You say you want a revolution?
Your visual brand isn’t working as well as it once did. Do you change it slightly or blow it up and start fresh?
At least once a week we have a client express how they’re unhappy with their current brand identity and want a change. That always prompts us to ask, “Are you looking for an evolution or a revolution?”
Is it Time for a Change?
It goes without saying that a company’s brand identity is a critical component of its marketing efforts. Changing any component of it without serious thought and discussion is looking for trouble. Identity changes should be conducted for legitimate business purposes, not because you want to “shake things up.”
While most companies focus on their logos, keep in mind that visual identity isn’t just the logo mark itself. It’s also your color palette, typefaces, iconology, photography styling and any other visual elements used to help the brand connect with your customers. All of these elements are interconnected and should be viewed as a comprehensive system.
Before you consider any changes to your identity, ask yourself, “What’s driving the decision?” Is your visual identity dated and no longer accurately representing the brand? Has your business changed in some fundamental fashion requiring you to rethink how you present your company to the world? Are you just tired of seeing the same old logo on letterhead day after day?
Keep in mind that there’s no rule that says you have to change your visual identity over time. Coca-Cola uses practically the same brand mark today that they originally registered in 1887.
If you do move forward with changes to your visual identity, decide if you need an evolution or a revolution.
The Theory of Evolution
If your logo is still doing a decent job of representing your brand, you probably only need an evolution—that is, minor updates to your visual identity, not a wholesale change. Maybe that cute curlicue font doesn’t cut it anymore, or those ‘80s style speed lines seem out of place. By keeping key visual elements of your brand the same, you can maintain familiarity with your audience while adapting to better suit modern aesthetic tastes.
Starbucks is a good case study for this approach. On the next page, you’ll see their past 45 years of brand evolution. While the original logo from 1971 is markedly different from the current one, the key brand element, the mermaid, is still present and recognizable. In addition, the brand color has remained unchanged since the green was introduced in 1987. Retaining these elements keeps the brand familiar to the established audience, while streamlining the visual design to suit the tastes of a contemporary audience.
A successful brand evolution hinges on having a strong, functional brand to start with (like Starbucks). If your brand is new or has little brand equity in the market, an evolution may be too subtle for most people to notice. Altering an unknown brand into a slightly more modern looking unknown brand isn’t going to move the needle. In that case, a more dramatic revolution may be required for people to notice.
A Revolution is in Order
If your brand is so dated that it no longer resonates with your core audience, or if it has intrinsic challenges that are too numerous to easily overcome, it may be time for a revolution.
We helped one of our clients, Lube Stop, undergo a brand revolution recently. Lube Stop is a quick service oil change chain, and its core visual identity had been in place for more than 30 years. Despite being well-known and respected in the market, the typeface had begun to look dated. More importantly, the black oil drop no longer expressed the key brand attributes of the company.
“We never really considered a brand evolution,” said Tony Cammerata, president of Lube Stop. “The [quick service oil change] industry is very mature and very competitive. So as we continue to grow and expand into new markets, we wanted a fresh start. We were committed to making a change.”
Lube Stop is dedicated to sustainability and environmentally responsible business practices, and the black oil drop was saying all the wrong things for the brand.
“The black oil drop of our old branding always bothered me,” Cammerata said. “That says old, dirty oil. The green drop of our new logo better represents who we are today.”
thunder::tech recommended that the brand undergo a revolution so its visual identity reflects its current company culture.
We worked with Lube Stop to develop a new visual identity that was respectful to its heritage, but expressed their forward-looking mission and values. The typeface was replaced with a more modern one, and the black oil drop was replaced with a green drop to represent their commitment to greener business practices.
“[Brand revolution] isn’t always the right thing to do for your business,” says Cammerata, “but it was definitely right for us.”
Another example of a brand that underwent a brand revolution is Federal Express. Despite being extremely successful in the delivery industry in the early ‘90s, Federal Express suffered from the public perception that they only delivered domestically. To overcome this ingrained notion, they decided to make a big splash in the industry to grab shippers’ attention and retell their brand story. The first move was the change from “Federal Express” to “FedEx,” the shorthand name that everyone used already. Second, they tossed their old logo and created an entirely new one. After 200 iterations, they landed on the famous FedEx logo we know today. In addition to creating one of the most iconic logos known in the business world, they successfully re-engaged the public to tell their real brand story. If you undertake a brand evolution or a brand revolution, prepare for some backlash from your customers and the general public.
Thanks to the internet and shows like Mad Men, the average person is more aware of marketing and advertising than ever before. Of course, when they’re hiding behind a computer screen, everyone is an expert. However minor or major your makeover, someone is going to have an opinion and tell you how terrible the change is.
If you’ve gone through a sound process and developed a new brand identity that’s built on a foundation of insights, best practices and support of business goals, then we recommend that you stand your ground. Don’t rush to make additional changes to appease a vocal minority. In most cases, the fervor will blow over and you’ll be left with a strong visual identity that positions your company for the next phase of growth.
Embrace the Change
There are many reasons to refresh your visual identity. A hard, honest look at what’s driving the desire for change will help you decide if your brand needs minor alterations (evolution) or a major overhaul (revolution). Either way you go, be honest about your motivations, explore all the options, don’t listen to the internet trolls and keep your brand moving into the future.
Brand Evolution is an article featured in our 2016 Trends Summer Reader Magazine. Download your free copy of the magazine here.
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