6 Steps to Pull off the Perfect Brand Refresh

6 Steps to Pull off the Perfect Brand Refresh

You’ve worked hard to build your brand. But lately, things seem to be slowing down. Or maybe you feel like you’re losing touch with your customer base. Or maybe they’re losing touch with you. It may be time for a change. But a little change can go a long way.

In this post, we’ll clarify the difference between rebranding and the brand refresh. A brand refresh, if handled competently, can do wonders. Once we clarify the difference between the two, we’ll lay out the six steps you must take to have a successful brand refresh. Let’s get started.

Rebranding vs. Brand Refresh

As your business grows, it’s essential to continue that you remain relevant to the current marketplace. If your competitors adopt to changing times better than you do, they will come out ahead. Over time, imagine if your competitors:

• Adopt newer, fresher looking logos

• Change how they communicate with customers

• Improve the consistency of their messaging

…If you didn’t also do this, you would lose your competitive edge.

For a stellar example of brand refresh over time, consider Microsoft.

Over 35 plus years, the company has gone through five corporate logos. Their logo from 1975 sure is a sign of the times, isn’t it? Imagine if they still used that logo today, in 2020. Ironically, this design may be great for a retro tech company, or a company that produces hardware novelties. But for a bleeding edge tech company? No way.

Key Terms

Before you consider a brand update, you’ll need to know the difference between a brand refresh and rebranding.

• Brand refresh. A brand refresh calls for an updated logo and other design elements, but it retains a central theme. A refresh assures your audience that you’re modern and in touch, but it also conveys that you remain in tune with your industry.

• Rebranding. Rebranding is more akin to a total transformation. If a refresh is a makeover, rebranding is plastic surgery. In design terms, you’re not just looking at an updated logo and typeface. You’re talking about an entirely new brand identity.

Rebrand or Brand Refresh?

Often, a refresh is sufficient. In fact, going for a total rebrand could be a mistake, especially if you’ve been around for several years and are well known in your space. Think of rebranding as the nuclear option. Rebranding opens you up to several risks, including:

• Alienating existing customers

• Losing brand ambassadors and other advocates

• Losing access to multi-contextual forms of communication

• Losing Web assets

• Burning through your marketing budget

We’ll cover these risks in the next section. For now, let’s take a deeper look at the simpler option, the brand refresh. A brand refresh is a tactical measure, not a gimmick. You should never undertake a refresh lightly. Microsoft did make changes to their logo over the years. But their chief motivation was to keep pace with their main competitors, Apple and, to a lesser degree, Linux. They didn’t update their logo and other visual elements on a whim.

The Refresh

Most established companies go through periodic refreshes. A successful refresh will help you:

• Better relate to a changing audience

• Retain the attention of a shifting market

• Better reflect your current offerings

Consider Starbucks, Google and Dunkin’. All three of these companies have gone through refreshes, and they’ve all benefited greatly from the process.

Your brand refresh should build on the reputation and brand loyalty you’ve earned up to this point. Starbucks and Google didn’t start from scratch when they rolled out new logos.

When to Consider a Refresh

You should consider a refresh when:

• You want to update visual elements while retaining your core identity, or the integrity of your brand

• When you need to infuse the brand with new vitality, such as when entering a new market

• When you want to expand your reach or introduce your product to new customers

• When you want to ensure that your brand identity will remain relevant to a changing marketplace

With this in mind, we can explore several circumstances in which a refresh might be the right play.

#1 Your Brand Is out of Touch

Your logo may have been innovative when you first went to market, but this is no longer the case. Recall Microsoft’s first logo, from the ‘70s. Changing times, tastes and markets can make your logo, typeface or other visual elements feel dated. Consequently, you may have a hard time appealing to younger audiences. Is your image holding you back?

#2 Your Messaging Is Inconsistent

Have you changed your visual elements every few years? This sort of tinkering can help you find a visual identity that strikes the right tone. But it can also confuse your audience. A refresh can help you find focus if you commit to sticking to the new look for a set period of time. 

#3 Your Company Has Changed

If your brand messaging no longer reflects your company ethos, you may need a brand refresh. All companies evolve. The following companies have undergone major change in either product or company structure:

• Netflix

• Apple

• Spotify

• Shelter Insurance

• Comedy Central

• BP

• Gap

• Belk

• AT&T

• FedEx

• MSN

• Pepsi

With the various changes they underwent, a brand refresh made sense.

#4 Your Audience is No Longer Listening

If you’re no longer reaching your target audience, you’ll need to do something about that. And soon. Consider the disparity between what the market looks like now and how it looked when you first began your branding efforts. The degree to which that market has changed is the degree to which you should consider a brand refresh, all other things being equal.

