Do rebrands really work?

Following two tragic disasters in the space of six months in 2014, Malaysian Airlines has confirmed a rebrand is underway in a bid to rescue its ailing reputation. We ask, can rebrands truly be successful or are they simply seen as calculated cover ups?

“YES” says Kate Walkom, Media Executive, UM MENA

KateWalkom“How to rebrand a tragedy of this magnitude is a heavy burden to bear for Malaysian Airlines, but it is a necessary one”

Yes. If Malaysian Airlines can masterfully regain the trust and confidence of the public through due diligence, supported by visual reference to the new brand promises in the form of a well-done rebrand, this will determine future success for the company.

A brand is not just a name. It is a promise. A reassurance; A responsibility; A principle. A core set of values that are signified by a sub-conscious emotion. Unfortunately for Malaysian Airlines that subconscious is negatively charged and at the time of the incidents was only further exacerbated by poor crises management. This negative subconscious surrounding the brand is the reason a rebrand is necessary.

Delivering on the promise made is critical to any brand. Rebranding can be merely cosmetic. The core values and strategic pillars that underpin said rebrand will need to be cohesive and deliverable across the board consistently to make it successful. No airline can, or should, guarantee safety as it’s not wholly deliverable as a promise. But they can make the promise to do all they can and use tactics to reinforce this through the process of rebranding. It’s marketing 101. It’s B2B as well as B2C. It is also internal corporate structure, equipment, training and assessing key safety and security issues as part of the process of recovery. Go back to basics. Assess the market. Clever restructuring, re-positioning and a strong communications program coupled with segmented marketing and a timely refresh is all part of the process of rebuilding trust and confidence, especially in an industry like aviation.

Malaysian Airlines. Google it. The search results are not pretty. A re-think is absolutely necessary. A rebrand is part of that process. I agree that it is one way for the airline to distance itself. People may still perceive a cover up. But that is why timing is critical or it will simply be only vanilla icing to mask a bitter taste.

Rebrands are often successful. We see it every day by way of celebrity and multinationals. But at what cost? By this I don’t mean financial costs. What we have here is two consecutive and devastating tragedies with over 500+ lives lost. That is the cost. How to rebrand a tragedy of this magnitude is a heavy burden to bear for Malaysian Airlines, but it is a necessary one should they wish to continue.

The airline needs to show both accountability and responsibility in order to pay respect to the lives lost. Think of the seven stages of grieving; denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance and hope. Malaysian Airlines needs to perform some thorough research and heavily weigh in how they should re-brand. Are they simply bargaining with the public through this re-brand? Or can they intuitively time the exact moment when the public is open to acceptance and hope to provide the same by way of re-brand? That is the question we are yet to have answered. The airline has the opportunity to triumph if it can promise what it delivers (and yes, the whole world is watching).

“NO” says Ross Bethall, Director of Strategy, Cicero & Bernay

 RossBethell1“The fact that a brand is made up of so much more than a visual identity means that merely changing a logo will never be sufficient.”

Plain and simple: rebranding efforts that rely on changing visual identities don’t work. And they never will work.

From a strategic perspective, a rebrand does nothing more than alter the look and feel of the brand. It does not change the substance that makes up the brand – the brand’s ‘personality.’

To illustrate my point, imagine having a work colleague you really dislike. Perhaps they are lazy, mean-spirited or have a selfish personality. If this person has a haircut and shows up to the office with a smart new wardrobe, they may look totally different, but their personality remains the same. It’s just their outward appearance that is new.

The same holds true for brands. Regardless of changes that might be made to a brand’s visual identity, it’s their personality that is the most-important aspect that needs addressing. This entails going far beyond how the organisation is presented on business cards, the side of delivery vans and even airplane tails.

One of my favourite examples of a rebrand ‘fail’ concerns the UK’s Royal Mail; the country’s national postal service. For two years, the organisation tried to change its name to ‘Consignia’ in an effort to shift perceptions away from it being just being a mail delivery company. The rebrand result involved a new logo and a new name, but the company’s poor customer service, shabby outlet interiors, increasing prices remained unchanged – negative attributes that led to a continued erosion of customer loyalty.

Make no mistake, I have worked with – and currently work with -exceptional, award-winning graphic designers who have successfully developed corporate looks for organisations, products and service. I have also seen visual identities refreshed successfully in order to breathe new life into the look and feel of the brand, with the brand personality remaining essentially unchanged. Their identity was merely updated.

Effective rebranding is a successful understanding of what constitutes a brand’s personality. It is a complex set of characteristics and emotions that come together to form a distinctive perception among customers.  This perception – the ‘brand experience’ – is an emotional connection that develops from such factors as organisational goals, culture, the uniqueness of the product or service, its relevance to customers, trust, employee behaviour, product quality and other touch points… to name just a few. The fact that a brand is made up of so much more than a visual identity means that merely changing a logo will never be sufficient. Only rebrands that cut to the core of brand personality can be successful. Visual rebrands alone cannot work.

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