Everything I Know About Rebranding (Not Much!)

27 April 2020 | 13 Comments

This is a bit of a weird topic for me to write about, as I haven’t ever rebranded a company, nor do I have any plans to rebrand Stonemaier Games. But I find the idea of rebranding interesting, and it was recently brought to my attention by Cody at Gold Nugget Games, as it’s something he’s considering.

What Is Rebranding?

In general terms (I’ll get more specific in a moment), rebranding is the process of changing or refining your brand identity. This often manifests in a new logo, slogan, or even a new name.

When to Consider Rebranding?

There are a variety of possible reasons; I’ll name just a few of them here:

  • If your original branding is outdated as compared to your current identity. Sometimes companies become more focused over time (see Overworld Game’s rebranding to Pull the Pin Games); other times they grow to include product categories that weren’t in their original vision (see CMON).
  • If your branding is confusing. Do people know what you’re selling based on your name or logo?
  • If your current graphic design isn’t ideal for retail shelf presence. That was the impetus for Pandasaurus’ rebranding.
  • If you spent too little time or money on the original and now you have more resources at your disposal. Stonemaier Games would fall into this category. We started the company in 2012 with a $2400 investment in art and graphic design (mostly for Viticulture, but also for the logo). I actually like our logo–Christine has touched it up over the years–but it’s always bothered me a little bit that the company acronym is SM instead of SG. It’s not Stone Maier; it’s Stonemaier Games.
  • If your original branding is now offensive, inappropriate, or offputting in modern times. There may have been a time when the name Washington Redskins was politically correct (I can’t imagine why or when that was okay, though). I struggled to conceive of how that continues to be true. I also wonder if Corona beer will consider rebranding (through no fault of their own).
  • If you want to sell merchandise. Plenty of sports franchises update their uniforms and logos every few years, at least partially in the hopes that fans will buy the latest merchandise.
  • If you want to hide past mistakes. I won’t use any examples here, but I can think of a few companies that were mired in issues and controversy. Instead of fixing those problems, they simply changed their names.

What Are Some Potential Issues?

  • Expense. Paying for graphic design and consulting can be expensive, both in terms of money and time.
  • Confusion. Just as rebranding can solve confusion, ineffective rebranding can cause it as well. People who once looked for your brand may no longer recognize it.
  • Perception. Your fans may prefer your original branding, so you might get some backlash over the updated version.
  • Impact. How many people buy by the brand? Yes, there are amazing fans who closely follow Stonemaier Games and are at least intrigued by every product we release. But for the majority of people, how many of them walk into a game store and say, “Show me everything from Stonemaier Games!” Okay, that’s a bit dramatic–there’s still value in someone realizing that Game A is made by the same company that made Game B.

How to Actually Rebrand?

I came across some articles that describe the process much better than I can, especially given that this is a process I haven’t tried. I’ll link to them below:

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Have you observed or participated in a rebranding? What did you learn?

Also read: Picking the Right Name for Your Project

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13 Comments on “Everything I Know About Rebranding (Not Much!)

  1. Good tips! Jamey is right that gamers are loyal to games, not as much to publishers. We re-branded Overworld Games to Pull the Pin Games for a lot of reasons:
    – The biggest one was that after 5-6 years of creating ~10 titles, we realized which kinds of games we were good at making and decided to re-brand around a single box style that could contain those games, a name that describes the experience you have opening the box, and the explosive moments you’ll find inside.
    – Another reason was that people saw our pixel-style logo and name “Overworld Games” and thought we were a video game company. Not that “Pull the Pin Games” really tells you we’re a board game company… but at least it doesn’t mislead anyone.
    – We also did it as an experiment. We wanted to see what would happen and learn from it. This is a hobby business for us so no one’s livelihood depends on it.

    It’s only been 6 months so it’s too early to tell if it has been worth it, but so far, I don’t regret it. There were some downsides though:
    – It has taken a lot of *time* to update every reference of the old company name, which is even harder (and impossible in some cases) when you make printed products that you can’t digitally update.
    – It has taken a lot of *money* to go through trademark registration, domain registration, and updating our website.
    – We lost a lot of *brand recognition*. We weren’t a super well known company name in the past, but most retailers and distributors and some board game veterans knew the name “Overworld Games”, especially since Good Cop Bad Cop has been so successful.

