My colleague, Brad VanAuken made this excellent observation about rebrands. “Identity systems are designed to encode and decode brand information to and from people’s brains,” he said. “If you change the system, the associations may be lost and will take a long time to rebuild.”
Always that dichotomy. People like what they know. And we live in a changing world. While brand managers often struggle with the timing and implementation of an identity change, I’m far more interested in the specific motivations behind why brands choose to change how they visually express who they are – because that’s where I believe things can really go askew.
If the motivation is wrong, then the rebranding will be wrong. By way of proof, a great article from Business Insider examines recent rebrands that have hit the wall at speed. Two clear principles emerge:
- Be clear about who you are and stay true to that. The very essence of identity I would have thought but it’s amazing how many companies still think they can convince people they’re something they’re not by changing their brand identity. No amount of focus-grouping with the youth-set (or anyone else for that matter) is going to make your brand something it just isn’t. Same goes for changing the name to make it more street. If you’re not a street brand, you’ll just ring hollow.
- Don’t cover up. An identity that seeks to hide the truth isn’t a rebrand, it’s a revisionist attempt to hoodwink investors and consumers. Might have worked before we were all connected and had digital memories. Doesn’t work anywhere near as well now.
So how should brands go about choosing to rework their identities? My cardinal rule: before you make any changes, think about the consumer. Change your branding only if it will make the identity more fascinating and relevant for them (not because the marketing team is bored or a competitor has changed so it’s time to follow suit).
10 reasons why you would change a brand identity:
- To make it friendlier
- To make it cleaner
- To make it simpler
- To make it feel more modern and therefore relevant
- To better capture who you are (and what customers love you for)
- To signal who you are becoming (that customers will love you for being)
- To show your business has changed or is changing (in ways that customers will welcome)
- To be bolder (and therefore more visible), particularly in busy markets
- To highlight an aspect of your character that has been missed
- To correct a misconception that is holding you back or putting off the very people you are looking to attract.
Above all – what consumers see must align with how they feel or how you want them to feel not just with what the marketing team or the agency or the senior leadership wants to express. An identity without affinity is just graphics.
Before you sign off on your next identity change, please ask one question: “Why does this change our buyers’ understanding of our brand for the better?” If you don’t know, neither will they.
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