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The Brand Refresh: A Case For and Against

It is spring (at least on paper), and with nature transforming in front of our eyes, it is a time when we think about renewal. We’re tempted to do some spring-cleaning, redecorate a room and go outside to get some fresh air after the long, cold winter.

At Banfield, this gets us thinking about another kind of renewal: the brand refresh. Companies sometimes get their own kind of “spring fever” and decide they need to refresh their brand. And despite the best intentions, the process doesn’t always lead to the best results.

This raises the question: When is it the right time to inject some freshness into your brand?

Refreshing gone good and bad

Sometimes a brand refresh is a good idea. It is an opportunity to redesign your logo, change or drop your tagline, or explore new colours or other elements of your corporate identity.

Many companies have seen positive results from injecting this type of newness into their brand. For example, in 2014 Southwest Airlines realized its brand’s look was dated, and not representative of the brand’s personality – welcoming and warm. So they found a way to both modernize the brand and inject its personality into a new logo and brand colours.

As the company put it: “The new look puts the airline’s heart on display”. The brand refresh was well received by the industry and the airline’s customers. And despite a beleaguered travel industry, Southwest has continued to turn a profit.

Sometimes, however, a brand refresh is not such a good idea. In 2009, Kraft introduced a new logo to represent their brand at a corporate level. It was an enormous departure from the classic and familiar logo that has been on all of its products since 1960. Consumers were confused and the industry was highly critical. Within six months Kraft tinkered with the new design (only making it worse), and two years later buried it completely, reverting to a modernized but still very recognizable version of the original. This poorly executed endeavor by a company that’s thrived since 1903 must have had J.L. Kraft rolling over in his grave. In these instances, the infamous words of Denis Lemieux from the movie Slapshot come to mind: “you feel shame”.

Key considerations before hitting refresh

This brings us back to our original question: how do you know when it is a good idea to refresh your brand? It is never an easy decision but here are some key things to consider to help you get the process started.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it  Marketers should always ask themselves if a brand refresh is truly necessary. Are my target audiences — constituents, stakeholders, partners, customers or clients — critical of my brand? Does any research point to a branding problem?

Internally, we tend to get tired of our brand long before our audiences do. This is natural because we see it, live it and breathe it every day. But our audiences don’t. And it is their opinion that matters most.

Don’t get plastic surgery when a makeover will do – The Kraft story exemplifies overkill in the brand refreshment department. Carefully consider if your logo is just a little tired and therefore needs only a small adjustment. Shift your font; modernize the tone of your corporate colours; remove a swooshy graphic left over from the 90s. And then have the willpower to leave it at that!

Has your identity or offering fundamentally changed? Sometimes an industry or sector changes, or a company evolves to seize new opportunities. If a brand no longer fits with who the company is and what it offers, then a refresh or even a full rebranding may be warranted.

In a case like this, another option is to introduce a new brand to represent the new line of business. This kind of change should be considered very carefully. It requires a thorough brand architecture exercise to determine if the objective is to have a monolithic, endorser, pluralistic or hybrid brand architecture, and what the right strategy is to get there.

Brand equity grows very slowly Occasionally, brands like Uber or Instagram can gain notoriety very quickly. But they are the exception. Most of the time, it takes many years for audiences to get to know a brand, and for brand names to own their identity and earn equity.

When we work on brand naming projects, we always encourage clients to try and remember their first impression of the brand name “Google”. If you think back, it was pretty silly sounding word! But we have become accustomed to it now, and we know its personality and what to expect from it.

So give your brand time to grow and gain greatness — think of it as your George Clooney, who was a relatively unknown working actor for over 10 years before he got his big break on ER!

Your brand is precious—treat it with care
There are many things we can’t control about our brands, such as perceptions and word-of-mouth, whether they are fair or unfair. But we can control how we present it visually, the stories it tells and the voice with which it speaks. So the last thing we should do is to undermine our own brand through an unwarranted or poorly executed brand refresh.

In the end, your brand is a critically important factor to your success. It is the front line, and it embodies every impression and experience your audience has ever had vis-à-vis your company or organization. But your brand is also fragile. Years of brand equity growth can be undermined in almost an instant — just ask Volkswagen.

So be thoughtful about the need for a brand refresh. Should you decide the time is definitely right, ensure that you engage branding professionals and follow best practices. And if you do it right, chances are the refresh will spring your brand forward into a period of new energy and growth.

If you have other examples of brand refresh stories, I’d love to hear them. Were they a success, or not? And why?

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