    All that time and money could have been spent on new product development or marketing, especially since most of the effort for this was done by me and Clayton who also design and develop most of our games. But it has been a nice reset for us that I think we needed. It re-energized us. In another year or so, we’ll have a much better feeling for how successful it was and how many more people are pulling that pin.

  2. Hi Jamey – thanks for a timely blog (and the link to Lesson #129 on naming). I spent a couple of hours this evening working on branding and name ideas with colleagues who are looking for investment to scale up their small gaming company. Their first game has had consistently successful sales at gaming conventions over the last few years and is really intuitive and highly engaging to play, with many loyal fans who are keen on competitions at boardgame cafes and events. That’s led to a licensing deal, opportunities for running competitions at corporate events and festivals, and possibilities around app-based versions. But to make a wider success of the original game in mainstream distribution it needs a radical redesign with new packaging and a new name. And that ideally should be done in a way that will link to a future range of related but different games with the same core concept and similar appeal.

    We want the redesign/rebranding to retain the enthusiasm that the original game generates among its fans while tying in with the overall vision and feel of the growing company. So getting the brand right at this stage is crucial – both for the company itself and their range of future products. And that means going back over the business plan to test where we really want to end up and decide where best to focus effort. So many thanks for all the useful links.

    1. Incidentally, whilst brainstorming potential name ideas, we came across a business name generator site (https://namelix.com/) that I found helpful in sparking additional ideas.

      The other thing I’ve been thinking about is holding a ‘pre-mortem’ (see (https://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem) to reduce the risk of wanting to rebrand in the future. A pre-mortem involves using prospective hindsight to think back from where we might be in 5 years or so, and use that to test whether our branding ideas might stand the test of time and different possible future scenarios.

  3. Good post. I’m a logo designer, and I would add another reason to rebrand:

    A good logo needs to be “flexible.” This includes:

    A) Works well in one color (some mediums only allow for one color) and
    B) Works at very small sizes (for example, your logo will appear as a tiny profile picture next to your posts on most social media channels).

    I’ve worked in a couple of rebrand situations where the company’s old “logo” was more like a “picture”; maybe even a good looking picture, but the sort of thing that couldn’t be reproduced clearly at small sizes.

    This is one of the reasons why simplicity is key in logo design.

    The current Stonemaier Games logo does quite well in this regard. It’s monotone, and the “SM” icon can stand on its own in situations where the full name wouldn’t be legible.

    On that note, I think “SM” is the way to go; not “SG.”

    An acronym’s one job is to remind you of the name when the name won’t fit. “SM” does this more successfully (because “Stonemaier” isn’t commonly said, and “Games” isn’t the distinctive part of the name).

    PS: I call dibs on rebranding Stonemaier Games if you ever decide to pursue that! :P

  4. I am embarrassed to say that the SM vs. SG thing had never occured to me until reading this.

    As someone who has had a few false starts for trying to create something special — something at which you, sir, have obviously succeeded — I have had the money to get a professional ‘brand’ logo done twice; I am also working under a logo, right now, that I designed.

    * I tried to start a game publishing company called “Jagged Edge Games.” My partner and I had a professional logo drawn up. We loved it! When we parted ways, he kept the name and the logo.

    * I am currently operating under the name “ZiLa Games.” The logo for that, I designed; I had no money for a professional.

    * “ZiLa Games” has published an RPG (Arcanum: 30th Anniversary Edition). The system / system reference document has a logo for which I hired a professional. I love it!

    Oddly, the “Jagged Edge Games” and “ZiLa Games” logos have received nothing but praise; the “Arcanum: 30th Anniversary Edition” logo has received nothing but criticism. A professional is very important; but results are not guaranteed.

  5. As a business prof (but not marketing), I want to discuss a related topic, when should you create an additional new brand. If you were to ask me what I thought when asked what the Stonemaier brand is I would say: Quality components, excellent art work, beautiful inserts and games with well considered mechanics – Input luck instead of outcome luck, very little in the way of Take-That, multiple successful strategies to win.

    Your logo is not exciting but it does have a tie in with the hexagon tiles of Catan and other games including Scythe

    If you were to want to produce games that changed the basic philosophy of game play – say go into war games, I would actually recommend a company like yours to create another brand so as not to confuse buyers of your current philosophy.

