January 3, 2020

Is your brand feeling stale? How about a refresh?

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Your brand embodies your company’s long-term vision and you cultivate it over time. Yet, while your brand identity should speak to your company’s goals, it also doesn’t have to be static. 

As your company grows, you expand to new product lines, engage with different audiences and build your messaging. Your brand can grow and evolve, but if the day comes when you look in the mirror and realize it no longer aligns with your company’s vision, it may be time for a brand refresh.

Let’s take a look at the potential benefits your company can gain from giving your brand a facelift. But first, we should start with a basic, but common, question: What is the difference between a brand refresh and rebranding?

Rebranding versus a brand refresh: what’s the difference?

When a company undergoes a rebranding, it’s the same as starting from scratch with an (almost) blank canvass. The company will then enter into a full reevaluation of the organization to create a new background, establish the company in a different market, overhaul the company image or any combination of these possibilities. 

A brand refresh on the other hand is less severe. Instead of eliminating everything you’ve worked so hard to build, a brand refresh can give your company a bright, new look, like a fresh coat of paint.

During a brand refresh, you can update design elements that are “cosmetic” in nature, such as your logo, your slogan or catchphrase, your color pallet and type fonts. 

When considering a brand refresh, take a hard look at what works well with your company’s current brand and marketing, and then compare these strengths to your areas of weakness.

What are the problems with your brand?

Just because you’ve been doing one thing for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s still providing you with any benefits. Holding on to an outdated or ineffective brand is the same as saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” just to avoid change.

Sometimes you have to take an objective look at your company and determine areas for improvement. Some of these areas include (but are not limited to):

Your company may have been changing over time, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Once you identify the areas where you can improve, take a look at what your company is doing well.

Identify your company’s strengths

As you objectively evaluate your business, pay attention to your company’s brand architecture. Think of your brand as a structure. It needs a solid foundation, on which other elements are built and added. Your brand should function as the sum of these parts, especially if it’s made up of a series of smaller brands and companies. 

As you conduct your brand refresh, keep your company’s strengths in mind while painting a cohesive picture of your brand for your audience.

The following steps walk you through the main elements of a brand refresh. Consider the ways your company could benefit from incorporating a similar strategy.

1. Determine your desired positioning

After identifying your company’s strengths and weaknesses, think about how you’d like to see your company represented in your ideal market. What would be the prime position for your brand?

Take note of any products or services your company offers that make it unusual or better than any alternative in your industry. These unique qualities are the areas that your brand should represent to your employees and customers. 

But let’s not move too fast… You may have a certain vision for your company, but it’s more important to make sure that your vision still aligns with your customers’ desires.

2. Research and development

While keeping your ideal positioning in mind, conduct research to gauge how the market views your products or services. Look for key areas that make you different from your competition, and assess the elements of your business that impact your customers. Just remember: it’s just as important to know what your customers love about your company, as it is to identify what may irritate or frustrate them. By evaluating these areas, you’ll uncover potential changes that your company might need to make to stay relevant.

In addition to your customers’ likes and dislikes, also consider your employees and company culture. Your research should evaluate the attitude your employees have toward your company–especially if these feelings differ between your low-level employees and upper management. Conduct research throughout the various levels of your company and then look for areas of overlap between the customer and employee perspectives.

After identifying your brand’s current position, you’ll be ready to start looking for ways to improve and recreate your company’s image. 

3. Competitive analysis of effective trends

Distinguishing your brand from your competitors requires you to understand the efforts they’re currently making to sell their products. Analyze the steps your competitors use to build their brands, but don’t simply focus on your current competitors. Since your brand is in need of a refresh, it’s possible your company has grown into new markets, so be on the lookout for new competition.

Examine your competitors’ branding to determine effective styles and trends for your industry. Pay attention to:

  • Company backgrounds or stories
  • Value propositions
  • Slogans
  • Methods of audience engagement (i.e. blogs, social media posts, YouTube channels)
  • Visual imagery, fonts, and color pallets 

Once you determine the elements that are working well for your competitors, take a step back and look at ways you could implement similar strategies–while still making your company stand out.

For example, the online collaboration tool, Slack, originally used a logo that looked like a multi-colored hashtag. As Slack looked at their industry and competition, they decided the hashtag was no longer exclusive to their platform. To distinguish themselves from the hashtag used on social media channels, Slack’s leadership decided the brand was due for a refresh. 

Slack opted to mimic the hashtag shape with conversation bubbles, while keeping the same layout and a slightly bolder font. You can see in the comparison below how the new Slack logo is a fresh take on the original:

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Image courtesy of Brand New, a division of UnderConsideration.

The new logo uses a similar color scheme, while incorporating conversation bubbles to signify the exchange of thoughts and information on their platform. The conversation bubbles subtly suggests Slack’s value proposition through the refreshed brand. 

4. Update creative assets for a cohesive visual identity

Though updating your logo during a brand refresh is important, it’s not the only element of your brand’s visual identity. Your color palette, imagery, fonts, textures and other creative assets are all elements of your visual identity, and they’re the foundation of your brand.

Use these foundational elements to update every aspect of your marketing campaigns, from your email automations to your website. Your brand refresh may even lead to structural changes in your website navigation or page structure. Improving user experience helps ensure your value proposition is clear to your audience, while further communicating your brand’s new visual identity. 

