“Loss aversion” – Understand what it means in order to rebrand successfully

I play soccer at least once a week in a 30+ league. While mentally I feel like an 18 year-old out on the pitch, my body reminds me that the “studs on my cleats” have been permanently worn down. I don’t run or turn as fast as I used to.

old soccer cleats

But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that feeling I get when being down by a goal (or more).

It’s like someone has taken something very personal away from me, and I’ll fight until the bitter end to get it back. I’ll sprint (it looks like I’m running in slow motion) after the ball, defend, and take shots up until the last second; doing everything in my power to help get our team to tie the game.

It turns out I’m not alone. From what we understand about our brain, we’re driven to fight harder to recoup what we’ve lost than to try to gain something in the first place. This is loss aversion.

“Loss aversion” and rebranding

An interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam about the theory loss aversion got me thinking about what this might mean for marketing professionals, specifically those trying to push forward change in an organization’s image.

Rebranding, specifically a visual and verbal brand identity changes (i.e. logo, icon, tagline), impacts an entire organization: departments, products, services, people. You name it, they are affected.

Groups that have to change their existing visual and verbal sub-brand identities to fit that of the new corporate one, will likely have immediate push-back. Why? Because it’s like someone has scored a goal on them – now they will fight to get back what they’ve lost; to at least even the score.

It doesn’t matter if the change will actually support their business objectives. Data and strategic insights be damned! Losing your identity is an emotional thing, just like losing a soccer game.

It’s the theory of loss aversion at work.

Turning “loss aversion” into a tool to build rebranding support

What if we use the theory of loss aversion to our advantage?

If you are leading a rebranding effort (assuming you are doing a rebrand for strategic reasons and not just for a “refresh.”) do your homework. Have a clear sense of how the business objectives and challenges the company is facing relates to the individual groups whose sub-brand identities are being altered. Then, look for a common “enemy” or “challenge” that the individual groups can jointly get behind – identify the losses and use it as a rallying cry so that all of the individual groups work as a team.

A common enemy could be:

  • a competitor that’s eaten up your market share;
  • economic shifts that have caused sales to drop; or
  • a new product or service another company is launching aimed at your target audience.

Sure, it’s easier said than done. However, you have to look for opportunities to bring people together rather than have them hunker down in their silos. Even a team of soccer all-stars can’t win a game if each of the 11 players works independently.

Do you have any examples of organizations finding a “common enemy” to focus on during a major re-brand? Please share.


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