Done right, a brand refresh will keep your brand salient for several years to come. Creative Director Mark Westbrook breaks down the steps to success—internally and externally.
There’s no getting around it: the brand refresh is inherently hard and high-stakes. Change might be inevitable, but in the world of branding, it’s often met with a lot of resistance. Running a brand refresh is made even harder when you don’t necessarily have the foundations, tools or team to execute optimally. Add in the wants and needs of diverse, passionate stakeholders—many of whom have been involved with (and opinionated about) the business for years—and you’ve really got your work cut out for you.
“Change might be inevitable, but in the world of branding, it’s often met with a lot of resistance.”
But as the leader of a brand, this is your job—to not just keep pace with change and evolve the look, tone and feel of your brand, but to manage the complexity of many leaders, team members and consumers along the way.
The Value of the Brand Refresh
It’s a complex undertaking, but done right, a brand refresh will:
1. Keep your brand current with changing culture and evolving consumer needs
2. Sharpen your competitive edge and leadership stance within your category
3. Deepen your connection to both internal and external stakeholders
4. Drive meaningful results for the business
After years and years of helping clients run these projects from start to finish, I have thoughts on how to make your brand refresh as impactful and successful as possible.
How to Get Started
First, if needed, make the case for the refresh. Sometimes everyone is in agreement that it’s time, but sometimes not. There are signals that can tell you it might be time to refresh. Perhaps you’re expanding with new products and services. Maybe the shifting category indicates you need a new positioning. Or maybe your hero assets simply look out-of-date. Whatever the case, running a brand health check can identify your iconic assets, weaknesses and key opportunities to shape your game plan.
Next, spend a lot of time listening. The most successful brand refreshes act as a powerful pivot point for a brand. It’s a moment to pause, seek out your stakeholders and have in-depth conversations—not just to learn, but to also make them feel engaged in the process. These interactions can illuminate a lot: What’s working? What’s not? What’s held sacred? What’s holding the brand back from reaching its full potential? In addition, ask about the last transformation the brand went through. Having a sense of that history can help you understand what to do—and what not to do.
Build your team and begin your brand refresh. It’s our belief that a brand refresh must begin from the inside-out and the bottom-up, including foundational elements like your brand’s purpose and positioning. Done right, a brand refresh may include evaluation and evolution of the following:
• Vision, mission and values
• Strategic foundations (promise, positioning, differentiators, reasons to believe)
• Brand architecture
• Brand character and tone of voice
• Verbal strategy (messaging, copywriting guidelines)
• Visual identity (brandmark, type, color, graphic assets)
Time: The Real Torture-Test of the Work
Put it out in the world—and watch closely. The conclusion of this body of work can feel like you’ve completed the mammoth job of refreshing your brand. But in truth, this is just the beginning.
“A year later, does it still
feel modern and fresh?”
The real test of the work is implementing it and watching it live out in the world over time: does it raise awareness of your brand? Does it equip the in-house team with the tools to communicate everything the brand is doing? A year later, does it still feel modern and fresh?
We did just this with our recent brand refresh for the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library, a long-loved institution that came to us for its first refresh in over 20 years. As one of the nation’s only Five-Star Libraries, one of its busiest and a destination for far more than books, the organization had evolved—but its brand strategy and expression hadn’t.
We helped the institution undergo a refresh that solved some enduring problems, among them: confusion about its name, a finite creative system, and limited public awareness of all the institution offers. From strategic foundations to design and messaging to activation, the work cast a new light on the Library as a future-forward learning center, keeping up with the changing needs of its audiences.
Sure, we gave their team the tools and guardrails to evolve and expand—but the real test came in the months that followed the launch. Did the team find the new system flexible and effective? Was the community connecting with the new look, tone and feel? And most importantly, was CHPL strengthening as a result of it?
The answers were yes, but the point is: these conclusions couldn’t be drawn until the refresh had time to live and breathe out in the world. It’s a story we talk about in-depth with their head of marketing, Chris Rice, in our newest Digital Roundtable, The Refresh Done Right.
Want to learn more about how to create a brand refresh that’s built to endure? Head here for Part II.