There was a time when mere mention of “rebranding” was greeted with derision, because it was seen as a cynical exercise in airbrushing from history a company’s past misdemeanours and attempting to improve its image without addressing fundamental problems.
However, indignation over corporate redesigns has now died down, and companies are regularly re-inventing their look and feel with barely a murmur of discontent.
According to Francis Jago, managing director of design agency Fingal, there is a much greater focus on return on investment from corporate redesigns, and rebranding is seen as a hard-nosed business decision rather than just painting a few pretty colours. “Historically, it was the case that the designers’ vanity was allowed to run riot. These days, rebranding isn’t quite as newsworthy because everybody has rebranded and it is much more acceptable,” he says.
Meanwhile, Millward Brown brand director Cliff Nichols says that most companies are looking for “inside out” branding, rather than a superficial gloss, especially for service and retail businesses. “When companies started to give themselves values, vision, personality and even soul, things were simple. Problems arose when such expensive identity exercises ended up as little more than prettification,” he says.
Motivating employees to believe in and live out the values promoted through a rebranding is an additional service touted by a number of branding consultancies. Agency i-am has introduced a people-and-culture initiative which it claims will help clients develop “a total brand experience”. Agency partner Bob Bayman says: “Corporate ID and marketing collateral need to appeal to the rational side, but also to spark people’s imagination. Co-ordinating logos, ads and websites is only half the job. The rest is up to people. Only when everyone from the managing director to postroom staff start to live the brand will it make sense to consumers.”
Designers believe that rebranding failures are often not so much a problem of design, but stem from a mistaken belief by company managers that changing the corporate identity can in itself bring about a shift in a business.
This was seen in the case of the Abbey rebranding by Wolff Olins in 2003. It used vibrant colours and a soft focus logo, but in breaking with the category language of banking it ended up looking more like Tate Modern than a bank. The design was axed when Abbey was taken over by Spanish multinational Banco Santander in 2005.
Keith Crook, creative director of design agency Loewy, says of the Abbey redesign: “It was beautiful, very adventurous and could have worked very well. But it looked as if they didn’t have enough money or desire to roll it out for maximum effectiveness. What you ended up with were bits of the old and new identity, which was a real shame as it could have been groundbreaking.”
Most branding consultants say that a successful rebrand has to connect with all the different “touchpoints” of a brand. The aim is to find a branding idea that can run through all the places and situations where consumers, employees, suppliers and investors experience the brand. Ashley Goodall, managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Design, identifies a number of brands which he believes achieve this. Apple is one and he says: “From product to the Apple Store, the whole identity, communications and design ethos pervades everything Apple does to create a unique and well-thought-out brand that is executed at every touchpoint.”
Some believe that companies need to spend more time researching their redesigns to get to the bottom of how consumers interact with the services provided. Katriona Campbell, founder and director at research company Foviance says that in the case of Web brands, consumer interaction needs to be the starting point for creating any corporate identity. “It is about usability, how you get through the website. Customer-centricity is about how you build it up from the very first,” she says.
Typically, creatives and designers warn against over-reliance on market research and consumer testing, as they believe that this can blunt the inspirational elements of a design. Ron Cregan, a director at design agency Navyblue, says: “Using research to actually lead and guide the branding process is flawed, as it is almost impossible for consumers to imagine the brand experience no matter how sophisticated the stimulus.” He contrasts small entrepreneurial brands with giants, such as Danone and Diageo, “who have massive research budgets but little true brand innovation”.
Redesigns are about more than just creating a good looking logo and slapping on a few nice colours. There needs to be a strong business case for changing a brand’s look and feel. The reasons behind it need to be carefully explained to all concerned or the rebrand is likely to be treated with suspicion.