Digital Rebranding: Logistical and Human Factors
This piece describes and offers tips on some of the logistics associated with digital rebranding – changing websites and emails, moving blogs, rebranding social media identities, and promoting the new identity. It also addresses some of the human factors that can complicate (and potentially derail) a digital rebranding effort. The intent is to offer a general sense of the factors to consider when an organization embarks on its own digital rebranding journey. (June 10, 2014)
Author: Courtney Hunt
We embarked on a rebranding journey in the winter of 2013, and it is now (finally!) drawing to a close. I’ve shared some of the lessons learned from the journey, as well as recommendations from our work with clients, in two previous posts:
- Creating a Brand Identity in the Digital Era: 13 Key Factors
- Logo Design in the Digital Era: 6 Critical Factors
This piece supplements the recommendations in those posts by describing and offering tips on some of the logistics associated with digital rebranding – specifically, changing websites and emails, moving blogs, rebranding social media identities, and promoting the new identity. It also addresses some of the human factors that can complicate (and potentially derail) a digital rebranding effort.
The ideas and recommendations that follow are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, the intent is to offer a general sense of the factors to consider when an organization embarks on its own digital rebranding journey. There are many more details and other considerations besides what you’ll read below. Which reminds me…
A Word of Caution
No organization should undertake a rebranding effort without being fully prepared to commit to the process, particularly when it comes to all the digital Is and Ts that need to be dotted and crossed. Physical rebranding creates its own share of complexities, of course (e.g., new signage, new stationary, new marketing and sales materials), but there’s a finiteness to physical property that digital property doesn’t seem to have.
Digital rebranding requires more time than many people assume – not only in terms of the time it takes to do various tasks, but also with respect to waiting periods and the length of time before efforts can be complete. It also involves a lot of effort and a tremendous attention to detail, not to mention perseverance, patience and forbearance (yes, forbearance). It is extremely tedious and labor intensive, and can be frustrating and full of unexpected surprises. Make sure you’ve assembled a team with laser focus, determination, and the mental toughness and commitment to see the process through. I can’t emphasize that enough!
As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
Website and Email Rebranding
Website(s): A new brand identity will almost certainly require the acquisition of a new domain name (or names). And in virtually all cases, it’s going to require a new (as in built from scratch) website. I know it’s tempting to “simply transfer” old website content to the new domain, but that’s unlikely to be the best course of action for a number of reasons. For most organizations, the current (soon to be old) website:
- Is not mobile optimized, which means it’s not rendering as effectively as it could on smartphones and tablets.
- Is not built using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. As I discuss in Website Upgrades: 5 Essential Considerations, a CMS-based site provides maximum future flexibility. And WordPress in particular enables the empowerment of non-technical folks to manage pages and digital content without having to know things like HTML, CSS, or PHP.
- Contains unneeded/wanted/out of date pages and other content. Just as moving into a new home or office creates an opportunity to purge, so does moving to a new digital space.
- Reflects your old branding. Even if you want to keep a majority of the core content, it will still require a lot of editing, and much of the collateral material (e.g., color schemes, images) will likely have to be changed.
- Does not include new pages and content related to the new brand identity.
- Does not have integrated blogging capability, which you’ll want to maximize your SEO (search engine optimization) efforts. This is another reason to go with a CMS like WordPress.
Regardless of how you develop the new website, you’ll need to redirect your old site(s) and individual pages to their new equivalents (e.g., the old Contact Us or About Us pages to the new ones).
You may find that you’ll be running your old and new sites in parallel for a while, as we did, especially if there’s content on the old site that can’t quickly or easily be transferred to the new site (e.g., a blog). If that’s the case, be sure to add redirection text and links on the old site to help people migrate from one to the other.
Eventually you’ll be able to shut down the old site(s) completely and redirect all traffic to the new site. Further down the road, you may also find that you can get rid of the old domain names if you won’t have further use for them. I recommend keeping them for at least a year after the switch to minimize confusion, especially if the previous brand identity is well known and widely used.
Email Accounts: With individual email accounts it’s easy enough to add an autoresponder to old accounts announcing the change, with or without including a new email address. You can also automatically forward messages to new accounts, but you may not want to. Over time we all accumulate unwanted, irrelevant, and spam messages, and setting up a new email account is a great way to weed them out (again, think of the moving analogy). By not autoforwarding messages from their old accounts, people are forced to be proactive in sharing their new email address with key external stakeholders, and to opt in anew to various email lists.
