The 8-Question Framework for Successful Rebrands

If you are leading an internal rebrand, your job is not to collect everyone’s thoughts and synthesize them into one cohesive brand. You will make yourself beyond miserable, people will criticize your work and you’ll end up with a weak, diluted brand that is difficult to activate. Whatever you are trying to get done — brand guidelines, new website, voice and tone, logos or colors, sales tools, or marketing campaigns — most make the journey harder on themselves.

As the leader of a rebrand, you must be equal parts leader, moderator, pioneer and rogue creative. You must have strong point-of-view, but also be open-minded. You must have theories and be ready to validate them (or have them proven wrong). You must manage agencies, designers, marketers, contractors, employees, deadlines and all manners of antagonism.

A rebrand is likely to be one of the most challenging and rewarding professional endeavors of any marketer’s or creative’s career. That’s not to say it isn’t worth every drop of sweat (and maybe a few tears), but it will be trying.

There are tons of fluffy brand questions that people start with. Things like …

  • “What kind of personality do you have?”
  • “What is the fundamental purpose behind your business/services?”
  • “Are you a casual or conservative brand?”
  • “If your brand was a famous person or movie character who would it be?”

… And on and on. Truthfully, I don’t find any of this helpful. It just distracts you from getting sh*t done. Whether you are running the project internally and/or leveraging an outside agency, you have to ask the right questions in order to get the information you need.

The questions in this exercise will no doubt solicit useful answers, but that’s a secondary benefit. You should finish this exercise with a clear idea of what problems need to be and can be addressed in your rebrand and the confidence of your team that your work is valuable and important.

How to Get Unconscious Buy-In From Your Team

I’ve never heard someone say to a marketer or creative, “Let’s rebrand the company.” If an exec does say that to you, be skeptical because buy-in does not happen from the top. As the leader of a rebrand, you have to earn it.

Your coworkers need to know that you want their feedback and insights. Once they feel confident that your goal is to help the company better reflect the values they believe in, it becomes easier to proceed without being mired in a never-ending sea of conflicting opinions and roadblocks.

Dr. William A. Kahn, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University, identified the conditions that lead to employee buy-in. The key condition, for our purposes, is psychological meaningfulness, or “the personal awareness that there will be a return on one’s personal investment of self in the performance of one’s role.”

This is why you gather people in a room and ask them the questions listed below. When people believe they are being heard, they are far more willing to support you — even if the end result doesn’t reflect their input.

This exercise is designed to help you earn unconscious buy-in. There’s no need to explicitly ask your team, “Do you support this rebrand?” as that is going to get you nowhere. Instead, run them through this meaningful exercise. Give them time and space to reflect and, eventually, speak their mind. Show them that this is about way more than logos and colors. You’ll learn a lot about your current brand, you’ll establish credibility and rally the support of your team.

How to Run the 8-Question Exercise

Here are two things to keep in mind as you dive into this exercise. First, most people won’t know exactly what they think until they start talking. It can also be hard to get folks talking honestly in front of their peers. Our goal is to get them talking and keep them talking.

Second, I seriously don’t recommend starting with CEOs or executives. Instead, focus on the impassioned people who make your company hum. CEOs and other execs are programmed to be conservative. Also, they sometimes act like the smartest people in the room, which can prevent an amazing dialog from ever starting.

Here are a few other guidelines for this exercise to get you going:

  • Gather groups of stakeholders and highly engaged employees. You can’t include everyone and don’t assume you have to. These groups should be no more than 10–12 people at a time.
  • Ask these questions, then poke, prod, and probe until you get people talking. Ask follow-up questions like:
  • “I really like what you said about ______, can you go a little further?”
  • “What do you mean by that?”
  • “Why do you feel that way?”
  • Run several sessions with small groups to maintain your sanity. This gets exhausting quickly.
  • This is tough, but try to complete all groups in a 1-week sprint.
  • Look for patterns and interesting outliers in the answers. Record everything and get it transcribed for further evaluation from Rev or other services.

These questions are deliberately open-ended and meant to catalyze discussion. I suggest putting them in a slide deck and presenting them to the group without any additional context.

1. What simple words describe [your company’s] current brand?

This is my go-to question to set the mood. It gives me a true understanding of what folks think. If they can’t engage with this question, you will have to bring a lot of energy into this session.

When we did this exercise at Copper (ProsperWorks at the time), several employees called our brand “bland.” Many said, “What brand.” The question revealed a disconnect between the company we wanted to be and the company we actually were. That was tough to swallow since it contradicted our mission so drastically.

Make sure the group knows you are neither looking for negative answers or fishing for positive ones. This is all about getting honest feedback on where the brand currently stands. Watch the room for body language of how people are reacting and responding to answers from others. These are amazing visual clues of what will land. We typically have three marketers or creatives watching different people to make sure nothing gets missed.

2. What is the one takeaway you want everyone to know about your company/products/services?

You’ll want to get a lot of input from customer-facing roles like sales and support for this question. But also if you are a product-first company (think Atlassian, Intercom, Mailchimp, Slack, etc.), then it’s critical you bring product managers and sometimes veteran engineers into the fold. They understand how the company or product is currently perceived, can see the potential gaps and will be able to guide you in the right direction.

