So you think it’s time for a rebrand? Not so fast.

It’s a conversation that comes up on a regular basis. A client says, “we need to rebrand our company.” To which I reply, “are you sure?”

You’d think that as a creative agency, I would simply dive in and push for budget approval. But a rebrand is often ill-advised. I’ll outline the pros and cons, then give you a few guidelines for approaching a rebrand if the decision gets a thumbs-up.

The process typically starts with someone in the C-suite announcing that they’re tired of the current logo. Maybe they want something that looks better on a golf hat. Or perhaps the corporate color is too close to that of their alma mater’s archrival. But those aren’t valid reasons for a rebrand, at least from a marketing standpoint.

The only time to rebrand is when the current branding is broken.

That’s an oversimplification, but a good rule of thumb. A broken brand means it’s causing a fundamental, strategic problem. The kind that hinders sales and company growth.

Opting to rebrand can be expensive, though not as costly as losing customers and share. On the low end, a rebrand budget might exceed $20k. On the upper end, it can be well into six figures. And that doesn’t include redoing everything from signage to e-mail signatures––and everything else in between. So, before you start the process, let’s look at why a rebrand might make sense.

The brand no longer reflects the organization.
This is a common issue for companies that have been around for a long time. The company may have evolved into a different category or market, making the original branding irrelevant or confusing.

There’s a cultural shift that makes the brand problematic.
Examples abound of brands trying to distance themselves from a history that’s no longer acceptable. These don’t have to be controversial. My personal favorite is when Kentucky Fried Chicken started referring to themselves as KFC because people had an aversion to the F-word.

The company is moving in a significantly new direction.
This can occur for several reasons. Established branding is often on autopilot, which means it’s ignored until it becomes a problem. But say a company has announced a merger or is pivoting to a new market. Those landmark events mark the beginning of a new era for the company––and should trigger a bold rebrand to reflect the importance of the undertaking.

The company is recovering from a crisis.
A new brand can’t fix a crisis. But if handled well with PR support, it can speed up the repair process. Rebranding can help acknowledge past mistakes and offer visible proof that permanent changes have been made.

Those are solid reasons for considering a rebrand for your company. But whatever the goal, the question becomes one of how to do it. A rebrand is a big deal, and rightly so. Plus, it’s often more complicated than creating a brand from scratch because you’re not starting with a comfortably blank canvas.

Once you’ve committed to a brand update, these are your basic Action Plan steps:

Start with research.
Do as much research as the budget and calendar will allow. Please read that sentence again. It’s essential that you avoid the temptation to immediately start writing a new brand strategy. Start at the top, interview the key players, and make sure you have a clear and unified vision for the company’s future. Be sure to include seeking direct input from customers. That may seem obvious, but clients are often ignored during the research process. And don’t forget to talk to internal stakeholders––especially folks on the front lines who interact with customers on a daily basis.

Write your strategy.
The research will lead to insights. Then draw a line from those insights to the brand strategy and brand promise. Spend the necessary time getting company leadership to weigh in on the newly crafted vision. The process can be tedious when people are anxious to see a new logo. But your brand plan is the foundation everything else will be built on, so make sure everyone understands and agrees with the final language.

Begin the brand design process.
This is the fun part that most brand managers like to jump right into. But if you short-change the research and strategy steps, you’ll regret it during the design phase. Every design direction you consider needs to be evaluated against the strategy. Without discipline, the design process can devolve into a beauty contest where the loudest opinion often wins. So, before starting a rebrand, take a breath. Make sure it truly makes sense for your organization. If it does, then keep these steps in mind and everything will be fine. Better than fine, because having a well-defined brand makes everything else you do that much easier.