When you look at the brands that have withstood the test of time, one common denominator stands out: a proven willingness to change and adapt. Brands that fail to evolve alongside changes in their industry, consumer base, and overall socioeconomic landscape risk becoming outdated, irrelevant, or bankrupt.
The path to overcome this? Implementing periodic, strategic changes to your brand, whether in the form of a brand refresh or a full-on rebrand.
But what exactly do these options entail? And, more importantly, how do you know when it’s time to pull the trigger on one of them? This blog post will explore the meaning of, and motivations behind, brand refreshes and rebrands, so you can update your brand with confidence and clarity.
In a previous Deep Dive blog post series, we’ve compared building a brand to building a house. If that’s the case, then undergoing a brand refresh is akin to giving your house a fresh coat of paint.
A brand refresh typically consists of largely aesthetic, yet still strategic, updates with the purpose of better connecting with your existing audience. Rather than changing the core of who you are and what you do, a brand refresh affects the overall look and feel of your brand. Think of it as the classic makeover scene in a romantic comedy: although the protagonist gains a new wardrobe and a trendy haircut, their heart and soul remain the same.
The changes involved in a brand refresh are dependent on a number of factors, but may include:
- A new logo or refreshed design.
- Fresh official brand colors, fonts, imagery, and other design elements.
- Updated slogans or taglines.
- A new brand voice or messaging guide.
- Updated marketing materials (e.g. business cards, website, and signage) that reflect these changes.
Most strong brands undergo a refresh every few years in order to keep up with industry trends or better reflect their offerings. Sometimes these refreshes are barely noticeable; other times, they’re more involved and are unveiled with great fanfare. No matter the extent of the changes, however, a brand that’s undergone a successful refresh will still be both recognizable and appealing to its existing audience.
Reasons for a Brand Refresh
Although it’s important to update your brand periodically, it’s equally important to only make those updates for the right reasons. A few of the most common motivations for undergoing a brand refresh include:
- Better connecting with your audience. Although your target audience hasn’t changed, you may need to adapt your brand’s design or messaging to a new generation, or to shifting cultural values.
- Responding to changing markets or industry trends. For instance, many restaurants refreshed their brands to focus more on carryout or delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- More accurately reflecting your business’s products or services. If you’ve recently added new offerings to your existing menu, you may need to update your messaging to reflect them.
Wanting a fresh or more consistent brand strategy. If you’ve tried out a handful of different combinations of logos, colors, and fonts, but haven’t found one that really sticks yet, it may be time to nail down a consistent design.
Brand Refresh Success Story: Dunkin’
A main difference between a brand refresh and a rebrand is that while a rebrand seeks to change how consumers think of a brand, a brand refresh seeks to change a brand to better reflect the way its existing audience already thinks of it. Such was the case with beloved New England staple Dunkin’ Donuts.
Although named for the tasty breakfast pastries, by the late 2010s, the majority of Dunkin’ Donuts’ sales weren’t coming from their donuts, but from their coffee. Additionally, the brand recognized that most of their regular customers referred to the coffee shop simply as “Dunkin’” rather than by its full name. So, in 2019, the company announced that they’d make things official by changing their name to Dunkin’ and by presenting themselves as a “beverage-led company.”
Since refreshed brands still need to be recognizable to their audience, brand refreshes don’t often include name changes. However, this was a rare case in which a brand changing their name actually made them more recognizable to their loyal customers.
Let’s revisit our previous metaphor. If a brand is a house, and if a brand refresh is giving your house a fresh coat of paint, then a rebrand is tearing the house down to its foundations and rebuilding it from the ground up.
Whereas a brand refresh consists of mainly aesthetic changes, a full rebrand affects the most fundamental pieces of your brand. When a business decides to rebrand, it’s with the intention of adopting a whole new identity and changing how consumers perceive them. Unlike during a brand refresh, a company undergoing a rebrand isn’t concerned with remaining recognizable to their audience. (Note that rebrands also include some or all of the aesthetic changes that come with a brand refresh; however, those updates are symptoms of the rebrand’s large-scale changes rather than the main focus.)
The large-scale changes in a rebrand may include:
- Updated brand identity fundamentals such as core values and positioning.
- A new target audience.
- Entering a different market or industry.
- Changing the main services or products your brand offers.
- A new brand name.
A full rebrand is far less common than a brand refresh, and far riskier. Companies typically only undergo a rebrand if they stand to lose significant profits by maintaining the status quo. A successful rebrand will drastically change the way a brand is perceived by consumers, to the point where, a few years down the road, the old brand may be unrecognizable.
Reasons for a Rebrand
Although a rebrand isn’t a move to be taken lightly, it is necessary in certain circumstances. The most common motivations for undergoing a rebrand include:
- Entering new markets. If you want to replace the product or service your brand is best known for with a completely different offering, you’ll need to make sure consumers associate you with your new service over the old.
- Changing your brand positioning. You may not be happy with the way your audience thinks of your brand, and want to influence their perception through major updates.
- Attracting a new audience. Whether you want to expand your current audience or speak to a new group of people entirely, you’ll need to adjust your strategy accordingly.
Performing damage control. If your brand’s reputation has suffered a blow, you’ll need to work hard to restore your audience’s trust.
Rebrand Success Story: McDonald’s
Founded in 1940, McDonald’s has transcended the fast food industry to become one of America’s most instantly recognizable brands. But near the turn of the 21st century, McDonald’s was subject to increasing scrutiny from health-conscious consumers. This culminated in the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which dealt a near-fatal blow to the hamburger chain by virtually pinning the entire obesity epidemic—particularly childhood obesity—on their brand.
But in the years that followed, the McDonald’s brand has undergone a dramatic transformation. Their immediate response to the film was to pull their “super size” option and to offer an extended menu of healthier choices such as salads and grilled chicken sandwiches. In the long term, the restaurant has also shifted its advertising and overall aesthetic away from children and towards adults. Whereas the McDonald’s of the 1980s and 1990s featured friendly clown Ronald McDonald and his posse of cartoon friends, the McDonald’s design of today is almost corporate in its clean lines and minimalist palette. And although the chain certainly still has its critics, its rebrand was successful in allowing it to narrowly avoid disaster and remain on top of the fast food industry.
Make Changes With Confidence
Just as you periodically update your wardrobe or hairstyle, it’s necessary to perform similar updates to your brand to keep it fresh and relevant in your industry. Knowing the differences between a brand refresh and a full rebrand, as well as the motivations behind each, can help you make an informed decision on the extent of the changes your brand needs, and how best to implement them.
For even more clarity on whether it’s time for a brand refresh or rebrand, download our free Brand Update Flow Chart.
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