Your mission has changed. Your products have shifted. Your audience is maturing. Regardless of the reason, all signs are pointing toward the need for a rebrand. There’s no doubt that rebranding comes with significant risks, especially for companies with established customers. But embracing the risks can pay huge dividends if you follow these five rebranding best practices.

1. Be clear about why you’re rebranding

In 2011, the founders of social networking site realized their growth was stagnating and something dramatic needed to happen. They also realized that daily deals on design goods — one feature of the social network — showed significant promise. After shutting down the social network for nearly a year, the original rebranded as and launched as a hugely successful flash-sale site.

This is an extreme (and obvious) case where a rebrand was essential. A complete business shakeup begs for a rebrand to match the new company direction. In 2013, however, Fab undertook a subtler, yet equally significant rebrand, shifting from daily deals to a lifestyle shop. During both rebrands, Fab’s founders were clear about the catalyst for rebranding (plateaus in user acquisition and sales) and how it would impact the new direction.

2. Do more than put on a fresh coat of paint

Rebranding can range from small tweaks in messaging to complete business overhauls, depending on the intended outcomes. But the more noticeable the public-facing brand changes, the higher the expectations will be for tangible in-store changes, as well. Some companies have learned the hard way that rebranding can’t just be a surface-level endeavor.

In an attempt to make itself more relevant in the cutting-edge technology space, RadioShack tried a 2009 rebrand, becoming “The Shack.” A full media blitz promoted the new moniker, but the tech-savvy nickname failed to address all of the outdated product offerings and lackluster customer service that still lingered in stores. Backlash from longtime brand devotees was swift and fierce. After a 30% drop in sales the following quarter, The Shack found a new CEO — and returned to its old brand name. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

3. Listen to what the public is already telling you

Internal efforts are frequently the reason for taking on a rebranding project. But just as often, listening to feedback from existing customers can highlight whether a rebrand is needed. When McDonald’s went from being America’s destination for a quick family meal to the target of the Super Size Me documentary, suddenly the ubiquitous chain lost favor with a health-conscious public.

After hearing from consumers that the age of greasy beef was long gone, McDonald’s began a slow but dramatic rebrand. By incorporating salads, healthy snacks, and premium coffee options into its menu, the company responded to what the public wanted and was able to increase sales as a result.

4. Stay true to your core values

Rebranding doesn’t mean abandoning the pillars that built the business. In reality, rebranding should provide a stronger platform for expressing the core values that have existed all along. Refinery29 enjoyed a successful run from its launch in 2005 to 2013, with strong audience growth and a track record as a leader in fashion and lifestyle content. But after eight years online, the company’s ambitions had outgrown its existing brand.

During a comprehensive rebranding initiative, Refinery29’s founders spent significant time going back to the basics. They wanted to know, without a doubt, exactly what their company stood for before rebranding and taking the company global. Along with Wolff Olins, the branding agency they contracted, they created a video highlighting the rebranding milestones and how this established brand was using its existing values to aid in future efforts.

5. Don’t follow the rest of the competition

Being aware of your competition is a necessity to stay ahead of the curve. But knowing what your competitors are doing doesn’t mean you should automatically follow suit. The late 1990s found Target positioned squarely between Walmart, Kmart, and other discount retailers.

Target could have spent years attempting to rebrand with a new logo or tagline that would magically increase its bottom line. Instead of following the crowd, however, Target began signing exclusive deals with designers and offering premium products at affordable prices. The upscale branding move separated the company from the competition and attracted a whole new class of shoppers.

If it’s time for a rebrand, following these best practices can get your company started in the right direction. And if you’ve already launched a successful rebrand, share your own tips below!

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Top image: Compass on blue wooden background by 5 Second Studio