Repositioning a company through rebranding has become a popular strategy in the last decade. Whether it is needed to fix a bad image (i.e., Philip Morris becoming Altria Group) or to better communicate a company’s mission (as happened with Home Escapes), the basic steps are the same.

“The most important thing is to create a plan so you don't just do it haphazardly,” says Steven Winokur, president of Turning Point Strategies, a brand consulting company in Atlanta.

1. Choose the right time.

Rebranding is rarely a rush job — it typically happens after much hand-wringing and research. After spending months or years preparing, why not wait a bit longer to announce the new name at the best possible time?

“If you can tie it to a change, that’s the best way to do it,” Winokur says. “You don’t want to do it when there’s a lull because it will fly completely under the radar. Then six months later, when people are looking for you, they won’t know what happened.”

If possible, launch the new brand at the start of the busy season, the opening of a new store, at a trade show, during a community event, or at any other event you can piggyback onto and get free publicity.

2. Communicate to customers.

Nothing is more important than communicating with your customer base, especially if you own a small business with a loyal following. If you are changing your name or mission, tell your customers early and often, using direct mail and ads. Nothing will confuse and alienate a customer more than showing up to find a new sign.

It’s also important to express the benefits of the change to customers so they know why it is happening. For example, if you are adding new products or services as part of your rebranding effort, offer a discount to existing customers so they can experience the changes firsthand and see why they are so great. After all, keeping the customers you already have is less expensive than finding new ones.

3. Cut the ties.

Making a clean break from the past is scary, particularly for a business with a long history and a loyal following, but it's an essential part of creating a new identity.

“History can be an anchor that pulls you down,” Winokur says. “A slow transition process can cause confusion, and eventually you may find yourself carrying two brands.”

Shedding your old name quickly and completely will not cause problems if you’ve clearly communicated the change with customers.

4. Change your mindset.

The biggest mistake companies make, Winokur says, is stopping their rebranding efforts at the name and logo change. It’s not enough; retailers also must revise their policies and procedures to reflect their new identities.

The mission statement should be rewritten to fit the new brand. Products should be evaluated to make sure they meet the new goals. Even the showroom floor should be examined with the customer in mind — does every experience or touch point enhance the brand?

“It’s a scary proposition to completely change your mission, but if you think [all that it takes is to] swap out a logo to create a new brand, your problems won’t change,” Winokur says.

5. Get employees on board.

New policies and procedures don’t mean much if the employees don’t follow them. Get the staff involved in the rebranding process early by explaining to them why the change is happening, what it means to them, and how they can help the new brand succeed.

Before launching the new name, train employees on how they should talk to customers. Be sure they are all singing the same tune so the customer experience matches what the new brand promises.

“If they feel like they are part of the creation, then they are more likely to act on it,” Winokur says. “If you don’t have the employees on board you can have all the logos in the world, but the rebrand won’t be successful.”