Changing a brand identity can be risky business. The Gap, The Big Ten, and Starbucks have all had recent logo changes, all of which have garnered some pretty strong—and often negative—responses from consumers.
Today, consumers have become more protective about what they consider “their brands,” taking ownership of a product’s brand identity in a way that is different from the past. Consumers who were previously passive users are now see themselves as active stakeholders in a brand, so change has to be done quite carefully.
Of course, people do want change and the most successful changes in brand identity make sure that change is purposeful and at the same time, respectful to the past.
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that change for the sake of change alone, or to make something more current in and of itself, is not the route to success in the world of brand design.
The degree of change and time for change should be flanked by two critical considerations:
While it seems and is in many ways contrary to change, consistency is a critical thread to successful change in branding. What marketers sometimes miss is that consistency doesn’t come from a logo alone, it is something that is built and developed through many elements in a brand identity system.
It is the design and use of a robust and thoughtful identity system that allows brands to practice consistency across geographies, throughout communications and within product and service experiences. Consistency generates greater awareness and familiarity. Done well it engenders loyalty.
With time, consistency also creates a sense of authenticity. This is all good.
But there is a point in time when consistency isn’t enough. It takes a keen marketing team to objectively recognize the precise point when competitors have adopted category paradigms to the point where everything blends together. This is when one must ask what elements of a brand identity system should change? What should remain? What has become baggage? And what needs to be refreshed? The objective behind these questions should not only be about creating differentiation, but more importantly about maintaining relevance.
The most successful brands use change to signal true change or to signal something truly new within a company. A new identity says something is new. If it’s the same old product and attitude, change could very well disappoint.
A process for communicating change.
So you’ve made the decision to change. You’re excited. You’ve done your homework, written the brief and explored your options. You’re ready to unveil a fresh new identity.
How do you make your announcement and make sure you’re not merely rationalizing with “brand speak,” but making sure it creates a positive impact on your business?
Communication of change is critical, because it is human nature to find comfort in the familiar. Over time, I’ve found two critical factors to communicating change with success. They are both about giving people reasons to believe, or “walking the walk” vs. merely “talking the talk.”
1. Internal communications.
The first people to talk to are the people inside. They are people who represent the brand, sell it, support it, and bring it to life.
It’s unfortunate, but there are too many examples of insiders being the last to know when it comes to company news like new branding or new communications. When you engage support from the inside out, you build ambassadors among those most able to help manifest your vision day in and day out with your customers.
2. Again, the need for authentic change.
A clear reason for change—news, improvement, achievement of a milestone, partnership, or clarification in the midst of a changing category are all good reasons to re-evaluate your brand presentation. And perfect fodder for a focused brief for change.
Context is critical to delivering meaningful evolution versus a purely aesthetic or ego- driven change.
When these two considerations are in balance then you earn the privilege of being able to change your brand and to do so while allowing people to consider it “their brand” as well as yours.
Big brands need to have the courage to change, but they to do it with respect for their past, with sound reason for evolution, and a smart plan as they announce their news to the world.