Rebrand or Refresh: What Type of Branding Does Your Organization Need?

Some organizations need a brand overhaul, while others need a tune-up. Find out what’s involved with each — and what’s at stake.

June 5, 2024



Rebrand or Refresh: What Type of Branding Does Your Organization Need?

The word rebrand can mean different things to different people. It’s important to know whether it’s truly time for your company to rebrand, or if a simpler brand refresh will better achieve your aims. It’s a nuanced point, but it matters when it comes to finding a branding partner and aligning on a project’s scope.

So what’s the difference? The nature of the branding initiative comes down to your organization’s performance and goals, which will guide what changes are ultimately needed.

A Journey of a Thousand (or 10) Steps: Where to Start

Determining whether you need to pursue a rebrand or a refresh begins with a deep understanding of your organization, your market and your organization’s position within it. This may seem simple, but it frequently isn’t. Internal agreement on who and where you are now is necessary to deciding who and where you want to be moving forward.

Looking outward, how has the market evolved since your original or previous brand? What competitive forces are at play? Where is the market headed, as best you can ascertain? Answering these questions will define what challenges your brand faces — and how best to address them.

Rebranding: A (Nearly) Clean Slate

A rebrand involves taking your brand down to its studs and building it back up again — pretty much from scratch. This comes with some asterisks, as it’s still important to preserve any valuable equity, such as a main brand color or a name, for example.

What Scenarios Might Drive a Rebrand?

Many internal and external circumstances can make rebranding your organization the best option. Below are a few examples to consider.

  • An acquisition or a series of acquisitions 
  • A merger
  • A move into a new market
  • A move upmarket 
  • A crisis, whether of business or PR
  • A trademark issue
  • Underwhelming or flailing performance in the market
  • New leadership
  • Global expansion
  • Shifting market needs
  • Changing customer perception

… and much more.

Why Rebrand?

Although it can be a lot of work, a well-considered, well-executed rebrand can make all the difference for your company, both internally and externally, with key benefits including:

Increased revenue: Strong B2B brands outperform weak brands by 20% in terms of revenue generation, according to a study by McKinsey.

Improved market positioning: A successful rebrand can help a company reposition itself in the market, attracting new customers and increasing its market share. 

Enhanced customer perception: Rebranding can improve customer perception and loyalty. In fact, 81% of consumers say trust is essential when making purchasing decisions, and a strong brand (or a rebrand) can enhance trust and loyalty.

A boost in employee morale: When employees feel proud of their company’s brand, it can lead to increased productivity and retention rates.

You’re in Good Company: Successful Rebrands

Many of the best-known and most successful brands have undergone rebranding efforts at some point. Below are just a handful of examples.

Uber Rebrand

Originally founded as UberCab, the company underwent a significant rebrand in 2010. It changed its name to Uber and adopted a new logo, which represented a departure from its original identity as a mere transportation service to a global technology company.

In 2016, the company rebranded again, followed by a third rebrand — with the brand we now know and love (depending on surge pricing) — just three years later. The latest rebrand was meant to signal a shift toward safety, accessibility and global expansion after a period of tough PR. Uber remains ubiquitous, and it’s reporting financials that are as strong as ever.

Starbucks Rebrand

Starbucks underwent a major rebrand in 2011, which included a redesigned logo and new colors. The company removed the words “Starbucks Coffee” from its already iconic logo, symbolizing its expansion beyond coffee into other products and experiences.

Though removing the company name was considered a risky move at the time, today Starbucks has roughly 40% of the market share in its industry. Note that Starbucks did retain the siren image in its new simplified logo, recognizing it as a valuable piece of brand equity that would provide continuity.

Airbnb Rebrand

In 2014, Airbnb underwent a complete rebrand, introducing a new logo and identity. After rebranding, Airbnb’s valuation increased significantly, and the company is now a leading player in the hospitality space.

A Gap in Perception: A Bridge Too Far

Gap Rebrand

Of course, not every rebrand is always so rosy.

Gap attempted a rebrand in 2010, when it introduced a new logo featuring a modern design with a small blue square above the “p” in “Gap.” But the rebrand was met with significant backlash from customers, and the company reverted to its classic logo within a week — highlighting the risks associated with rebranding without understanding what elements of the brand have real, precious equity. You have to know what lever(s) to pull.

It’s important to note that, although a logo is one of the most visible elements, an organization’s entire visual and verbal and visual identityfrom voice to color palette — needs to be carefully considered and rebuilt (as appropriate) as part of any rebrand.

Brand Refresh: Tightening the Screws

A brand refresh involves more subtle but important tweaks to an organization’s identity — whether that’s visual, verbal or both. You might consider a refresh when there’s a lot of equity in your current brand.

So, for example, you could look at evolving your brand’s name and/or logo to be more modern, updating typefaces that are becoming tired and adding or adjusting the color palette to provide more flexibility. Or maybe the brand is nascent and needs to be fleshed out a bit more, with something like an ownable graphic device.

