A colleague asked me the other day, “If you could overhaul any brand in the world, what would it be?” You might think that’s an easy question for a designer but as I was considering my answer, it got me thinking about how many rebrands have been at best, ineffective, and at worst, a complete disaster.
Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed market departments going through the motions of whether or not to rebrand. Sometimes this is driven by an essential business need – repositioning; an expansion of services; merger or acquisition. More often than not, however, it’s because the brand identity has been the same for many years and someone on the marketing team feels obliged to shake things up.
Rebranding is a risk, not to mention an expensive exercise, for any business. Remember when the Post Office tried to change its name to Consignia then quickly reverted back to its former branding following the public outcry? Even a small tweak to a brand’s identity can cost millions of pounds to roll out across marketing channels, and chances are it will go unnoticed by the general public. Or worse, get lambasted by the media for being a waste of money, as was the case with the recent Houses of Parliament rebrand, with the tabloids reducing what was sure to have been a strategic piece of work to a mere tweak of the logo.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?
So why bother to rock the boat? I would argue that regardless of how well a brand or product is doing, reviewing it in the context of what other brands or competitors are doing, and what the trends are in the bigger commercial world is essential if you want to remain successful; but the outcome shouldn’t necessarily be a rebrand. In fact, as an agency, I believe it’s our responsibility to push back on clients who propose a rebrand, even if that means turning down a substantial fee! Instead, I encourage clients to carry out regular ‘health checks’ or brand audits to make sure all is well. This is often enough to identify whether the brand is still current, dynamic and being applied correctly across the business; and sometimes, the smallest of changes can make all the difference, whether a business identity or a product brand.
Take Heinz Beanz as an example. It’s easy to visualise their branding – it hasn’t changed for decades, right? Wrong! If you were to put a row of baked beans tins next to each other from the last 10 years, I’d bet you’d see a massive difference between this year’s can and the 2008 can. Maybe the Heinz lettering has been ever so slightly thickened, or there’s a slight shadow, or the subtlest change in the shade of turquoise. These tweaks are not necessarily intended for consumers to notice, but subliminally, it communicates a more modern look.
A health check can also reinforce what you already know – I’ve been in meetings where major brands have reviewed their identity only to come to the conclusion that their original logo is just right. Sure, they’ve spent time and money doing an audit, but a lot less than if they had embarked on a rebrand, and the result is they are completely confident about who they are.
Once you have a brand with equity, it’s important you don’t change it too much. Yet it is imperative that a brand remains relevant and interesting to its target audience, and more often than not, a health check will highlight areas that need a refresh. Take Asics, who last year refreshed their brand identity for the first time in 10 years to appeal to a more mainstream audience beyond the ‘dedicated runner’. They have kept the core elements of the brand – the iconic spiral logo and the blue colours associated with the name – but have broadened the overall colour palette to include pink, purple, green and yellow, and updated the typeface associated with the brand. The result catapults them firmly into the lifestyle space alongside the likes of Nike and Adidas, but without losing the Asics performance heritage they have built up over the years.
Another strong example is Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewery, which refined its branding a couple of years ago. It abandoned its well established red, black and yellow logo for a stripped back colour palette of grey and gold, giving it a more contemporary look. The logo retained its iconic shepherd’s crook, but with a hop leaf that gave it an organic feel. It succeeds in making the brand feel fresh and modern, but doesn’t alienate existing customers.
And getting that balance right is the challenge – too much change and you can turn off your loyal audiences; too little and you may lose them altogether. That’s why a regular brand health check should be an essential part of every brand strategy and budget, rather than just a luxury when there’s time or budget left over at the end of the year.
Simon is the Managing Director of Greenwich Design, a family–owned branding and design studio that has just celebrated the 60th anniversary of working with one of its clients.