Evolution vs revolution: dramatically boost your odds of a successful rebrand

All businesses change over time: markets shift, new products get launched, businesses grow and, sometimes, they pivot. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to reflect these changes in your business, but asking why the change needs to happen is the first step to determining how to represent it

We often deal with two, common situations:

  1. The business and the brand are moving away from each other, typically the brand is playing catch-up and unable to support the positioning or proposition, but needs to remain recognisable in the minds of its audience.
  2. The business has undergone significant change, so the brand needs to communicate a different way of working, or a new positioning to reach an entirely new audience.

Our work regularly asks us to make a determination about the right path for our clients. The two examples above give us direction to help determine whether an evolutionary or revolutionary approach is required. And, when rooted in business strategy and objectives, this decision is sometimes easier to make.

Brand evolution

Successful businesses that have been around for many decades are constantly evolving their brand and identities to keep up with changing strategies, changing trends and changing products. Think Shell, Lloyds or Levi’s… there’s a long list of evolutionary approaches to branding. 

What these examples have in common is not a significant strategic change, but one of gradually responding to cultural trends, widening audiences and expanding markets.

Evolution keeps your brand recognisable and helps to simplify the maintenance of brand equity. It doesn’t shout that products, services, or points of view have changed. It quietly says, “We’re keeping up to date, maintaining our positioning and keeping our audiences engaged”.

Our recent work for Altitude Angel, Passenger and Hot Tin Roof have all taken this approach. Whilst we’ve worked to develop the strategic side of both Passenger’s and Hot Tin Roof’s brands, all of these identities have been refreshed – developed from recognisable elements rather than starting from scratch.

Brand revolution

Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, and Google’s rebrand to Alphabet all fall under a more revolutionary category. Without Meta, the Facebook brand was only ever going to be a product. With Meta, Facebook can sit comfortably with others, and allow the business to move into other realms. Alphabet has expanded to include business in health, life sciences and venture capital while allowing Google to retain its position as a search engine, ad platform, map platform, and encompass YouTube.

These brands have responded to a significant change in their business strategy that needs to be communicated to their existing audiences and, potentially, completely new ones.

Revolution, or a complete rebrand, is a clear sign that you’re actively changing. It allows you to reconnect to audiences with different, better, or more appropriate messaging. It signals that your objectives have changed, that your brand or product architecture has changed, or that the world has changed and you’re listening.

When we helped SEMTA rebrand to Enginuity, this revolutionary approach was necessary and justified from a strategic perspective. Ann Hiatt’s new brand was created from scratch to better represent her personality, led by the strategy work we undertook. Jigsaw’s new identity represents the growth of a business that had outgrown its brand and needed to convey a wider message to a wider audience.

In fact our own rebrand, undertaken early in 2023 represents our adoption of Employee Ownership and our decision to move towards a more purposeful, progressive and people-positive position in our market.

Overall, change is good.

Too much change could be risky, but not enough change could mean missing out on potential.

Brands and brand identities are living things. They need to respond to certain forces both inside and outside their control. Think Tony’s Chocolonely, committed to environmentalism, fair and equitable working conditions. A great example of a business that has changed how we think about what a brand stands for and how it reacts. And think about how design trends have pushed brands like Apple from colourful to translucent and skeuomorphic, to minimal.

Brands create equity through distinctive, recognisable visual assets. They create longevity by codifying their visual representation. This creates heuristics in our brains and allows us to connect a particular brand to a particular service level or quality. Sometimes this equity is extremely valuable to a brand and needs to be maintained. But that doesn’t necessarily mean not changing identity.

In other examples, negative equity forces a brand to change its identity to create new connections because it needs to.

So, which direction is right for you?

Well, that depends. Ultimately whether evolution or revolution, brands and identities shift due to the strategic direction of the business. For some brands, this means gentle evolution, and for others a more conscious decision to change direction completely.

Change for change’s sake is a dangerous place to start. You risk confusing your audience, and diluting equity that may have taken years to build. But with significant change comes the opportunity to engage your audience in a significant new way.

Clearly, there is a need for brands to adjust to forces both within and outside their control. A period of reflection is necessary either way, and a comprehensive understanding of why you’re considering either is crucial. This is where your branding partner can help. Understanding the reasons for change can radically improve the chances for a successful rebrand or brand evolution. So, if you don’t know where to start, reach out and have that conversation.

If you’re looking to make the change of direction in your business visible, or looking to strengthen a well-established identity, get in touch with the team.

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