“Change Everything”: What It Takes to Rebrand a Company in Six Months, Warts and All
Last year, I drove down to North Carolina for my father-in-law’s 70th birthday party. When my husband and I pulled into the driveway, I immediately noticed an overgrown lawn and the washing machine on the front porch alongside the wood that was being used to re-floor the inside of the house...and that was just the beginning of the chaos.
We called a family meeting, and I put my past sprint experience to work. We needed a checklist: What would be the items that would make us cry the next day if they weren’t done? Everything else could wait. After this emergency meeting, stress was gone, fights didn’t happen, we enjoyed the entire process as a unit, and 24 hours later when the guests arrived we were all showered and ready to greet them.
Flash forward to last fall and a similar moment of truth. At Appboy, we were weeks away from officially changing our company name and our branding and, well, everything. We held a key check-in meeting for the leadership team, and it was clear we weren’t on the same page. I used the same tactic to help us focus, asking everyone to share their must haves vs. nice to haves and we didn’t leave the meeting until we agreed on a list of priorities we could align around.
We were in a tough spot—and the only way out was through.
A Brief History of Appboy
Back in 2011, Appboy was born after a chance encounter on a New York City street corner. From the beginning, our focus was on using technology to help brands humanize their customer relationships by communicating in responsive, highly personalized ways.
“Appboy” is a fine name for a new company—fun, light, a little cheeky. But not necessarily built for the long haul. As we became the dominant startup in our space and started to challenge marketing cloud incumbents, our name led some brands to sell us short. Having “app” in the name meant that people often missed that we were capable of working our magic in email and on the web, too. Plus, all of us were tired of having our company name misheard as “Apple” in noisy bars.
So when Appboy Cofounder Bill Magnuson became CEO back in 2017, he decided it was time to make a change.
Renaming a company isn’t a marketing project; it’s a whole company project. But marketing’s at the core.
There’s No Checklist
Renaming a company isn’t a marketing project; it’s a whole company project. But marketing’s at the core. I had experience leading rebrands in the past, but I’d never helped rename an established company. When we started the process, Appboy was more than five years old, with nearly 200 employees spread across three global offices, and that made things a lot more complicated than shifting the name of a five-person startup.
The first thing I did was hunt for advice. I looked at naming agencies and creative agencies. I looked at people who were experts in design or PR or consulting. And I learned that there’s no playbook, no checklist of how to rename and rebrand an established company. Even setting baselines was difficult—some people told me you need to spend millions and others said you can get creative and spend practically nothing. And no one agreed on how long it would take or what the essential steps were.
When we started, I thought we’d hire an all-in-one partner to help us choose a new name, create a new brand voice and visual identity, build a new website, and promote all of it to the public. In the end, though, we got good results working with best-in-class vendors focused on specific pieces of the equation—and I’m glad we didn’t box ourselves in.
When I joined Appboy back in 2015, I wasn’t crazy about the name. But it grew on me, the way it grew on almost everybody here. Changing the name was always going to be a little fraught, but we found the right partner in Lexicon. An exceptional group of people, they specialize in naming, so there’s nothing else that clouds that conversation—which is super helpful when you’re making a big decision.
A new brand name has to work across the board. It has to resonate with your current and potential clients. Trademarks and web domains have to be available. And if you’re a global brand the way we are, you’ve got to make sure your new name doesn’t mean something profane in Mandarin or Hindi. There were lots of options, too. Did we want a name made up from whole cloth, or one that had a concrete meaning? Something that was just a slight change from Appboy, or worlds apart? We decided we wanted as many options as possible.
We started by digging into where we thought the technology landscape was going over the next twenty years, and thinking through the role our company could play as things evolved. After we had the core concepts, we workshopped our way through names—a lot of names! And you have to have a lot. Otherwise, there might be nothing left when you finish checking out available trademarks and domains and complete the linguistics checks. Once we had our finalists, we decided to up the ante by doing a survey of 64,000 people around the world to see how they felt about the different options and what each one conveyed.
Truthfully, we got lucky. The executive team’s collective top choice—Braze—made it through trademarks and linguistics and got a big boost from the survey, coming in as respondents’ pick for hitting the goals we set to achieve. And when the time came to buy up domains, the third-party firm that had warned us it was going to take eight weeks minimum to get everything settled managed to finalize it in half that time. (Whew!)
