The Waterstones identity rebrand revisited

Since my initial views and thoughts on the Waterstone’s rebranding, a few interesting comments appeared. One in particular caught me eye, this is not meant to ridicule or make fun of this comment, it’s more to reply comment on this particular line of thought.

When it comes to brands and in this case, a rebrand of a popular high street book store, many people loose sight of what a brand really is. It can be a confusing scenario, with many people interchanging brands, with branding, with identity and logo design with company image etc, it’s easy to see why.

The comment

The comment in question came from a regular reader of this blog, and it got me thinking quite a bit. So I wanted to reply to in detail based on this sentence :

It is a big change, but maybe a necessary one. It’s easy to judge a rebrand without understanding the bigger picture. Of course we’re free to voice an opinion, but it feels like some people are all too ready to look negatively on a rebrand.”

My comment to that comment

So I agree, that sometimes a shift of direction for a company is needed, often desired by the customers or the user base or just by a change of focus and company direction. Maybe there has been a takeover, maybe the product line has changed considerably and the existing identity no longer truly reflects the core message of the company, there are many reasons why a company may consider a rebrand.

This is about perspective

I have a case study of a recent rebrand that I was personally responsible for, Foehn & Hirsch. Crucially,the point of my previous post was that it’s more from my personal thoughts and views as a Waterstone’s customer, with added knowledge of branding and identity. Rather than a outright assassination of a logo design or a surface inspection of a fresh new brand identity.

As a consumer, I don’t particularly care about the internal politics that may results in a company redesigning their brand identity. All I care about is my continued personal experience with that company. That’s all.

A brand is not made by the company

On a simplistic level, a company doesn’t or can’t ‘make’ a brand. I do (as a consumer, not a logo and identity designer), you do, the people, the consumers, the buyers, the people who part with money are part of this massive recipe that will determine if a company or product will be viewed as a brand. If no one purchased Apple or Nike products, there would not be a Nike or Apple brand as we know it today, they would just be a company trying to sell products like your regular local high street store.

Regardless of the reasons for a rebrand, if the customers don’t like it, or accept it, then that’s a massive fail for the company. As a customer I have every right to say if a rebrand is, at least in my eyes, is negative or positive. If my view is also shared by many other Waterstones customers then this is a majority vote. If sales decline because of this, then a company needs to rethink. Royal Mail+Consignia to name one major example of the public not taking to what the analysts thought was a necessary move. The agency dudes must of been so embarrassed.

To be linked to a failed rebrand is nasty, hence any company taking on a rebrand need to be 100% sure, 100% in agreement, and 100% motivated to pull it off. If I am rebranding, I want someone on my side who shares and agrees with my decision but who will also advise me if a rebrand is likely to result in a downwards spin.

Easy to judge a new rebrand

So yes, it is easy for me to judge, but as a customer, that is my right to do so.

It was mentioned in the readers comment that people are too quick to voice a negative opinion on a rebrand, but this is also their fundamental right, they have helped make that brand what it is today. It is part of my money that has made that brand what it is. If I now see that brand ID destroyed to a point where I feel it’s no longer Waterstone’s, then from where I sit as a consumer, that’s a bad move for them, regardless of the internal reasoning.

For a company to seriously rebrand, not just refresh or update, they have to accept that many people will rebuke it, will just not get along with it. Maybe in time people will come to accept it, maybe even like it… if that’s the case then all well and good. The company might see a drop in sales initially, but if they have the courage of their convictions, then they should see it through. But often, the first few months of a serious rebrand are crucial if it will survive or need replacing or reverting back to the original, and that has happened many times with popular brands. Royal Mail+Consignia.

A logo is not the Identity

But a poor or weak logo can seriously hamper the brands overall brand identity or image. My views are not just judging a brand new company logo design or identity, a company without any past history. To do so just becomes just a case of ’subjectivity/personal opinion’, but that is not the case with Waterstone’s.

I have nothing particularly against the new Waterstone’s logo, regardless of how nice it can be packaged up, implemented with collateral materials, posters, if the single point of focus, the logo is weak, then this is also a bad move.

You take the new ‘w’ out of context and it suddenly becomes more than what it’s meant to represent. Some people see ‘two fingers’ some see ‘hanging testicles’, some see a ‘droopy butt’, some see ‘breasts’ and some see ‘u+u’.

Not a great combination of visual perceptions. Looking at the new ‘w’ on its own is a poor experience, no such failing or confusion with the previous serif ‘w’. This seems to me a backwards step, regardless if the aim of this rebrand was to modernise.

If the logo portion of an identity only really comes alive once you add it to a poster or some fancy shop decorating then this is a risky move. An ID for a company like Waterstone’s needs to rely on familiarity, it ideally needs to conjour up aspects of the essence of book reading not generic and a victim of type trends. In this case, the style of lettering for the holding company, HMV.


Written by: Graham Smith: The Logo Smith
1st Posted: 2010/05/16 & Post Updated: 2014/02/18
Filed In Categories: Brand Identity, Opinion, Posters

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