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Looking to freshen up?

This is a huge topic and no way could I write one post that would come close to providing adequate information. What I am doing is touching on a few of the mind over matter doubts and thoughts that a rebrand or a refresh can throw up after the collection of initial interviews and customer polls and questionnaires.

Rebrand cautiously

No doubt that a rebrand is a tough exercise and it really doesn't matter if the company in question is large or small. There are the same basic considerations that need to be factored in and very carefully examined. Rushing into a rebrand guns blazing will likely spell disaster for the client and for you as the designer.

It's not particularly healthy to be linked to a failed rebrand.

Just look at the chaos with the Tropicana rebrand for an example of a total flipp'n disaster. If a large specialist agency like the Arnell Group can mess it up, anyone can. Another right mess was the attempted rebrand of Royal Mail, anyone remember Consignia? You have to have your wits about you, no doubt.

I have been involved recently with a tasty brand redesign for Foehn & Hirsch, although the identity has been redesigned from the ground up, the scope of the brand is mostly limited to online sales, opposed to physical locations which reduces the work needed to roll out a rebrand, logistically it's more manageable than a full blown identity redesign.

I am in the early stages of a considerably more challenging rebrand, a significant player in consumer and B2B online sales. This has involved a far deeper and complex assessment of the current brand, surveys of clients, customers and staff all are routine. Although this is at the very beginning, and may even yet result in nothing being done, much has been gleamed about the company and how it interacts with it's online customers, and more importantly, the customers perceptions of the brand in question.

Much risk, much gain

For a company to consider a rebrand, be it a subtle refresh or major redesign, it's a decision not to be taken lightly. There is so much to risk, but also, if done right, so much to gain. The reasons for a rebrand need to be scrutinized, a company may feel they need to redesign, but in fact it may not be required. So the designer agency or consultant need to be more than subjective, and not just looking at the potential pay packet.

It's not a case of a hard sell, at least for me it's not. It's a delicate dance. The company may have initiated the project, they may have approached a designer with the collected enthusiasm of a company eager to shed it's old skin and prepare for a new look. There reasons will be varied, but what is a constant is their reliance on the people responsible for the undertaking of the rebrand.

The guiding hand.

Rebranding is common, and often essential

To put the thought of rebranding into context, pretty much most companies, and especially larger companies, will rebrand or update their identity a number of times throughout there life span. It's essential to keep with the times, to adapt to an ever changing market, keeping up with changes in consumer styles, changes in design styles, changes in business focus.

AOL, AT&T, BT, Coke, Amazon, Comet, Curries, Argos, Halfords, Capital One etc are all companies that have have taken on the herculean task of rebrand. Some are global, some are country specific.

All 'refresh' their identities as a matter of ongoing development, to ensure they stay in the enviable position they are in. Some have significant and epic redesigns, some roll out subtle and frequent identity updates, Amazon is one example.

Cold feet after a survey

There will always be 'consumers' who participate in focus groups, research studies, surveys saying you shouldn't do this, shouldn't do that. The very thought of their favourite company changing it's look can through some into a mild panic. Imagine if Apple decided to change it's identity, much of the world would be up in arms. Civil unrest no doubt a consequence. If Microsoft decided to rebrand, likely it would not cause so much passion.

So whilst the input of the ever so important existing customer is important, the results need to be carefully dissected. If the focus of the initial surveys are consumers, then it is safe to assume that many will not be experts on identity and branding, and more importantly, don't have the weight of the success of the company on their shoulders. The responses are usually formed from the relatively narrow view of a consumer looking for the best deals and stellar customer support.

Amongst the consumers who are likely to say that the brand should be left as is or just don't care one way or the other, there will be the positive responses, the people that agree with the companies initial idea to rebrand, but these results also need to be carefully weighed up. They may be looking at it from a visual and aesthetic angle only, and again, they don't have the weight of the success or failure of the company on their shoulders.

Most of these initial and relatively uncontrolled surveys, will provide answers based on subjectivity, and not brand management. So that's the important thing to consider. They will provide very interesting and at times, humorous reading, but they should not be taken literally. The job of the agency, designer, consultants is to put all these results into focus.

Protect your position

For a company that are already in a lead position, that have an enviable and healthy position in the market in question, they need to protect that position, complacency is lethal. This is why Apple are are so very successful, they never stop to evolve and improve, and as consumers, we expect that from Apple. Can Apple keep up this innovation, time will tell.

Depending on the budget and scope of the project, the scope of the surveys and focus groups will vary. If you are dealing with collecting data mostly from existing and past customers, this will provide only one side of the coin. The other side is that you are not just answering to these current and existing clients. The expansion and continual growth of the company, hooking in a continual new stream of customers is any companies ultimate goal. Apple have excelled at this, not only are they selling to loyal Apple customers, they have began an aggressive campaign to pull in long serving PC customers, and this has been very successful.

So to make sure your brand is also appealing to the new shoppers, the identity needs to speak to them, not just the customers that you already have. This is one of the more important factors to consider when considering to go ahead or not with a rebrand.

Cold feet

The results of the survey may have given the company cold feet, seeing so many existing customers either opposed to anything to do with a rebrand can rock the confidence and the original enthusiasm.

So one needs to provide an element of constructive reassurance. Hence the need to look at all the results but treat them with a very open mind and not to be permanently swayed or negatively influenced by them. If for example the companies logo has been around for over a decade, chances are it's beginning to look a bit jaded. In a few years time, the logo will look even more 'aged' and out of place. In 5-10 years time, if the company have not 'refreshed' the logo, it will most certainly look 'old'.

Its these next few years where you will be needing to target new clients, and many of these new and potential clients will be more 'design' savvy, more aware of what looks good and what looks bad. They will also be more conscious of buying into cool brands and labels. We have Apple to thank for that.

For a company to maintain and grow on their current success, they are required to keep their position within the market solid against their competitors. If a company is getting cold feet, it's worth being reminded that their competitors either have already 'refreshed' their identities, and for the companies that haven't, they will surely do so in time.

We don't want to be late to that particular party. There is a strong element of do nothing and fail, it's not a scare tactic, although if might sound like it. Some say, 'don't fix what's not bust', but that is not wholly applicable where brand identities are concerned. More so in our rapidly changing market place, we as consumers have unquenchable thirst for new and technological advancement.

If a company doesn't adapt and evolve, someone else will and that someone will likely be your competitor.

Scary and sobering thought, which should provide most 'enlightened' companies with the push they need to at least be 'aware' of keeping on top of how their brand is perceived, and how it can degrade over time.

Final advice

The best advice for any company considering any form of brand identity redesign is to get stellar support and advice, find a company you can trust to take your best interest to heart, opposed to the next pay packet.

Look around as project costs will vary significantly, a fully fledged agency with dedicated and specialized staff may just be a tad overkill for a local business looking for a brand update. No doubt it's an expensive and time consuming business, can run from thousands to millions of pounds.

You need someone that can 'see' in utter clarity what is needed for you. It's so clear you can almost touch it. This translates to a cautious yet enthusiastic confidence.

A company that can remain subjective yet passionate but must always be looking after 'you'.

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