The human aspect to digital rebranding cannot be ignored, and its importance should not be underestimated. The human factor has three basic dimensions: feedback, change adaptation, and communication. It also has one key requirement: emotional intelligence.
Note: When I wrote this, I was only thinking about external stakeholders. But the same principles – and challenges – can apply to internal stakeholders too.
Feedback: As big brands like Netflix and The Gap have learned (the hard way!), customers and other stakeholders don’t like surprises – and they won’t hesitate to let you know, in no uncertain terms, if they think a new brand identity or logo is not to their liking.
Whenever possible, it’s good to be proactive. Let people know you’re making a change, and develop mechanisms for soliciting their feedback through various channels. Then brace yourselves. People can be ruthless and downright mean, especially when they’re providing feedback via (anonymous) digital channels. We developed a survey to ask people what they thought about the four identities we had developed, and some of the comments still sting. But as harsh as they were, they were also valuable, saving us from the potential backlash and embarrassment that would have come from a poor choice.
Change Adaptation: We all know that people get used to “how things are” and don’t necessarily welcome change. We definitely encountered some resistance and loss after we established our new identity from people who didn’t agree with or like it. Because the change didn’t reflect their perception of what we were (or should be), they protested the change and/or discontinued their digital relationship with us. This was especially true in the LinkedIn group, which was so closely tied to one of our old brands. Though our membership had grown steadily in the first four years, after the rebranding we experienced a net loss for several months. We ultimately decided to detach the group’s name from our brand identity, which seemed to minimize confusion and got us back on track.
But we weren’t the only ones who adapted. Several people have told me that they didn’t originally understand the purpose of our rebranding and didn’t like the change, but over time they grew to understand, agree with and even appreciate it. Sometimes it just takes time for people to catch up…
Communication: Good communication is vitally necessary, but it should never be assumed to be sufficient. We were very conscientious about announcing the impending change, explaining its motivation, and keeping people apprised of our progress, but we couldn’t force them to pay attention. More than once I was stymied by some of the feedback and comments we got, which clearly indicated they hadn’t read what we had been sharing. Being poorly informed and unaware of the facts didn’t keep them from having a strong opinion though!
Emotional Intelligence: As noted in the earlier sections, dotting all the digital Is and crossing all the digital Ts is certainly very tedious and time consuming. But relatively speaking, the technical aspects of digital rebranding are fairly easy. The emotional aspects can be a lot tougher. Successfully navigating digital rebranding efforts requires a thick skin, patience, and knowing how to bite your tongue. As I mentioned above, some of the negative feedback we got was hard to take, and it was frustrating to realize that people weren’t paying sufficient attention to our efforts to communicate and ease the transition for them. But we sucked it up, focusing on the positive and looking for value in the negative. And even though we adapted where necessary, we held strong to the belief we were doing the right thing and that the “right” stakeholders would see that and stick with us. And they did.