to look like? Decide first what you want to accomplish with the time together. Is there a particular dish you’d like to avoid? Communicate your expectations fully to the agency. Keeping an agency in the dark about your expectations prevents them from focusing on your problem.

Next, you’ll want to coordinate about place settings. Communicate who you intend to bring to the meetings. After hearing your plans, an agency may suggest strategically including (or excluding) another member of your team.

Also, what are the guests’ expectations? A chef wants to know if there are particular food allergies in the room.   

Is a special guest attending your meal? If your boss has a habit of crashing meetings, clue the agency in so they can bring a special bottle of wine. Agencies can deliver better results if they are aware of the power brokers in the room.

Because CEOs and owners know they see your organization from a unique perspective, they won’t refrain from sharing their opinion. And those opinions are welcome and often deeply insightful.

However, these interjections can feel like a surprise toast at your carefully planned event. If possible, anticipate instances like these and let the staff know ahead of time. You can pre-wire the meeting by briefing your team on the goals of the organization for these times.

If in doubt, lean on your agency partner for guidance. It is possible to both vet an agency while partnering together.




The third and final post in this series addresses these questions:

•How to position yourself during meetings
•How much should you speak up in meetings?
•What kind of results can you present to the CEO?
•How can I tell if the agency I picked isn’t working out? When is the best time to move on from an agency?

To learn more about how to hack the rebranding process, see post 3.

About Daake

We are brand design experts who deliver transformative ideas to the nation’s marketing professionals and CEOs as they seek guidance, clarity and excitement for their brand.

We would love to hear more about what you have in mind for your next project. Call Greg Daake at 402.933.1094.

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