But as complex as the naming process is—and it’s certainly what I get the most questions about—it was really the rebrand that tested us.
A rebrand alone can be just aesthetic and voice, but a rename/rebrand means overhauling EVERYTHING.
A rebrand alone can be just aesthetic and voice, but a rename/rebrand means overhauling EVERYTHING.
As Appboy, our branding was very professional, to counterbalance the name’s playful qualities. But when we decided to make the switch to Braze—which has a much more solid, elemental vibe—that old style just didn’t fit. We needed something lighter, more open, and joyful. We found a great branding agency, Focus Lab, that helped us find something that worked. But then we had to make it all happen.
A new brand voice. New brand colors, new visual identity. A corresponding new look for the Braze dashboard. A new, reimagined website and CMS. New corporate email accounts for every employee. Our global offices had to be re-outfitted and given a new look. It was an incredible amount of work, far too much to be done by one person, or even one department.
Looking back, I wish we’d had an in-house cross-departmental team focused 100% on the rebrand. Without that dedicated team, we had to work together to pick up the strategic and organizational work of the rebrand. Honestly, it wasn’t easy. We’re a fast-growing company and everybody already has a full day’s worth of work when they show up each morning. Start piling unfamiliar tasks on top of that, and some people shut down, others ignore them, and some rise to the occasion. That’s what that moment-of-truth meeting solved for: what we truly needed to do.
The way forward was clear: I now knew what each stakeholder truly cared about, and in order to reach our overall goals, I’d work with them to accomplish theirs. Sometimes that meant handholding and highlighting the consequences of inaction. Sometimes it meant taking on small projects myself—like when I called up my brother-in-law, who works at Sherwin-Williams, to double-check the estimate on repainting the office.
Here’s the reality: If you don’t understand what somebody’s goals and priorities are, you can’t communicate with them effectively. That leads to silos and inaction and missed deadlines, which was something we couldn’t afford. There were arguments and hard feelings, but in the end it all worked, even if it wasn’t always smooth. Any brilliant output or project comes with a lot of work, confusion, and sometimes despair. We’re wired to have anxiety as we approach a big project, because we see all of the things that could go wrong, or maybe it’s a project we’ve never done before and we’re learning as we execute it. This is normal. And that’s where contingency plans A, B, C come in so we’re prepared for anything.
None of this happened in a vacuum—renames and rebrands never do.
At the same time we were researching names and building a new website and booking launch party events on two continents, our company was in the middle of raising a major round of funding, preparing a series of big updates to our product, and undergoing a grueling assessment from Forrester that had the potential to transform perceptions of our business.
We originally hoped to have one big announcement: our new name and brand, our Series D, our leadership position in the Forrester Wave for Mobile Engagement Automation. But it didn’t play out that way. Our funding round was a rousing success, raising $50 million in a matter of weeks, which was something to celebrate—but not something we could keep under wraps.
So we decided to take what we called a “rolling thunder” approach. Instead of one big launch, we had a months-long period where major announcements rolled out one after the other, creating momentum that did a lot to elevate our brands, old and new. And while I can’t say that it was all part of my masterplan, I do swear by the results.
The End (or the Beginning)
Last November, my team worked deep into the night, surrounded by partners from our DevOps, Engineering, and People Ops teams, making the digital transition from Appboy to Braze official. We unveiled the new office decor, the new website, the brand’s new look and feel. And when everything was finished, we celebrated at launch parties in New York and London and San Francisco with our friends and clients and partners.
The renaming process sticks with you, though. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t frustrating at times, or overwhelming. That I never had arguments with my fellow department heads, or grumbled about our frustrations over a glass of wine. But that pain had a purpose. We were taking on the biggest project in the history of this company and doing it while growing and thriving as a brand. The lessons we learned in the process are already paying dividends.
Six months after launch day, we’ve reworked how we collaborate at Braze by embracing truly cross-departmental working groups for major initiatives. You need that—it’s the only way to be sure that everybody is bought in and working together effectively. It’s made an incredible difference. And while I’m not recommending that you rename your company just so you can break down silos and improve the way your departments work together, I’m not not recommending it either.