#5 You’re Expanding

Several things can cause unprecedented growth in a short time. A few of these are:

• A merger

• A new, successful product line

• A new, successful marketing push

Sudden, unexpected success presents a good opportunity to refresh the brand.

Bottom Line

A refresh will help you convey to your audience that you’re still relevant. But, crucially, the brand should  still be recognizable afterward.

Rebranding

A brand refresh updates your identity. A rebrand transforms it. The primary goal of rebranding is to fundamentally change the customer’s perception of the company. Therefore, rebranding is not to be undertaken lightly. It is a drastic measure that will have a lasting impact on a company. The more well-known your brand, the less willing you should be to consider a rebrand. However, there are a few circumstances in which this drastic course of action makes sense.

#1 Reposition

You may want to reposition your product or service in a way that is incompatible with your current image. A good example is the apparel brand J. Crew. In 2003, the brand was tanking. Then, brand revitalizer Millard Drexler became CEO. Drexler immediately rebranded J. Crew as a store that offered no non-sense basics like tank tops and capris at fair prices. The brand earned $3.5-million in 2005, its first profit in years. By 2009, no doubt aided by an endorsement by Michelle Obama, revenue exceeded pre-recession levels.

This is a great example of a company going back to basics.

#2 Appeal to a New Market

It’s the stuff of nightmares. The customers you depend on have left the building. They’re not coming back. In this case, your only course of action is a hard pivot. Burberry, one of Britain’s iconic brands, is over 150 years old. Had Burberry not redefined itself several times, it wouldn’t still be around. Today, it’s considered essential kit by the fashion savvy.

When customers start referring to your brand as ‘frumpy,’ ‘outdated’ and ‘out of touch,’ it’s time to do something.

#3 Expand Your Business Scope

A red ocean, as defined by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne, is a crowded market space. The stronger the competition for that market space, the redder the sea. If you find yourself in a red ocean, you must do everything you can to escape. Pabst Blue Ribbon was historically a popular brand in the U.S. But today, it’s considered by many to be a fratty, inexpensive brew. It can be hard to increase revenue when your home market considers you a discount offering.

But today, due to clever rebranding, their premium Blue Ribbon 1844 label sells for a lot more. In China, for instance, the label sells for $44 per bottle. The new label is a blend of premium German malt, and it’s aged in high-end whiskey barrels. Note that this wasn’t a full rebranding. Pabst Blue Ribbon is still brewed in the U.S.

Indeed, a partial rebranding can be an effective strategy.

Shelter insurance, which has been around for decades, created a sub brand called Say insurance. Shelter insurance still exists, but Say insurance is designed to appeal to millennials. In other words, Say insurance is just Shelter insurance with a different brand identity.

In summary, you may want to consider a rebranding if:

• Your reputation has taken a pounding over a sustained period of time

• Your audience has fundamentally changed and isn’t coming back

• You want to market drastically new products or services

• Your old, standby marketing methods no longer work

• Your identity is painfully out of date

• Your industry has changed in some fundamental way

Potential Dangers of the Rebrand

As mentioned, rebranding can be quite dangerous. When done wrong, you expose yourself to several risks. Let’s take a closer look at these.

#1 You May Alienate Your Customers

You risk losing your customer base. Some customers may like your brand as is, and they may be resistant to change. Before considering rebranding, get in touch with your customers. You need to understand their wants and needs. A simple survey is a great way to do this. Ask your customers what they want, and then listen to what they have to say. Your best defense here is a strong customer engagement strategy. See this case study for an example of how savvy customer engagement strategy can benefit an organization.

#2 You May End up With Incompatible Brand Elements

Your visual brand elements exist across several types of media. Further, they need to move from desktop to mobile experiences seamlessly. Your new brand elements should translate cleanly across:

• Television

• Social media

• Advertisements, both large and small

• Corporate stationary

• Business cards

When you undertake a complete rebranding, there is a real risk that something will go wrong at some point in this process. This can make your operation appear sloppy to those new potential customers you’re working so hard to impress. Working with an experienced branding agency can reduce this risk.

#3 Your Web Assets May Break

A hasty rebranding can leave your SEO and online content efforts in disarray. Mitigate this risk by setting up redirect links ahead of time if you’re using a new domain. Use Google Webmaster Tools or similar to let the major search engines know that you’ve moved, too. In your About Us section, mention your former name so there is a contextual link between old and new.

#4 It May Cost You More Than You Think

Rebranding implies starting from scratch. While this isn’t precisely true, it may as well be when it comes to one area: marketing. If your rebrand involves reaching out to new customers, you must plan for a robust marketing push well ahead of time. The last thing you want is to do is change your identity if you’ll be unable to reach new customers. This is like being left at sea with no rudder and no sails.

Don’t underestimate the potential costs of rebranding. British Petroleum’s rebranding cost them over £4.6-million for a new logo alone.

