With the influx of new companies hitting the market, having a recognizable brand presence is more important than ever. But when your company reaches an inflection point and it’s time to evolve, it can be a challenge to maintain employee engagement during the move ahead.

Recently, the dating app Bumble announced its refreshed brand identity, launching a new ‘Opening Moves’ feature that eases some of the pressure for women to make the first move — the app’s signature hallmark. The update comes in the wake of several other major rebrands over the past year, from Kellogg Company splitting into Kellanova and WK Kellogg Co. to Johnson & Johnson’s spinoff and later separation from Kenvue.

According to research, 75% of companies have experienced a rebrand since 2020 and since the COVID-19 pandemic, 51% of companies have updated their branding strategy. Shifting consumer demands continue to push companies to evolve, and 2023 marked several noteworthy mergers and acquisitions.

When done right, a rebrand will energize employees. People want to be part of something that’s growing and improving, and a rebrand is an opportunity. “[Rebranding] brings the fuel behind that business strategy because people see where it’s pointing toward in the market and that gives them motivation,” adds Jim Heininger, Founder/Principal of The Rebranding Experts, a consultancy advising corporate clients through rebrands.

For women executives leading a rebrand, there may be added pressure to “get it right.” It’s well documented that women CEOs are frequently hired to lead tricky turnarounds, only to be shown the door when sky-high expectations go unfulfilled. Because of this “glass cliff,” women CEOs typically have a 25% shorter tenure than their male counterparts.

Women executives should also be wary when they’re brought on to bolster a brand’s image without a long-term strategy for success. Victoria’s Secret attempted to rebrand in 2021 by partnering with World Cup soccer champion Megan Rapinoe, activist Paloma Elsesser and journalist Amanda de Cadenet, among others, but the strategy fell flat in part because customers didn’t feel like the lingerie company’s efforts were authentic.

That’s because authenticity comes from the top. Employees take their cues from company leaders when crafting the company’s new direction, says Heininger. "It’s critical leadership embraces and owns rebranding…they have to carry the flag for the rebranding. They have to be the first to tell the story and embody the values of the brand, which requires time to make sure they can do that confidently and a plan for where they are going to communicate those messages, be visible, and where they are going to represent the new brand."

Over Communication Is Key

When it comes time to rebrand, operate with transparency. It’s important to let employees know early, give them context, and communicate every step of the way.

For Kellanova, the rebrand was an 18-month process from the spinoff announcement of its North American cereal business on June 21, 2022, followed by numerous global town halls, team group discussions, and employee coffee chats. The idea behind the split was that each company would have more intrinsic shareholder value separately.

“It was super important to make sure people were moving through the change curve successfully. We’re really proud of the fact that we over communicated. We would hold town halls even if we had no new news to share,” says Kris Bahner, Senior Vice President, Chief Global Corporate Affairs Officer at Kellanova.

The employee communication should include sharing the business strategy on what’s changing about the organization that a new brand can help communicate and represent.

“You always want to keep it aspirational, because you want employees reaching harder to deliver on that new brand promise. It’s smart to put it out there a little bit at arms’ length as a little bit of aspiration; it gives fuel to the business strategy,” explains Heininger.

For Bumble, the business strategy behind the rebrand was to offer more choice in how women use the app.

“In listening to our community, many have shared their exhaustion with the current online dating experience, and for some, that includes making the first move… We want to evolve with our community, shifting from a fixed approach to giving women more options in how they engage,” shares Lidiane Jones, CEO of Bumble.

Put Employees at the Center

Once you’ve effectively communicated the upcoming rebrand, it’s time to engage employees so they feel involved in the process.

“If employees feel valued during the process, productivity and engagement will increase. If not, the rebrand will fail or move slower as you try to rebuild both culture and brand simultaneously,” advises Kevin Walters, Cultural Strategist at Top DEI Consulting Co, advising companies on business strategy.

At Kellanova, one successful strategy was asking employees for submissions on the new company name. Kellogg Company received more than 4,000 submissions and based the new corporate names on that input.

Many employees suggested the company founder’s name, WK Kellogg Co., as the name for the cereal company. For the spinoff snacking brand, the team received submissions with the phrase “nova” and the root of “Kell” with several other phrases. These submissions ended up serving as inspiration for the name Kellanova, which included the company root of “Kell” and the word “anova,” meaning a new beginning.

To involve employees in the name reveal announcement, the company worked with Brunswick Group to create an unveil video which featured more than 275 employees holding up the new brand name letters. This film was shared at a global town hall on March 15, 2023.

The rebrand unveiling is also a strong way to emphasize deep-rooted company principles.

“With this new [Bumble] global campaign, we wanted to take a fun, bold approach in celebrating the first chapter of our app’s evolution and remind women that our platform has been solving for their needs from the start. As we roll out these exciting updates to our product, our core principle remains the same: empowering women in every connection and in every relationship,” says Selby Drummond, Bumble’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Measure Employee Buy-in

To ensure the company rebrand is a success, check in on employees throughout the journey using data. Because employees often have strong ties to the original corporate branding, the transition can be a challenging process.

Bahner advises running regular employee engagement surveys and getting baseline metrics on employee engagement data from external partners, so you understand the norm for employee engagement at your company and in your industry. This way, you can see how the rebrand may be impacting your workforce.

Kellanova ran surveys asking employees to rate how they were feeling on a scale of 0-100, and tracked that through external data of how people move on a change curve.

Bahner also personally conducted one-on-one interviews with peers to understand where they were at throughout the brand renaming process.

As Heininger explains, “Rebranding is a very emotional process, because you’re letting go of the past and all those things that contributed to making you successful.”

“You’re on the trapeze and you’re reaching between the bars, waiting to grab the next bar and swing forward.”