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Featured in Forbes: From Fearless To Facing Pressure: 2020 Disrupts Rebranding Trends

Read Jim Heininger's story in Forbes:

2020 is the year that has upset virtually all business trends and has had a profound impact on the use of rebranding as a business strategy to facilitate growth. Some companies have had to hurriedly address the irrelevance of their brands, newly pressured by social movements, while others had to rebrand as they pivoted their business model simply to survive.

Each year at this time, our team compiles observations on the year's breakthrough moments in rebranding and assembles a few predictions on how the strategy will evolve in the year to come. A year ago, we declared that rebranding — the organizational strategy to re-energize business growth — became fearless in 2019. More companies demonstrated a willingness to dispel the risk and take the plunge to rebrand.

But then came a pandemic, an economic crisis and a social movement toward racial equity. Where companies last year strategically plotted a rebrand to drive growth, the most visible rebrands were shoved by the reality of external forces.

Here's a look at how the use of rebranding evolved in 2020.

We frequently cite as one of the eight major reasons for rebranding, the challenge that "your brand has lost its relevance." Product marketers that skirted addressing racist stereotypes in their names, logos and product imagery faced a painful moment of irrelevance in 2020 with the empowered movement to end racial injustice.

Heightened by the death of George Floyd, external pressure forced them to hurriedly rebrand. Long-time pantry staples Aunt Jemima agreed to drop the 130-year-old imagery of a Black woman dressed in minstrel costume on its syrups and pancake mixes in 2021. Uncle Ben's became Ben's Original, removing the logo of an elderly, bow-tied African-American servant. Mrs. Butterworth's pancake syrup and Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal agreed to drop packaging rooted in racist imagery. Eskimo Pie became Edy's Pie and even Land O'Lakes margarine dropped the Indigenous maiden character on their packaging, as there is simply no relevant connection between a Native American maiden and butter.

Organizations rebranded under pressure too. Despite years on the defense, the Washington Redskins could no longer ignore Native American calls of racist stereotyping and agreed to become the Washington Football Team for now, to be more formally rebranded at a later date. Other sports teams with Native American imagery finally reevaluated the negative stereotypes and made amends.

The key takeaway from this trend is that those brands that sit on the edge of irrelevance should be motivated to look ahead and make necessary changes before that delay costs them embarrassment and brand loyalty.

Branders are among the first to pivot and rebrand.

With economic pressure on, many businesses were moved to pivot their service model as their traditional lines of business were severely interrupted in 2020. None more so than those who lead the branding discipline itself. The advertising industry experienced an estimated 20% decline in 2020. The same firms that specialize in branding their clients are among the first to rebrand. The 4As, a trade association of advertising agencies, found that more than half of agencies see rebranding and repositioning their firm as a top driver of growth during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Agencies are more focused on differentiation with their branding and positioning before looking to vertical offerings or a new design mix of resources, including talent," Marla Kaplowitz, CEO of 4As, shared on the survey findings.

Early in the trend, Y&R PR, a WPP agency, rebranded as Goodfuse, a name that defines its mission of "infusing humanity into communications." London PR, named at the firm's opening primarily as a search domain strategy, became MOTIVE to reflect more purpose.

It is always encouraging when those entrusted with managing the equities of client brands trust rebranding as a strategic move to reposition their own business.

Cleanup and simplification continues.

We saw a continued trend among companies shortening or sharpening their brand names, often to mimic the energy of a modern startup with short, one-word, culture-friendly names (think Lyft, TikTok or Spotify). Companies are increasingly dropping or changing the descriptive language they originally used in their company names but have since outgrown. Eitan Group rebranded as Eitan Medical and Advanced Depositions announced its rebrand to AdvancedONE Legal. Dentsu Aegis Network, the Japan-based advertising holding company, has just been renamed to simply Dentsu, retiring the Aegis name.

We don't consider these to be a full rebranding of the organization, but more a brand repositioning that better articulates their area of business focus. It is usually pursued to get clunky or irrelevant old language out of the way to prevent misunderstanding.

Hard-hit industries will need to leverage rebranding.

Looking forward, an uptick in acquisitions and mergers will increase the demand for rebranding many newly formed organizations. We can expect to see those trends first in the hospitality and travel industries that have been hit hardest in the current pandemic, with traffic declines expected to continue in 2021.

A post-election readjustment is to be expected.

And finally, as we emerge from another tumultuous election season, we see the typical calls about the need for political parties to rebrand in order to better express their intentions and capture voters. Democrats headed into the election with the need to rebrand themselves after a stunning defeat to Donald Trump in 2016. Now, Senator Marco Rubio calls for the GOP to rebrand as a party of the "multiethnic, multiracial working-class" voters it lost to the Democratic party in 2020. What's new this year is the call for the country to rebrand in order to adjust the way America has presented itself the past four years, and to restore its image as the land of possibility and opportunity.

As long as organizations need to improve their performance and better face the future, rebranding will never go out of style.

2020 Photo: <a href=''>Background photo created by freepik -</a>


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