What Does a Successful Rebrand Look Like?

At the most fundamental level, a successful rebrand changes the way customers perceive you. If you do this without losing a healthy chunk of your existing customer base, then you’ve succeeded. A successful rebrand will help you reach new customers, in effect transitioning you from a red ocean space to the much coveted blue ocean space.

Above all, know your why before you start. If you don’t have a strong reason to rebrand, then by all means, don’t.

6 Steps to a Brand Refresh

Clearly, a refresh is the safer choice. So we’ll spend the rest of this post outlining the general steps.

Step One: Perform an Initial Brand Audit

Step one is the biggest by far. Fortunately, a brand audit is pretty straightforward. It’s a structured, detailed comparison of your current performance against your stated goals.

A brand audit allows you to do the following:

• Align your strategy more closely with what your customers expect

• Understand your place in the market

• Know how you compare to the competition

• Take a cold, objective look at how your brand performs

Perhaps most importantly for our purposes, a brand audit tells you what you need to change during a brand refresh.

Of course, you can hire a branding agency or other expert to conduct this analysis for you.

But you may find it beneficial to do this yourself. Going through your own brand audit requires objectivity. So if you do it right, you’ll likely  gain important insights into your operation you didn’t have before.

The first step is to take stock of your current operations. Look to your mission statement and strategic objectives for clues. Who are your target customers? What’s the current business landscape you’re operating in? Are you in the aforementioned red ocean, or a blue one? What is your current marketing plan for reaching new customers?

If you have a go to strategy document written up, all the better. Consult it. Is it still up to date? Is it still relevant? Look for outdated buyer personas or marketing methodologies.

The next step is often overlooked because it’s so simple. That step is brand research. Who are you? What do you stand for? What makes you different from the competition? If you’re unclear on some of this yourself, ask your senior leadership or other managers. They’ll have answers. But keep in mind that their answer may not be in alignment with what a customer might say. And that’s a problem.

Ask your customers about their experiences with you. Ask them why they choose you and what they expect from you. But don’t rely on social media or web form captures. Create surveys to get objective, anonymous information from your customers. You can use a service like Google Forms, Survey Monkey or SurveyLegend for this. Note that it’s a good idea to incentivize participation. A gift card going to one lucky winner is usually sufficient. You can also conduct surveys by telephone and email, though consumers’ tolerance of phone and email contact is waning.

Then, use a service like Google Alerts or Mention to find out what people are saying about you online.

Unsolicited feedback is often the most valuable feedback.

You want a mixture of quantitative and qualitative information. At this point, you need to understand your customer’s experience at every touch point. Keep this in mind when coming up with survey questions.

Next, analyze your Web analytics. What is your bounce rate? If you have a blog, how long do people stay on your content pages? Seconds or minutes? If you have a Medium blog, are you using it to direct traffic back to your site? Note that over 80 percent of customers conduct research online before making a purchase decision.

If a customer is considering your solution, there’s a good chance they’ll visit your website at some point. What will they find? Is your site snappy and responsive? Or is it slow? Fair or not, the way your website performs will reflect on you. In other words, prospects will make assumptions about your product based on how your website performs. If your website is slow, buggy or poorly designed, consumers will assume your product is shoddy.

Next, look at your competitors. There’s so much data out there available to you. Are your main competitors using videos, tutorials and other media to engage visitors? Do they have better SEO than you? Do your surveys reveal that your customers sometimes patronize your competitors too?

It doesn’t matter what you sell, you don’t exist in isolation. And if you don’t have strong competitors today, you may tomorrow. You can’t afford to rest on your laurels here.

Set up Google Alerts—or use Mention—so you’ll know what people are saying about your competitors. If they’re generating social buzz, find out how they’re doing it. If they’re getting traction on, say, Pinterest, there’s a good chance that you can too. Why? Because you sell similar products. It’s time to put your sleuthing cap on and do some investigating.

You can also use a service like Google Alerts or Mention to determine share of voice. Share of voice is the percentage of social chatter in your space that your brand is generating. Of course, you want the biggest share. If your competitor has a bigger share of voice, then you’ve got work to do. Naturally, if you’re considering a brand refresh, you may well be losing that battle. So as you proceed with your brand refresh, one of your main goals should be increasing share of voice.

Finally, consider your sales data—but do so in the wider context of all the other information in this audit. If you’ve found that your website is slow off the mark, how might your sales data improve if you paid someone to optimize it? Let’s say your survey revealed that customers don’t feel any particular loyalty to your brand. How might your sales improve if you worked to improve brand loyalty? How might your sales data figures improve if you leap into a blue ocean, moving away from your competitors and creating your own market space?

After this process, you should have a list of items that you need to work on. Think of this as your action plan—the things that your brand refresh must improve upon.

