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Learning from Rebranding Decisions is an Iterative Process

The process of making a rebranding decision is like riding a bike for the first time. Think about the excitement you felt when you laid eyes your own very first bike. You’d seen other people successfully riding bikes, and it looked pretty easy, right? So maybe you just jumped on only to find yourself sprawled on the pavement wondering what happened. If you didn’t have some notion of the purpose of wheels, chain, pedals, brakes, and handlebars chances are that you skinned your knee (and your pride) more than once. Even after gaining some understanding of the mechanics of how the bike works, other factors can make riding a bike more challenging. Is the seat in the right position? Have you considered if your shoes are good for pedaling? Are you wearing clothing that could get stuck in the chain? Is the environment such as the terrain, traffic, weather suitable for riding a bike? Experience in assessing the factors each time you ride a bike reduces your chances of getting hurt. You show off your skills as a competent bike rider during carefree days spent with your friends, but maybe something happens that makes you consider upgrading your bike or getting a different bike. Your friend is riding a BMX bike or a motorcycle and lets you try it out. Do you jump on and hope for the best or did you learn from your first solo bike ride?

As U.S. based organizations are not learning from their mistakes, many companies react to changes by jumping into expensive rebranding campaigns. This approach is like learning how to ride a bike without recognizing what factors might impact your ability to ride. A more cautionary approach to rebranding decisions requires that sometimes you need to know when it’s time to slow down and master what you’re doing by developing existing skills or core competencies. Furthermore, as a rebranding campaign gains momentum taking your hands off the handlebars is not a wise idea. However, acknowledging this behavior is more straightforward than understanding how it happens. To explain how the lack of rebranding information is impacting rebranding decisions in U.S. organizations, looking at the problem through a theoretical lens provides a safety net.

Tip: Keep the training wheels on until it is safe to proceed with the rebranding decision.

Theoretical Lenses

Three theories were considered for explaining the problem (1) stakeholder theory; (2) organizational identity theory (OIT); and (3) organizational learning theory. At first stakeholder theory seems like a good fit for explaining the conflict that is created when stakeholders are motivated by selfishness in their associations impacting their decisions. However, the ongoing ambiguity of the definition of stakeholders makes application to the problem less credible. As a lens, OIT explains how individual interests define the organization. In regards to organizational development such as an organizational change through rebranding, the OIT lens offers a limited view that focuses on the barriers or resistance to change. While both theories provide some explanation of the problem organizations face when making rebranding decisions, neither one addresses the problem that U.S. based organizations are having in understanding the factors that influence rebranding decisions.

Organizational learning theory

Chris Argyris and Donald Schön introduced the concept of organizational learning described by Argyris as “a process of detecting and correcting error.” Single-loop learning is the ability of an organization to maintain current policies or ensure the intended outcome by taking an alternative action in response to a mistake, whereas double-loop learning is questioning the current policies and expected outcomes by reverse engineering the error. Organizational learning theory suggests that learning can only occur if the information is shared effectively throughout the process. Since the majority of rebranding initiatives fail, it’s fairly obvious that U.S. based organizations are not learning from their mistakes. Therefore, by looking through the lens of organizational learning theory, we can develop a framework that explains why American companies are finding themselves sprawled on the pavement nursing their skinned knees.

Theoretical Framework

Figure 1 illustrates the theoretical framework based on organizational learning theory that explains how “scanning” or researching to determine the primary factors that influence rebranding decisions in U.S. based organizations is the first step to facilitating organizational learning. The second step as depicted in the theoretical framework places importance on the interpretation of the research data in developing a taxonomy of rebranding factors to assist in making rebranding decisions. However, the feedback loops show how organizational learning is an iterative process that encourages feedback that may indicate going back to the scanning or interpretation steps in support of effective brand management strategies.

Figure 1: Theoretical framework based on organizational learning theory adapted from Dr. Tracy Bertram-Elliott.

Although the conceptual model explains why U.S. based organizations are struggling in making effective rebranding decisions, investigating the internal, external, and other factors that impact rebranding decisions requires putting away our bikes and heading to the garden in post #3 of this four-part series. We’ll have to put on your oven mitts in post #4 to find out what knowing the factors that influence rebranding decisions mean for U.S. based organizations. If you missed post #1, feel free to go back to get an idea of what American companies spend on rebranding campaigns.

Links to all posts in the four-part series:

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