When Southwest Airlines opted for a brand refresh, they fully committed to taking their new branding as far as possible. Rather than relying on their old logo that used all capital letters positioned under an airplane, they opted for a friendlier, lowercase font with a small heart filled with the colors of a sunrise. The heart anchors the logo and creates a cohesive visual identity to support their brand strategy.

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Image courtesy of Brand New, a division of UnderConsideration.

The new Southwest logo also set the stage for the company’s first advertising campaign following their brand refresh. Their new slogan explained that “Without a heart, it’s just a machine.” The campaign reminded customers that a Southwest plane is more than just a method of travel: It’s an experience in which the company and its employees honestly care about their customers.

Since the launch of Southwest’s refreshed brand, they’ve incorporated their branding into every element of the Southwest experience. From the sunrise-colored wingtips to their purple-blue luggage carts to the packaging for their pretzel snacks, Southwest embraces the importance of using a cohesive visual identity. 

5. Tailor your messaging

When updating your brand image, it’s often not be enough to simply pick a new color pallet and change your logo. If your changing audience has caused you to update your image, you may need to update your messaging as well. 

Your company needs a relatable story that builds your corporate narrative and connects with your audience. It should give the background of your brand in an honest way, while sharing a story that your audience finds compelling. If you need pointers for crafting a successful story, check out our article on how to Master the Art of Storytelling.

Yet, your corporate narrative is not the only element of your messaging that needs attention during a refresh. Every new piece of content or social media post must channel a personality and tone of voice that reflects your brand identity. For example, if your target audience is teens and young adults, your brand could use short, snappy content with “cool” colloquialisms. Conversely, if you’re speaking to corporate executives, your personality and tone could be more professional and instructive. 

Look for ways to connect with your audience on both a rational and emotional level. Use your messaging to show them how your products meet their needs, but also demonstrate how your brand provides a more enticing experience than any other company in the industry.

6. Build a brand style guide

Determining your brand’s new look is a major step forward during a refresh, but you also need a plan for consistency across your marketing platforms. 

To keep your marketing consistent, every employee must commit to using the correct variation of your logo, the proper fonts on printed materials and the appropriate colors on your website or social media imagery. The best way to achieve consistency is to develop a brand style guide to use throughout your company.

Think back to the new Southwest logo… the logo is a “lockup” that will have the same proportions and color palette whether it’s printed on an in-flight menu or the side of a Boeing 737. A brand style guide dictates the correct placement and usage for graphic elements, colors, fonts and even messaging to ensure cohesive imagery and strong brand recognition. 

7. Develop a rollout plan

Once your team finalizes your refreshed brand, it’s time to share the new face of your company with your team and the public. 

Start with a rollout plan to guide your company’s transformation. The rollout plan should include three main steps: 

1.  Explain the new brand to your employees, and bring them on board

Your employees will play a major role in promoting your refreshed brand. Include them in the conversation so they understand what changes were made and why. Explain how your new image will improve their relationships with customers to inspire them to use and share the new brand. 

2.  Conduct a communications audit to ensure all documents use your new branding

Both internal and external facing content should start using the refreshed brand as you prepare for rollout. Conduct a communications audit to take stock of any items–both print and digital–that use your branding. Then confirm that every item has been updated, prior to rollout.

3.  Build excitement for the public launch of your new brand

The final step of your rollout should be to bring your audience on board. Remember that your audience purchases from you because they love your product and/or brand. You need to let them know why you opted for a change, and show them how your refreshed brand still embodies everything they love about your company.

Generate excitement for your brand’s launch, and then unveil it with a splash.

8. Be prepared for backlash

Though your brand refresh should bring your company closer to your audience, it’s difficult to please everyone. There are often customers who dislike the fresh look, and they can occasionally be vocal about their dislike for the new design.

The food company, General Mills, decided to conduct a brand refresh and update their logo. They felt their cursive G had an iconic history, so it became the basis of their updated design. 

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Image courtesy of Brand New, a division of UnderConsideration.

They also added the slogan “Making Food People Love” along with a red heart to make their passion clear for their audience. Yet, customers felt the heart seemed inauthentic and fake coming from one of the biggest companies in the world. Surprisingly, Southwest Airlines had success with the tactic of incorporating a heart to connect with its audience. Unfortunately, it fell short of the mark for General Mills.

Not all brand refreshes receive positive responses from the company’s audience. Sometimes a refresh can even be a total flop, causing companies to revert to their original branding due to decreased sales. Even Slack received negative comments on their recent refresh with someone comparing the refreshed logo to a “lookalike of a drugstore brand.”

To avoid negative reactions to your brand refresh, it’s crucial to evaluate your audience and your company culture when conducting your initial research. Proper R&D will help you find the best look for your refreshed brand, before beginning your rollout.

That being said, your brand strategy is not a permanent choice. You can always listen to customer and employee feedback following rollout and then adjust your branding to more closely meet your audience’s desires.

If you feel your brand is out of step with your audience or your growing business, it may be time to consider a brand refresh. Contact us at info@webbmason.com to begin revitalizing your brand. 

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