When is the right time to rebrand?

May 2024, Written by Sholto Lindsay-Smith

Brand building is a strategic endeavour. It requires alignment of business strategy, capability, marketing effort and customer experience to build a distinctive reputation in the market. It can pay huge reputational dividends, but it takes time.

Conversely, chopping and changing your brand can be detrimental to shaping a coherent image. Undergoing a rebrand is also expensive. It’s not just the brand consultancy fees you need to consider, it’s the cost of rebuilding your website, producing new marketing collateral, and re-signing your offices. That means the decision to undergo a rebrand needs careful consideration.

Typically, professional services firms rebrand every eight or so years. But a rebrand is nearly always preceded by one of the following events that provokes the leadership team to focus their attention on their firm’s brand:

1. A merger or acquisition
A merger brings two questions. How do we signal the combined strength and capability of the new entity to the market? And how do we make everyone involved feel part of it? A rebrand can certainly provide a great catalyst for uniting everyone around a new common mission. But for a highly acquisitive firm, you must ask the question, are you going to rebrand every time you acquire? In this case, it makes better sense to assimilate the acquired firm under the dominant brand.

2. Arrival of a new managing partner or CEO
The arrival of a new CEO in itself is not a reason to rebrand. But a new CEO or managing partner will often herald the introduction of a new business plan or strategic shift in direction. This is often one of the most important times to consider a rebrand. A bold brand positioning is always aspirational – with the stretch to reflect the strategic intent and ambition of the firm.

3. Challenges with employee recruitment and retention
For professional services firms more than any other business, recruitment of the best talent can be an equal barrier to growth as client acquisition. And brand has an equally important role to play here. If your firm is struggling to recruit and retain talent, it may well be time to consider your ‘employer brand’. This aspect of brand is centred on your culture and leads to happier people. Happier people stay and happier people also deliver a better service to your clients.

4. Client attrition
Client attrition can be down to uncompetitive fee rates, a poor service experience, staff turnover, lack of technology innovation or a reputational hit. In any of these instances, a rebrand without solving the underlying problem will just compound the issue with added cost pressure. But with the root cause fixed, a rebrand can signal positive change.

5. Expansion into international markets
The transition from a national to an international firm raises one key brand question, is your brand fit to travel? For example, is your brand name pronounceable in other languages, is available to trademark and is it free of any negative connotations? However, the main consideration is that, if you are thinking about changing your brand for any reason, it’s better to do it before you invest in building brand awareness overseas.

6. A competitor rebrand
A rebrand by a key competitor is a strong case for action, as they are likely to be making an impression in the market with a sharper proposition that is more in tune with the times and client’s changing needs. This often results in a domino effect with one competitor firm triggering others to rebrand. That can leave firms who remain unchanged, looking outdated or out of touch. When it comes to branding, there is a first mover advantage as you have a better chance to get your message across rather than being drowned out in the herd that follows.

7. The business is fundamentally changing
When a firm undergoes a radical transformation, it needs to let the market know. Whether it’s the introduction of a new technology platform, an alternative fee structure, new ways of working, a robust environmental or social commitment or change in ownership structure a rebrand is the most effective way to stimulate a reappraisal of a business. It is a moment in time that will cause people to sit up and take notice, to view your website afresh and listen to what you have to say.

8. Sunk cost
Perhaps the most common trigger of all for a rebrand is the opportunity that arises from an office move or the need to update the website as it allows the firm to offset some of the biggest costs. The pitfall is to think of this as an opportunity for a ‘refresh’; the rebrand should always be framed with a strategic aim.

If you are contemplating a rebrand, first ask: ‘what is the problem to be solved’? It will help you decide if a rebrand is the answer and it will also help you frame a better brand brief.


First published in The Professionals, January 2024