Don’t expect succinct answers. Regardless of how people respond, go deeper. Ask them for examples or anecdotes from interactions with customers. See if they have thoughts about what a better, simpler experience would look like for customers. Just get them riffing and you’ll eventually find the gold.

Moderator Tip: As a follow-up to someone’s answer, ask that person how their answer differs from how customers perceive your company today.

3. Name some favorite brands that you think [your company] could be like? (Hint: Think inside and outside of your industry)

People love this question. You will not only learn a lot about the company, but a lot about the amazing people you work with and how they think. It’s mind-blowing what comes up. I’ve seen conservative answers, way “out there” answers and some incredible pointers. Be prepared for surprises — I’ve never done this exercise without learning a ton during this discussion.

Answers to this question can be totally aspirational, so encourage people to think big. If you’re in the tech world, you’re almost certainly going to hear people talk about Google, Apple, Slack, Amazon, Spotify, etc. That’s fine, but keep an ear out for the unexpected. Encourage people to think outside of your industry. Airlines, coffee shops, apparel stores/goods, subscription services, shoe companies, banks — it’s all fair game.

Virgin Airlines surprisingly was one that came up in the Copper rebrand. The company’s in-flight safety video had gone viral, sparking a great discussion about how we could add some unexpected charm into our own rebrand. Once someone mentioned Virgin, the whole room opened up and it got wild.

Moderator Tip: Get into the specific parts of the brand they are speaking to: the website, the tone and voice, visual identity, campaigns, the support experience, etc.. Get them to articulate as much as possible. If they are stuck, you can prompt them by having them complete this sentence: “I wish our brand were more like [fill in the blank].”

4. What do you like/dislike about your industry/category and competition?

Imagine you go to a conference, then meet up with a few colleagues for a drink afterward. You get to chatting about the state of your industry. How does that conversation go?

It’ll be raw and unfiltered, that’s for sure. You probably won’t lavish your competitors with compliments or talk about how innovative the industry is. The conversation is more likely to steer towards frustration. You believe that your company is better and are frustrated that not everyone sees it like that.

Asking this question is your chance to have that same conversation. If your company really is different, encourage people to dive in and articulate exactly why. If you are trying to shake up an industry, try to understand the places where you are just like everyone else — then figure out how to change that.

If the team is not giving you the answers you like, ask them about a specific competitor by name. That can open up the room. During the Dialpad and Copper rebrands, the leadership teams and employees had very, very strong negative opinions about the industry. Dialpad founder Craig Walker believed the telephony industry was not evolving and not doing right by its customers. He was on a mission to right this wrong. This was core to the fabric of the culture of the Dialpad and guided every aspect of our work there.

5. Who is the perfect buyer for our product, and what should the brand convey to them?

If you’ve already put together an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), it may be ingrained in the minds of your team, but it’s important to make all the implicit information as explicit as possible.

Sometimes an ICP clouds the answers to this questions. You don’t want people to repeat the words in your ICP documentation, you want free-flowing answers. Make sure to press sales and support for lots of details since these are the people who interact with your customers most.

As you dive in, shift the conversation to what the brand should convey to them. Is it simplicity or sophistication? Are you disrupting the way they work, or integrating into an existing workflow? What problems do they have? How have they tried to solve these problems in the past? And are you solving them?

This is where the theoretical meets the practical. The team is going to uncover a lot of different POVs, sticky points and new opportunities. You don’t need to solve them all immediately, but it’s important to get them all out on the table.

Moderator Tip: You can expand this question by asking participants about people they interact with regularly who are not buyers.

6. What is the evidence that we are better than the competition?

The proof you are looking for comes in a variety of formats. Look for evidence in case studies, product reviews and social media. Ask the sales team which stories, case studies are the most persuasive, or what anecdotes seem to resonate with buyers. Look at your website analytics to see what content regularly performs well.

The answers here have obvious implications. If you and your sellers can identify exactly what resonates with your customers, you can use it as a foundation for your new brand.

7. What is life like for customers before they adopt your product?

What problems do your customers have? And perhaps more importantly, are they acutely aware of those problems? And even more important than that, what have they done to solve those problems in the past?

It’s easy for businesses to assume that potential customers are pining for software to solve every problem, but this is not the case. Your customer might not even realize they have a problem, let alone one that you can solve.

The answers will eventually inform your product story.

8. What is life like for customers after they adopt your product?

Obviously, you want your company to be seen as a lifesaver to your customers and maybe even the world. That may or may not be the case currently and your support team and/or account managers should be able to fill you in.

If this is going well, you need to unlock success stories for use in sales and marketing. Put those anecdotes to work in case studies, blog posts, landing pages, one-pagers, and on and on. If it’s not, this is a good opportunity to talk through where you’re lacking and make a plan to fix it.

“I Have a TON of Information. Now What?”

Conducting this exercise with even a few small groups is going to generate a lot of information. We did this with seven groups at Copper and ended up with 145 pages of transcripts.

As you filter through the raw data, keep an eye out for recurring patterns and organize content around those pillars: words that come up frequently, problems with the existing brand that everyone is aware of, and the sentiment around the brands that get mentioned.

Just completing the exercise at all de-risks your rebrand and can be a ton of fun. People will be bought in and some will be eager to help. The work, of course, has just begun. In the next post in this series, I’ll walk through how to audit your brand and how the answers to these questions played a role in activating them into sales and marketing performance.