    So there are a few thoughts on rebranding or really in this case creating a new brand so as not to create confusion with a well-understood and respected current brand.

  6. I actually like SM better than SG, as even though your sell board games, IMO it’s the StoneMaier (SM) part that is the most important to be recognized, and which is part of your story (2 co-founders, Stone and StegMaier, thus SM). There are a lot of companies that doesn’t have the what they do in their name or logo and we still all know what the do and recognize theme easily (and this is more flexible for when your activities shift a bit). And you have an iconic hex to refer to board games anyway. But if you want really bad to have the game word in your logo, you could easily put it under your current one, without any confusion for us the public, but it is necessary IMO. As always, thanks for these great articles!

  7. Lots of great information, and a fun tidbit about your preference of SG vs SM! I think (aside from the logo) people defaulted into SM because I think the Games part of company names is just taken for granted, or writing “hey did you play the new SG game?” is kinda awkward as you wouldn’t say “have you played that new Stonemaier Games Game”

    As someone going through the process right now. There is definitely a lot to consider that I think would be hard to put in a short blog post. Things like how much it will cost, website/name/social handles/so many things availability.

    In going through the process, while i’ve semi officially rebranded, there is another company small company in the video game space that has basically the same name as im switching to. So I am actively in contact with that company to get their thoughts on if there could be confusion in the market. Which I don’t think there will be, we are in separate markets and my marketing/branding is going to be vastly different then theirs.

    But thats a big thing to be aware of is how easy it is to search for your company and what else comes up when you search for it. For example, Gold Nugget Games, the Gold Nugget casino is the other thing that dominates the front page of the google search.

    All in all, its not something that should be taken lightly, and is quite the process!

  8. As a professional Graphic Designer, I live this subject.
    For those considering a Rebrand, here are a few things to keep in mind:
    1) A logo needs to be Appropriate. Give the right feel.
    2) A Logo needs to be Distinctive. Needs to be different enough from other logos and memorialbe… can someone sketch it after seeing it for 5 seconds?
    3) A Logo should be Simple. So it can work very small or very large and is still legible. And finally,
    4) A Logo is NOT Communication… it is Identification.
    I hope this helps anyone looking to rebrand!

    1. Just to add to this, rebranding is also far more that designing a new logo. You’re correct that the logo is identification, but a rebrand is really about effectively communicating your brand identity and presence.

      In addition to the logo, a branding agency is going to provide you with color schemes, font choices, use case scenarios, design principles, etc. This is all based off interviews they’ll hold with you about the type of company you want to be known as, what feeling you want to elicit when people view your content, and what direction you’d like your company to move in.

      I just wanted to add this as I feel like, especially in the board game industry, many seem to equate branding with a logo. For very small publishers or retailers, this might be fine, but true branding is much broader in scope.

      1. You are Very correct.
        That is probably the biggest misconception. Branding is not just a Logo.
        I highlight the Logo because it is the culmination of all of the Branding Research and problemsolving.
        A lot of work goes into finding the right the Fonts, Pantones, and Styleguides… these are all used to create the Itdentity, or Logo, of your business.

  9. In BGG’s case, our branding was severely outdated. It both conveyed a messaging we no longer wanted to portray, and made it incredibly hard to do clean, modern, or attractive pretty-much-anything.

    In our case, we also had the hurdle of a very large userbase that was accustomed, and fairly attached, to the outdated branding, so it took a while for the new to be embraced. The initial roll-out was expectedly non-enthusiastic! :)

    Merchandise sales are probably our biggest gauge of acceptance. At first, we saw extremely little merchandise sales, but this has steadily picked up, and going very well now that we’re 6 months out.

    Huge pieces of advice I’d give:

    1) Use professionals. This made the process so much better, and pointed us in directions that our inexperience with branding would have never taken us had we simply hired an artist for $500 to design a logo (which, I feel, is the approach most of the board game industry takes). It’s really a comprehensive process of brand identity, and having a toolkit at hand, that ensures anything you produce stays on-brand. They also help with roll-out strategy to ensure you don’t make missteps at the outset.

    2) Don’t be discouraged by the initial response. People don’t like change, and especially on the internet, are going to be blunt about what they think. This passes, and people come to embrace the new.

    1. As a Professional Graphic Designer, I REALLY appreciate that you went to Professionals.
      Thank You!
      I could tell that you went to people who knew what they were doing.

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