To Re-brand or to Re-position: That is the Question

By Ray Baird

A well-crafted B2B brand positioning strategy should stand the test of time. How long your brand lasts is usually a sign of how well it was conceived, how relevant and durable it is, and how well it is integrated into your long-term business strategy.

Examine many of the well-recognized, well managed B2B brands like IBM, Cisco, GE, John Deer, 3M, or FedEx (to name a few), and you’ll find several common themes, and very seldom do they stray from their foundational core brand position and corporate DNA.

Smart companies protect their core brand positioning from the short term pressures of the marketplace, they trust and believe in the greater cause and don’t react impulsively. Sophisticated brands use the tactical weapons of advertising and marketing campaigns to counter immediate real time opportunities and threats, yet remain committed to its brand core positioning.

A good example is IBM’s Cognitive Business Era. It’s the evolutionary thinking of the previous “Smarter Planet” campaign. You can listen here to the strategy of how this happened. While this campaign captures the envisioned future business it does not deviate from its core brand positioning strategy of innovating businesses: progress through the application of intelligence, reason, and science. The campaign will be replaced eventually, but its core brand positioning will stay constant and provide the motivation for the next campaign.

GE is another wonderful example. Since its beginnings, GE’s core position has been rooted in innovation. “We bring good things to life” was the advertising calling card of this position for many years until Jeff Immelt became CEO and reenergized the brand with “Imagination at work” — a brand position still clearly focused on innovation. I love his quote, “Imagination at work is not a tagline, it’s a reason for being.”   It is focused on the “Why” — reaching back to the core idea of Thomas Edison. You could argue they never changed their “Innovation” core positioning throughout its history.

Now that brings us to the inevitable question: When is the right time to consider a fundamental re-positioning or re-brand?

First we need to agree on the difference between the two: re-positioning is far more business intensive and strategic, it may include revisiting the company purpose/vision/mission and core brand positioning/personality/attributes. Re-branding, on the other hand, can be far less disruptive if the core purpose remains the same and the brand positioning has not deviated. Rebranding the narrative, or look and feel, may be the right solution to re-energize your band. Undergoing a merger or acquisition usually requires a review of both.

If your company is going through a merger or acquisition, or a brand or name change, you might want to check out this podcast. If you’re considering a re-branding, this podcast may be helpful.