Similarly, it’s worth considering NOT automatically migrating all of the old content to new email accounts. Requiring people to specify what folders and other information should be transferred to their new account (or even having them move it themselves if they can), creates another great digital housecleaning opportunity.
Don’t forget about the generic email accounts too, like email@, info@, help@, etc. They’ll have to be switched and cleaned up too.
If you have a blog that’s independent of your old website, you might get lucky and be able to move the content lock, stock and barrel from the old blog identity to the new one (e.g., from WordPress.com to WordPress.org). But even when you can do that, there’s no guarantee that your old posts will render properly. You may find you have to go back and either delete old posts or reformat them to fit into the new blog set up.
It might also be advisable to move the posts manually, transferring only the content that is timeless and/or has long-tail value. We opted not to transfer well over half of our roughly 230 SMinOrgs posts because they were out of date, no longer reflected our core focus, and/or were connected to failed experiments and defunct initiatives. And even the content we wanted to retain needed to be consolidated and updated before being republished on the new blog. To say that was a Herculean effort is a gross understatement! We’ve been at it over a year and still have about 30 posts to integrate, edit, and migrate. Oy. On the plus side, updating and republishing old content creates new opportunities to share expertise, which in turn helps promote and reinforce the new brand identity. It also attracts new people to your organization and what it has to offer.
Social Media Rebranding
Rebranding your social media accounts ranges from easy to aggravating, depending on the platform. Some platforms, like Twitter, make it super easy: as long as the handle you want isn’t already being used, you can change your Twitter account without losing followers or any of your activity.
Other platforms, like Facebook, are somewhat accommodating, but there are clear limits. For example:
- You can merge similar pages that you own/manage into a single page.
- If fewer than 200 people like your page, you can change the page name yourself. If more than 200 like it, you have to request a page name change from Facebook – and you can only do it once.
- You can change the username for your page (i.e., the term(s) that show up after “http://www.facebook.com/” – but again, you can only do this once.
LinkedIn also has to step in to help with certain identity changes. For example, you can change the name of a company page yourself, but if you want the url for the page to match your new identity, you’ll have to ask LinkedIn to make that change for you. And if you have one or more groups that are connected with your brand identity, you can only change that identity (either the name or the logo or both) a limited number of times before you run afoul of LinkedIn’s rules and will need their help.
Although LinkedIn is accommodating, SlideShare is not. You’ll have to set up a new channel (and a new premium plan, if you have one) to establish a new identity and presence there. Don’t ask me why; I think it’s ridiculous. What’s even more ridiculous is that you have to do the same thing with YouTube. Seriously, Google? Of all organizations you think would be able to make a global change, you think they could handle it. But for whatever reason, they won’t do it. Not only that, but they’ve moved to forcing every Google product to be attached to a gmail account (acceptable) and GooglePlus identity (overreaching). And if you attach a product to the wrong identity, trying to unattach and reattach it is virtually impossible.
One last thought on social media rebranding: For a while at least (up to a year), you’ll want to maintain placeholders for your old identity to be sure no one else can take it and create confusion. Even on a platform like Twitter, for example, where you can change your handle, you’ll want to immediately open a new account with your old identity/handle that redirects to the rebranded one. I know it’s kind of confusing, but it’s necessary. Same goes for Facebook and GooglePlus.
Promoting your new brand identity is kind of like delivering a speech or lecture: tell people what you’re going to do, tell them what you’re doing, and tell them what you’ve done.
It’s almost impossible to overcommunicate during the rebranding process. As I note in the next section, people don’t like surprises, so it may be ill-advised to wait and do a “big reveal.” It’s a good idea to involve people in the rebranding process if/when you can by asking them for their input on what you’re working on.
Be sure to use all available channels to let people know about the rebranding before, during, and after the process is complete. Digitally, this includes email blasts and signature blocks, social media channels, the old and new blogs, and even things like digital press releases and advertisements. Just be sure to space the communications out over time so you don’t cluster post and/or appear spammy.
Rebranding: The Human Factor
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.