We’ve all heard those four little words ‘we need to rebrand.’

There may be a number of reasons for this – repositioning, competition, the website not working, or increasing growth targets demanding a change. Whatever the reason, the process likely begins with a brief that specifies your brand’s clear positioning line, current brand architecture and identities for all the child brands. Next, a significant amount of money is spent creating a new brand strategy, purpose, messaging, logo, website and brand guidelines that tell everyone exactly what to do. All of this is fine. These are great outputs.

However, the mistake that brand owners often make is only focusing on the deliverables. A branding project can open up many unforeseen possibilities. To get more out of the process, leaders need to ask what outcomes could be generated that will positively impact the company, rather than just what outputs will meet their requirements.

The potential for deeper change

Of course, a great branding project will produce impressive deliverables. Brand experiences play out across a plethora of touchpoints. The agency must deliver a flexible and coherent system of assets capable of capturing attention across many different formats and platforms. Customers demand real time delivery, contact on their terms (and channels) and they also want to know that brands share their values.

So, when planning for a rebrand, by all means create a list of deliverables. But it’s a good idea to do that in the context of intended outcomes. These may include greater engagement, new structures, a stronger link between management and the workforce, new ways of working, and career progression for the project team. When you involve clients as well as future talent, you can create interest and goodwill that will lead to better recruitment and stronger client relationships.

Being open to emergent outcomes

Clayton Christensen, the guru of ‘disruptive innovation’, advised businesses to prepare for emergent outcomes that they cannot plan for. “Very often,” he said, “when a company is trying to implement a deliberate strategy, they’re focused on their [original] goal. On the right and on the left, there are emergent opportunities that they don’t even see because they’re so focused on the original goal. If you’re in a mode of emergent strategy, yes, you have to go after something in a deliberate way. But you have to plan on things to emerge on the right and on the left of that which you may never have thought about before.”

Being attuned to emergent outcomes can help shape the branding process and open up people’s perspectives. In turn, that offers the potential for a wide range of positive changes outwith the scope of the initial brief. In their potential for positive change, these outcomes can far exceed outputs. This is the exciting part, the journey that the company goes on, and it should be the focus.

A great example of a company thriving through an emergent opportunity is the way Honda created a new market while competing with Harley Davidson. When the Japanese manufacturer was looking to expand to the US, they knew Americans favoured large, powerful bikes designed for long distances, so they launched with a product to meet those tastes. But despite their best efforts, it didn’t catch on. Frustrated employees rode their smaller ‘super cub’ bikes into the mountains to let off steam and found that the locals wanted to know where they could get the bikes from. Within a year, Honda’s strategy had completely changed to focus on the emerging off-road market for these smaller bikes – and with it, the company’s fortunes rose.

Opportunity through diversity

With a rebrand, one way to realise emergent opportunities is through effective engagement with the process throughout the company. This starts with a fundamental question: who should be involved?


The best agency partners will be those who help the client think fundamentally about who they are and how they express themselves through their brand. It’s helpful to create working teams that cross hierarchies, functions and regions, representing the diversity of the business.

– Gilmar Wendt, Principal @ GW+Co


One case of engaging the workforce in brand development to great effect is that of Nokia in the early nineties. The company needed a breakthrough strategy to reach their goal of selling one billion phones in a year – at a time when there were only 35 million mobile subscribers in the entire world. To find one, rather than enacting a top-down strategy, leaders invited ideas from the edges of the organisation. Dozens of employees were split into teams that would focus on identifying industry orthodoxies, discontinuities, core competencies, and unmet needs and unserved customers. The insights generated were used as the raw materials in marathon brainstorming sessions involving hundreds of employees. Out of this came more than two thousand semi-formed ideas about how Nokia could reimagine the mobile phone business. These were eventually collated around three themes – going beyond voice, creating lifestyle products, and building network solutions. These would become the pillars of Nokia’s brand and strategy – one that would propel the company to industry leadership. This open approach produced a strategy that was not just visible but widely understood. By the end of the project, everyone knew exactly where the business was heading and was committed to making the mobile phone “the remote control for life”. In 2002, Nokia sold more than a billion phones in a single year.

GW+Co’s recent work with a chemical technologies business also sourced insight from beyond the usual in-house experts. With a cradle-to-cradle certified sustainable product, the company was seeking to better articulate its brand and sustainability credentials. By working with a cross-section of people, from chemical engineers to sustainability activists, an all-encompassing and inclusive purpose was discovered that became the basis for the company’s strategy, culture and brand. Since it was created with input from every part of the business, there was no need for an extensive engagement programme. The brand, vision and purpose were ingrained from day one.

A rebrand to address culture and strategy

Businesses often start by talking about the brand, but this leads them to emergent strategic and cultural issues. The greatest added value in the branding process lies in the ability to address these issues by weaving them into the project discussions. A continued focus on the narrow outputs of brand identity risks missing out on the opportunities that arise from bringing strategy, brand and culture into one. This may seem complex and somewhat daunting compared to the more straightforward process of creating a new brand design. But a successful rebrand is one that helps an organisation (re-)connect with and communicate its culture and strategy both internally and externally. And staying open to new outcomes and working with a partner who can facilitate these, can lead to results which far exceed the original project deliverables.


This article was first published on Brandingmag.com.

Cover image source Wylly Suhendra

Gilmar Wendt is the Founder and Principal of GW+Co.
Contact him on gw@gilmarwendt.com @gilmarwendt