Pepsi, for example, provides a clear (sorry) instance of a brand that has evolved while preserving valuable equity. An organization might also pursue a brand refresh because the messaging is off or the tone is flat (another cola pun) and needs to either enhance or change its personality.

What Scenarios Might Drive a Brand Refresh?

As with a rebrand, there are many cases in which a refresh might be just the right level of scope and depth to keep your brand ahead of the curve. For example:

  • A brand’s system proves to be too limited, as the organization expands its product and/or service lines.
  • Prospects or clients aren’t responding well to something like messaging or tone of voice.
  • A new competitor shows up with a similar color palette and starts gaining traction.
  • An organization decides to move upmarket but wants to preserve most of its identity.
  • The brand was designed in too trendy a way and has become outdated.
  • Too many CMOs or other cooks in the kitchen have come and gone, each flavoring things in their own way, and as a result, the brand now lacks focus.
  • Technical term: It just needs oomph!

… and much more.

Why Engage in a Brand Refresh?

Whether it’s because of market or internal changes, or just because things are feeling a bit stale, a brand refresh offers many benefits, including:

Competitive advantage: In rapidly evolving industries, a brand refresh can help a company stay ahead of competitors by adapting to changing consumer preferences and market trends. An evolution allows the company to signal innovation and adaptability without the risks associated with a total rebrand. (Generally speaking, if the public refers to your organization as “[new name], formerly [old name]” … that’s not good.)

Maintaining brand equity: A brand refresh allows a company to modernize its brand without completely abandoning its existing brand equity. By updating elements, such as logo, messaging or visual identity, companies can stay relevant and appealing to consumers without losing the recognition and trust built over time.

Customer engagement: Refreshing a brand can reignite interest and engagement from existing customers while attracting new ones. By introducing new elements or messaging, companies can generate excitement and curiosity, driving increased brand interactions and sales.

Cost effectiveness: A brand refresh is often more cost effective than a complete rebrand, since it involves updating existing brand elements rather than starting from scratch. This can lead to significant savings in terms of time and resources.

Evolving to Flourish: Brands That Have Successfully Refreshed

Google Brand Update

Over the years, Google has consistently evolved its brand identity while retaining its core elements. The company has refreshed its logo, introduced new color schemes and streamlined its design language to stay modern and relevant. Despite these changes, Google has maintained its recognizable logo and brand essence.

Apple Brand Update

Apple is known for its iconic brand identity, but the company has also undergone several refreshes to keep up with consumer preferences. Apple has updated its logo, refined its product packaging and adjusted its marketing strategies to maintain its position as a tech leader while maintaining its core identity

IKEA Brand Update

IKEA has evolved its brand since the company’s founding in 1943 while maintaining most of its identity. Although the company and its market have adapted to the times, as the IKEA Museum puts it, “If you have a strong, distinctive promise, there’s no need to make constant changes.” In fact, the company’s logo, featuring blue and yellow lettering against a white background, has remained largely consistent since 1983, with shifts in 2018 for legibility and consistent color reproduction in the digital age — a brand refresh for a company that both knows its strength and understands the demands of the day.

Was It Worth It? Measuring Success

The success of a rebrand or refresh doesn’t begin or end with unveiling what’s new to the world. It’s rooted in market research, strategic planning and alignment with organizational goals and values that take place well before launch and, of course, execution.

Although it’s time consuming and an imperfect science, branding extends to measuring the impact quantitatively and qualitatively over time. Here are some ways to find out how your rebrand or refresh is landing.

Brand awareness: Measure changes in brand awareness through surveys, social media monitoring, website traffic and search engine visibility. Look for increases in brand mentions, search volume and social media engagement post-rebrand.

Brand perception: Conduct qualitative research, such as focus groups or interviews, to understand how the rebrand has impacted perceptions of the brand. 

Market share: Monitor changes in market share, sales and revenue following the rebrand. Compare performance metrics against competitors and industry benchmarks.

Customer feedback: Solicit feedback from customers through surveys, reviews and customer service interactions to understand their opinions and experiences with the new brand. 

Employee engagement: Measure changes in employee retention, productivity and brand advocacy to gauge the effectiveness of internal brand communication and alignment efforts.

Financial performance: Analyze financial metrics, such as profitability, margins and return on investment to assess the impact of the rebrand on business performance. Look for improvements in financial indicators attributable to the rebrand, such as increased sales or reduced marketing costs.

Choose the Right Branding Partner to Help You Succeed

Whether your organization will most benefit from a rebrand or a refresh, be sure to consider existing brand equity, understand your current position and desired future position in the market, and know your points of differentiation. All of these components are necessary to drive brand expression. Although these objectives may seem formidable, the right partner can help you navigate the road from knowledge to planning to execution.

In developing your rebrand, work with an agency partner who:

  • Understands your business
  • Can help ensure all visual and verbal components are complementary
  • Is committed to an iterative and collaborative process (because, while difficult, branding can and should be fun)
  • Can help bring the final product to life in brand guidelines that make application easy and enjoyable

When you’re ready to explore a rebrand or refresh, we happen to know some people who can help. Get in touch today to put your brand on the path to its brightest future.

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