Don’t be an IHOP

To rebrand or not to rebrand.

Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at and

“We’re thinking of rebranding.”

It feels like I’m hearing this more and more. That, and the recent publicity stunt by International House of Pancakes (IHOP), has emphasized a need for a little Brand 101. Let’s start with the basics.

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Why rebrand?

Years ago, I was leading the brand development of a 20-year-old regional company. We had started working through some rebranding and refreshment of the company’s existing products, and we were introducing new products that customers were receiving well. Emboldened by this success, I felt the next step would be to rebrand the whole company. I bravely broached the topic with the chairman. He was thoughtful for a moment before replying, “When this company is a different company,” he said, “you can rebrand it.” Lesson learned … again. I had been drunk on rebranding and had forgotten what a brand really was.

Like most effective marketing efforts, success will depend on whether your desire to rebrand is grounded in your overall strategy. Some good reasons to rebrand include:
•    The company or product has simply changed and no longer matches the same brand promise as it once did.
•    The customer profile has changed, and the existing brand no longer resonates with the same strong bond as before. Dated brands (or operations) that may be past their prime can find renewed life, which can drive additional dollars from existing customers and hopefully draw new customers.
•    A new addition to the existing portfolio may “fit” better if it is part of a newer, fresher brand.
•    A business is blending in with everyone else and needs to differentiate itself in a way that its current brand is not accomplishing.

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Of course, there are times when the draw of something new and the hope that it will make a difference rule the day and strategy is tossed aside. A few not-great reasons to rebrand include:
•    New ownership or a new management team has come in and they want to make a change.
•    A company is looking to spice things up a little — create some news.
•    The idea that, “We’ve got money; let’s do something different.”
•    Someone has come up with an idea for a publicity stunt. I’m looking at you, IHOP.
Earlier this year, the well-loved IHOP announced it would soon have big news, teasing it with a graphic that turned the “P” in their logo to a “B”. The company continued the tease by replacing the letters in many of their tweets. After many guesses, the company announced it would be changing its name to IHOB. However, the joke was on us. It turns out that the company just wanted to tell everyone about their presumably brand-worthy burgers. They claimed it was just a publicity stunt, but although the original set of tweets received a very high engagement rate, the subsequent announcement received barely over 300 likes compared to the 45,000 likes the announcement received. In fact, the @IHOB account never really caught on.

The lesson here is that any step away from your core brand for the sake of causing a stir can often backfire. Existing loyal customers think you’re taking something away from them. Potential new targets will evaluate you against what they already know. Frankly, you can grab a burger on practically every other block, but you know what’s harder to get? Pancakes any time of the day that you want them. That is the IHOP brand.

Before you can put a new name on something, you need to be ready to deliver something new, not just the same thing with a new name. Sometimes that delivery requires significant investment beyond the development of a logo, such as new signage, updating marketing materials, new uniforms, training, etc.

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If you do have a good reason to rebrand, however, these would be my five steps to success:
•    Set measurable goals aligned with the business strategies and determine a baseline measurement.
•    Review your brand presence and develop your rollout project list.
•    Research customers, the market and the competition.
•    Develop creative elements, test and retest in an iterative fashion using focus groups and/or online surveys.
•    Launch your new brand and review your efforts.


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