Over the past few years, we’ve seen major rebrands steal the spotlight. Here’s why companies should be thinking smaller.
The most powerful brands continually evolve. When a competitor gains ground or unveils a new positioning, the instinctive FOMO-driven reaction is often to embark on a brand refresh. But a full rebrand requires investment, time, and resources that can be challenging to justify, especially in this economy.
The truth is, a rebrand isn’t always what’s needed. In many cases, making purposeful, intentional improvements to the critical components of an existing brand identity can be equally impactful and significantly more resourceful than following the tradition of a large refresh every few years.
Brand leaders today regularly assess and build on what is working well and discard what isn’t. Grounded by an unwavering belief in what their business stands for and the foresight to stay ahead of the curve, they tap into the well-known business practice of continual optimization, which describes the process of steadily evolving every aspect of their brand.
Many well-known brands have been diligent about modernizing foundational design elements to ensure that their identity travels well across digital platforms. Tech companies, fashion trendsetters, and car manufacturers have visibly updated their logos to be legible in smaller sizes and offer more utility in new applications. More than an aesthetic trend, these updates serve functional benefits that double as strategic opportunities to signal positioning shifts. But as we all know, there is so much more to a brand design than its logo.
A strong, enduring brand needs a durable identity system. Even without a rebrand, it’s important for leadership to question whether an existing design system serves everyone’s needs. How does it extend into motion to engage audiences on every screen? How does it communicate effectively, with or without visuals? How flexibly does it scale into new markets? How does it empower teams to be more creative and consistent?
This is the realm of strategic design optimization, in which modest investments in evolving a brand can offer immediate impacts. Increasingly in client engagements, designers are working on additive aspects of brand design systems like motion identity, tone of voice, scalability, and internal content ecosystems, whether separately or in tandem.
OWNABLE MOTION IDENTITY
The entertainment industry pioneered the practice of establishing an ownable motion identity for each distinct brand. TV brands can’t exist without motion graphics, and now every company needs the ability to engage, excite, and even entertain audiences across all the platforms where motion design thrives. As social media platforms prioritize video, screens replace billboards, and 5G internet reaches more people, it is vital for all business sectors to learn from the entertainment brand design playbook.
Establishing motion identity guidelines that make a brand move with intention is essential to meet the expectations of modern audiences. Off-the-shelf templates are excellent for budding video creators, while purpose-built animation tool kits with bespoke motion guidelines are a necessity for established brands. These tool kits are designed to connect a brand’s strategy to an ownable style of motion design that differentiates and elevates the brand experience while supporting more emotional brand storytelling.
CONSISTENT TONE OF VOICE
If good communication is fundamental to the success of an operation, from strategy to supply chain to sales, it is surprising to learn how few organizations have a clearly articulated tonal identity. Given the abundance of communication channels available, the quickest win for creating a better brand experience is to implement guidelines for internal and external teams that enable them to communicate with an engaging, consistent, and platform-appropriate tone of voice.
Defining a cohesive brand character that translates to all touch points—especially where written text drives engagement—leads to the clarity of messaging that helps a brand stand out and connect. Like evolving a brand’s motion identity, updating a brand’s verbal identity is often a case of sharpening existing tools. Guidelines that are easy to use and designed for adaptability are hugely important to the sustainability of any brand’s evolution.
EVOLVING AT SCALE
For midsize to large enterprises, the common challenge is to take a brand that has been successful in one market and launch it into new territories. Brands operating across different geographies must start by articulating a strategic framework that teams everywhere can build upon.
Two years after the successful launch of Disney+, Disney recognized that by making evolutionary improvements to its brand strategy and design system, it could confidently enter new regions where the streaming service provides different content and value. Simultaneously, the updates offered creative flexibility and efficiency to its growing international teams. The expanded toolbox of messaging guidance and robust animation tool kits enabled each market to grow the Disney+ brand at scale with clarity of purpose.
EMPOWERING INTERNAL CREATIVE DEPARTMENTS
Looking to the future, organizations in every sector are increasingly eager to build their own content ecosystems that take advantage of an explosion of always-on channels. The autonomy to produce and distribute written, video, and experiential content is often powered by internal creative teams. Notably, these teams continue to engage design studios and agencies to provide expertise in establishing the underlying systems required, since many of the initial hurdles are design challenges.
Taking a continual optimization-inspired approach, brands are testing and learning how to build the structures needed to sustain always-on communication. It’s a savvy investment with long-term cost efficiencies, borrowing inspiration from direct-to-consumer models and entertainment studios alike. By empowering staff who are closer to the business and products, an internal content production pipeline and ecosystem can evolve how a brand builds equity with its customers.
EVOLUTION, NOT REVOLUTION
There will always be circumstances that call for a new brand identity. The past three years have seen rebrands for Pepsi, Burger King, and Pfizer (albeit after more than 10, 20, and 70 years respectively since their last notable redesigns). We have not seen the end of tear-the-rug-up rebrands. Yet for businesses without a multimillion-dollar budget, doing more with less is a better approach to evolving their brand. Equipping an organization with the right tools, systems, and guidelines to leverage the best of its brand continually ensures it takes forward what is most beloved by its growing audiences.
This article first appeared in https://www.fastcompany.com
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