Step Two: Create New Messaging

A brand refresh is a great time to review your messaging. These core messages should be compelling, and they should speak to your unique position in the marketplace. They should reach your target audience on two levels: the rational level and the emotional level.

Your marketing should address basic facts. If you sell a widget, you need to convey how your widget solves a particular problem. But you should also convey how doing so makes your customer’s life easier, better or more fulfilling. That’s the emotional component.

A strong brand is one that connects with customers on an emotional level. For examples, look at Nike, Campbell’s Soup, Always, and even Wal-Mart.

Step Three: Create a New Brand Standards Document

Here’s a secret: the most enduring, most cherished brands aren’t the brands with the best logos. A stellar logo helps, to be sure. But the strongest brands are those that work hard to create a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints. Your brand standards document is the place where you outline how you will create this consistent experience for your customers. It’s a guideline that lays out how you, your employees, your vendors and your partners will use your logo and other branding elements.

At a minimum, this guide will specify:

• Authorized logo usage

• Guidelines for logo size, margins, colors and positioning

• All lockups for color, horizontal, vertical and black and white variations

• Photography styles

• Key messaging parameters

Once you create your new brand standards document, you should enforce it. Make sure partners, vendors and employees know how to display your logo and other visual elements. You want your brand to be displayed as consistently as possible across all media.

Step four: Prepare for a New Logo & Take Action

Say you already sound different from everyone else, and you’re generating buzz on social media. That’s great. But you still need to look the part. Like it or not, people can be superficial. Again, think back to Microsoft’s logo from the ‘70s. Would you take them seriously if they still had that logo? Your visual identity, such as your color palette, logo, photography, textures and fonts, is key to conveying who you are as a brand.

Make them count.

Of course, the extent to which you actually update or change your logo depends on your particular needs. A refresh needn’t involve drastic changes. The goal is to leverage your existing brand equity while taking your brand in a slightly different, modern and fresh direction. To that end, think of how your logo can be brought into modern times, and what will make it resonate with modern consumers. And by all means, consult a professional. Recall that BP spent several million on their new logo in the early 2000’s.

But don’t just change your logo willy nilly. Follow these steps to make sure you’re making changes in a logical, structured way:

• Create a new VIG. Before you can create a new Visual Identity Guide, you’ll need some idea of what your new logo will look like. So including a new VIG in your brand refresh is a good idea. Your VIG includes your HEX/CMKY/RGB colors and associated graphics. Once you’ve finalized your new logo, you should send your VIG out to all partners and vendors. 

• Audit existing marketing collateral. Review all existing marketing material. Once you’ve created a new logo, you’ll need to update all of these assets.

• Audit online content. You’ll also need to update all of your online content, so you might as well take stock of it now. Most content management systems allow you to change your logo site-wide. But if you’ve placed it into posts manually, you’ll need to swap those images out manually too.

• Audit your templates. You’ll also need to update all of your templates, whether they’re for blog posts or print ads. Catalog these templates now.

Step Five: Rollout  & Unveiling

Next, you’ll need a rollout plan. Note that consumers, on the whole, won’t care about your new logo. Instead of talking about it on social media, pair the reveal with a tantalizing sale or new product rollout. This way, your customers will associate the new logo with a positive memory. Your specific rollout plan will depend on the extent of your refresh. However, one thing you should do is keep tabs on your social mentions during this process.

If customers ask about the change, you should have something to tell them. A good place to start is to convey what inspired the change. Try to phrase this in a way that will resonate with customers on an emotional level. If your motivation for the refresh was to better appeal to younger audiences, you can say something like, “We felt it was time for a change. Our new brand identity better conveys our values in a modern, complex, and vibrant marketplace.”

Note that you must let vendors and partners know that you’ve updated your brand elements. Many a refresh has been botched because of poor communication.

Step Six: Yet Another Audit

Once you’ve created a new logo and a new brand standards document, you’ll need to make sure that employees, vendors and partners respect it. This audit—called a communications audit— may seem like busywork, but it’s essential. Weak adherence to your brand standards will cripple your brand refresh. Here is what you need to do:

• Make a list of everyone that is using your logo. Are they following the guidelines set forth in your brand standards document? If not, get them on the same page.

• Review your own internal and external communications channels. Now make sure that you’re following your own guidelines. It’s easier than you may think to mess up here. Is your new logo reflected in all emails, web pages, proposals and whitepapers? Note that you may need to retroactively update PDFs and other documents that you’re hosting on your website.

Plan to do this audit every six months to a year. A vendor, partner or employee using your old logo can hinder your brand refresh.

Remember, the goal of a brand refresh is to modernize your look while maintaining your heritage, history and values. We hope this short guide helped you gain clarity on the brand refresh process.  Did you find this post helpful? If you did, you could give us a share? Thanks!

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