This article originally appeared in Branders Magazine.

As we embark on 2021, we still do not know when this pandemic period will end. Today, “normal” means a world of constant change and upheaval. Whether you rebrand to signify the next step in your company’s evolution or a renewed emphasis on your purpose, one thing is certain—for companies who are announcing a brand change, the focus should be on people, not logos and taglines.

Three key principles can ensure success: empathy, agility and, above all, investment in your people. 

Start with empathy

In our current environment, the “Big Bang launch,” usually used to create buzz, will be met with skepticism. People are looking for brands to provide something useful as they navigate this new world. Any rebrand must demonstrate how you are changing to best address and serve your audiences’ evolving needs.

Begin with your story—but, perhaps surprisingly, don’t make it about you. Taking an empathetic approach that centers on your audience is even more meaningful in the current clutter of communications.

During the height of COVID-19 concerns, the American Lung Association launched its new brand  not by talking about the rebrand but by focusing on what the people it serves care about—information about maintaining health. Although it updated its logo—a double-barred cross—and changed its prominent color from red to blue, it downplayed the news with a simple sentence: “If you notice our site is different, we had a refresh” at the bottom of their website.

Build-in flexibility

To create a consistent experience, a controlled and centrally managed launch was the usual path. Now that’s too rigid in a world where day-to-day realities are different from one country to the next. Launch strategies need the freedom to flex, especially for global companies.

Empowering your people to pivot based on their region’s knowledge can make the difference between a launch that stumbles or lands. Allow each location to introduce the new brand in a way that works best for them and their audience. Importantly, it can even unite and strengthen your teams in the process.

2020 showed us that digital tools have never been more crucial and will be the driving force in engaging remote workforces. Jacobs Solutions, a professional services company, ensured its 50,000+ global employees were integral to their brand launch. The entire workforce was encouraged to upload their own images and brand-in-action stories via a microsite that featured a brand video, brand-basics content and Q&As.  Accessible through a company email, it enabled its people to easily participate from their mobile devices.

Robust digital touchpoints offer many advantages. They’re flexible and can support quick moves, so you can test often, evaluate what works and quickly adapt.

Put your people first  

With remote workforces and so much uncertainty, brand-led employee engagement has never been more critical. Unifying employees behind purpose and a clear North Star will help ensure genuine commitment in these tumultuous times.

Your team has to understand and believe in your new brand. Never before have actions spoken louder than words. Launches must demonstrate tangible examples of the change you’re heralding for your employees and your customers. Making relevant promises—and delivering on them—must be the priority.

Three years in advance of when Marvell, a fabless semiconductor company, launched its new brand identity in 2020, they focused on walking the walk before they talked the talk to ensure their people and customers experienced tangible proof points that aligned with the new brand. Chris Koopmans, EVP, Marketing & Business Operations, Marvell shares, “Often when a company embarks on a major change they focus on their external image first. [But we] started with the hard part—we established our new strategy, transformed our business and revamped our culture first, and now we are revealing a new brand that reflects who we are. I believe that signifies our culture—focus on the substance first.”

The words “unprecedented” and “uncertain” are used when talking about the world today. But like baking bread and planting victory gardens, the tried-and-true basics are what will sustain us. With empathy, flexibility and investment in your people, a brand launch is an opportunity to build trust and instill confidence—even if you have to swap out handshakes with digital high fives.


Katie Conway is a Senior Strategy Director