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How to give your brand identity a makeover – without alienating your consumers

Brand identity is a powerful tool and messing with it is a risky business. Even the slightest alteration can cause an altercation and affects the target market in terms of their perception of the brand and even their love towards it.

From Jif’s change to Cif, Opal Fruits to Starburst and identity overhauls like that seen with Airbnb of late, nothing goes without comment – or in some cases outcry. Positioned and developed correctly, new identities add significantly to a company’s long term success and the change is necessary for many reasons, namely as an expression of progression.

Yet how do you know when the time is to rollout with a refresh and how can the embarrassment of an identity disaster be avoided?

1. Simplify and clarify – identify the need for change

The first step in ensuring a successful global rebrand is determining what needs to change and why. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Where is the current brand failing? How can the brand better serve its employees and customers? Is there a need to define a new brand promise or simply evolve an existing one? These are the questions that should be asked and the focus should always be on ‘why’ – not ‘how’ – the brand needs to change and what the brand promises to its customers.

When the going gets tough many fail in assuming that a rebrand will solve all problems – cue Malaysia Airlines – when in reality the issue can be more operational than brand related. The airline didn’t help itself with its poor communication or its inability to act transparently. A clear distinction needs to be made between ‘brand’ and ‘operational’ related issues.

2. Analyse – do your homework and establish relevance

A successful global rebrand is ultimately connected to relevance – for a brand to survive, it has to remain relevant to its target market. Research is vital for understanding brand perception, value, and familiarity throughout your various consumer markets. If, for example, your brand produced strong results and there is no obvious threats to the brand, you may not need to implement a new visual identity system.

3. Think broadly – think 360º

A brand is not just a logo, stationary or corporate colour palette. Brands have to be considered in the context of a total cohesive experience – from tone of voice to customer care, from retail environments to digital communications.

Customers trust brands that are consistent at every touch point and global brands that have successfully rebranded have carefully considered, evaluated and redefined their goals, messages, and internal culture as part of an all-inclusive experience – not just a name or logo change. The new visual identity should be a true representation of the new brand strategy.

4. Respect your heritage – and your customer

Whilst a brand's heritage should not become a barrier to remaining relevant and compelling it should be valued and respected. Heritage is often the central timeless essence of the brand, the unique “you”, and should remain constant as the brand transcends new markets and launches new products. Presence built over time is reassuring and indicates stability and simple, subtle updates can move the brand forward seamlessly without losing the values it was built upon.

British heritage brands such as Hovis and Burberry have remained relevant and fresh without posing any risk to the brand’s existing recognition. If you ignore existing brand equity you risk alienating valued customers.

5. Get creative – but research cultural perception & differences

Whilst great design can and should inform simple fresh ideas, the rebrand has to encompass and be accompanied by stronger and relevant marketing messages and also transcend language and cultural boundaries. Consideration should be given to the acceptance of the visual identity and messaging beyond the product or service itself.

Brands which have an established global footprint often assume they know what will resonate locally yet often fail. A curveball was thrown at KFC when it launched a new campaign in China with the famous tagline "finger-lickin' good": it was understood locally as "eat your fingers off".

6. Acknowledge change – set the foundation for future adaptation

No matter how well the global brand implementation process may have been considered, the ‘on-the-ground’ realities may differ considerably from the broader implementation plan. As the brand rolls out, the implementation process will inevitably require adaptation – particularly when dealing with different geographies, cultures and furore.

The innuendo in relation to the revamped Airbnb logo has surely now been exhausted, but the launch of the rebrand was handled in a most flexible way in reaction to the slew of criticism showered upon the logo, including the post-launch damage control via Twitter.

Clive Rohald is creative director at Siegel+Gale