The Rebranding Journey: Step by Step

On June 20, Propellus officially launched it’s new name and new brand. The rebrand was the culmination of 18 months of work that took us through some of the most significant changes our organization had ever experienced. Along the way, our rebranding journey took many twists and turns, we experienced many bends in the road and unexpected stops that offered new opportunities for the organization to grow and evolve.

  1. Why Rebrand?  There can be many reasons for an organization to consider rebranding, but one of the classic reasons occurs when two separate organizations come together to form one. In 2011, our decision to acquire the programs and services of CentrePoint was the catalyst that prompted us to engage in a complete review of the programs and services we offered as a volunteer centre. This work indicated that a significant rebranding effort would be needed to be successful in the new areas of non-profit management.
  2. Understanding who you are. At the heart of any rebranding process is a solid understanding of what your organization is and what you want to become. For us this required a complete reworking of our organizational vision, mission and values. This is challenging work but incredibly important, which will become the building blocks of your new brand. In our case, this stage of the rebranding process started to reveal to our staff and board just how challenging our existing name would be in rebranding our newly formed organization. The research clearly pointed to the need for a new name if our rebranding efforts were to be successful.
  3. Research. Having established a strong business case for the rebranding, the next step for us was to conduct research on our organization and clients. The acquisition required that we move into a new market, we had become more than a volunteer centre and we needed to have research that would give us more insight into our new clients as well as our existing stakeholders. For some organizations, the research phase is also a great opportunity to gather additional market research that will help you understand your competitors in the marketplace. Sometimes it is the nature of the non-profit sector to avoid the idea of competition but as David LaPiana stated in his address at our brand launch ‘if your organization has ever had a grant proposal turned down it wasn’t because the money went unspent, it went to another non-profit that is your competition.’ In our case we did our own internal research with staff, board and other key stakeholders. We then looked to an outside research company to provide even more clarity by targeting a wider slice of the market. They provided research and analysis which gave us a better understanding of who we were and how we were perceived in the market.
  4. Capture Your Brand Personality. As you develop your new market positioning and messaging, you will uncover your brand personality. It will come directly out of the research and the fact finding as well as any competitive and marketplace analysis you have done. It is based in your organizational values and your mission, vision and purpose. Your brand personality is a balance of who you are and who you want to become. We began to learn how others viewed us, pinpoint the brand traits we needed to work on and the traits that we wanted to develop further. This is work that can definitely be done internally but in our case we opted to work with an external branding consultant –  someone trained to help us make sense of all of the research that has been conducted and zero in on the key pieces at the heart of our organization.
  5. Build Your Brand Identity. This was the part of the rebranding strategy where we developed visual elements to help us communicate our brand. This was the ‘fun stuff’ the work that everyone wants to be involved in, it is often the part of rebranding that gets the most attention; but when you are leading your team through the whole rebranding process, it is important to not to lose site of the reality that these ‘fancy’ visuals  are not your brand. These are just a few of the visual  brand elements  that start to build and shape  your brand identity – your brand is very subjective– not something tangible like a logo – Brand is your reputation in the community, and rebranding isn’t just about the new look – it’s about a redefined promise, a promise that is symbolized by a new look.
  6. Build Your Website and Online Presence. Once the visual elements of our brand identity were created, we turned our attention to implementing the new brand both internally and externally.  The website, the single most important communication tool for almost every organization was the first key element we focused on. For most non-profit organizations, a website is the one of the best places to share your story with funders, supporters, volunteers, clients, media and the public. It is the first place a potential funder, supporter or employee will look for information about what you do and who you impact. When rebranding an organization the website is the first place stakeholders will look to learn more about your brand – what you are and what you represent.  Your website is often the anchor for other pieces of your online presence (social media, videos widgets and blogs for example), it is the full expression of your positioning. Don’t overlook any customized urls or web addresses you may have for your old brand and don’t forget to rebrand all your social media channels to ensure consistency!
  7. Marketing Collateral.  At same time we were working on rebuilding our website we were also looking at all of our existing marketing collateral. We evaluated what needed to be updated, deleted or added in order to effectively communicate our new brand and our new programs and services. Remember, marketing collateral is more than just brochures and business cards. Consider things like electronic templates and signatures; street signage and letterhead; as well as newsletters, PowerPoint decks, media releases and letterhead. Update telephone messages and email signatures, external flyers and brochures. Review any other tools that you may need to use to communicate your new brand and develop them as needed. At Propellus we used a ‘Collateral Template’ to help us stay on track with all the pieces that needed to be created and revised, it allowed us to track the status of individual pieces, keep an eye on costs and timelines.
  8. Ongoing Plan. The final element of any rebranding strategy is to develop a plan to promote and strengthen your new brand. Develop both an external plan and an internal plan because it is essential that your employees embrace the new brand. Remember every interaction your staff has with your stakeholders builds your brand.

Even with all the planning in the world at the end of the day, some things are simply down to chance and dumb luck. In our case we launched our rebranded organization, Propellus on June 20, 2013, the same day that a local state of emergency was declared due to extreme flooding. Not the perfect timing we hoped for, but thanks to months of work and planning, a sound rebranding strategy backed up by solid research, we still created a strong foundation for our rebranded organization.


Written by Karen Franco, (Former) Director, Communications

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