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The brand refresh: no-nonsense tips for getting it right

7 min read
Aaron Marquis

So, you're toying with the idea of a brand refresh. Great. But before you jump in, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page as to what this means. We're not just talking about slapping on a catchy new logo or writing a fresh slogan. It's about taking a long, hard look at your brand's identity, and rewiring it to match your ever-evolving business goals. If you’re thoughtful about the process, you might just catch the zeitgeist of the market, too.

What we'll cover

What is a Brand Refresh?

A “brand refresh” involves looking at your company’s visual identity and written messaging and making small but perceptible changes to align it to the current trends in your market. The goal is to give new life and a renewed sense of purpose to your brand while maintaining the core elements that make your company what it is.

But a brand refresh is NOT a down-to-the-studs rebranding. The goal is not to create a net-new brand from the ashes of the old one, but to keep vital parts of what made your company unique while adding new elements and subtracting ancillary ones. Think of it this way: a “brand refresh” is an evolution, a “rebrand” is creating something new and perhaps unfamiliar.

In short: if you have to re-educate your audience as to what your company’s name is, where to find your website, or even what it is your company does, you’ve gone way past “brand refresh”.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the meat of this thing: how to help you pull off a brand refresh without spinning your wheels.

Five tips on how to refresh your brand without wasting time (and effort)

Tip #1: Look inward, gain understanding

You can't just start reinventing your brand look and feel without understanding its very essence. We're talking about the non-negotiables here—the core values, the raison d'être, the unique bits and pieces that make your brand what it is. This isn't the time for surface-level stuff; you've got to dig deep. Convene a group of team members—from high-level executives to boots-on-the-ground staffers—and ask them some pointed questions about what your brand means to them.

By the way: if you’re stuck trying to figure out what your essence is, do an exercise where you define what your essence is not. Depending on your internal audience, rejecting a characteristic about your brand might be easier than confirming or identifying one. That kind of reverse psychology might just get the juices flowing.

Tip #2: Tune into the market zeitgeist

Put your finger in the air and feel which way the marketing and audience winds are blowing. Again—get a group of people together: current and future customers, your biggest spenders and/or the companies you’d love to be able to partner with. And just like with your internal audiences, ask them the tough questions, specifically: what creative and messaging are people responding to regarding your company?

The results might surprise you. Maybe your audience is craving tradition and trustworthiness at the moment, or perhaps they need revolution and novelty. Understand their desires and tailor your brand refresh to hit their sweet spot. Go back to the different departments within your company—sales, marketing, etc.—to get confirmation on those answers, and perhaps some more anecdotal evidence on what’s clicking.

Tip #3: Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

Don’t even think about revamping your brand, lone-wolf style. It won’t work, and you’ll get an inferior result. Every department plays a critical role during a brand refresh. Getting everyone on board ensures that the refreshed brand mirrors your collective vision and isn't just the whim of a select few.

Field ideas from others in the company, talk about the brand ideas others imagine when they think of your organization. Set up targeted focus groups or even hold “brand refresh office hours” that anyone who has an idea can attend. Will some of them be not so great? Sure. But you’d be surprised at the ideas that germinate from the group.

Tip #4: History is prologue

There’s no harm in learning from those who've been there, done that. Look out for successful brand refresh stories—within and outside your industry. Or reach out through your network to second- or third-degree contacts and ask for 30 minutes of their time to interview them about their recent refresh. Dive into their strategies, take note of what hit the mark and what crashed and burned, and why. These insights could be invaluable for your own refresh project.

Legos and Domino’s come to mind when considering the top examples of brand refreshes. They took what didn’t work, focused on what did, and then sprinkled in some digital investment. Get lost in the research and come out the other side with a renewed perspective.

Tip #5: Smart change

You might feel the urge to toss everything and start from scratch, but that's like demolishing a house because you don’t like the wall color. Hold on to the elements that still resonate and are cherished by your audience. Remember, a brand refresh is about enhancing and refining your brand, not dismantling it. There’s nothing more damaging than setting years of brand equity on fire for the sake of “making waves”. (See Twitter -> “X”.)

There’s nothing wrong with small, subtle changes over time. If you want proof of that, look at enduring brands and see how they’ve evolved over the decades. You might even get a little nostalgia from the exercise.

The Strategy within the refresh

A brand refresh might seem like a simple aesthetic exercise at a glance. But in reality, it's a strategic shift—a carefully plotted move to reposition your brand, realign it with your current ambitions, and make sure it sings a tune your audience loves.

That's your down-to-earth, no-nonsense guide to a successful brand refresh. It's not easy, but armed with these tips, you'll be prepped and primed to tackle it. Remember, a brand refresh is an ongoing gig, a continuous process that's all about evolution, innovation, and growth.

5 Alarm bells shouting “Refresh your brand, NOW!”

“Don't fix what isn’t broken.” You’ve heard that countless times, and ordinarily it’s good advice… for cars and appliances. You’ve got a business to run, and sticking to the status quo is like signing your death warrant. For companies, evolution isn't just survival—it's about thriving.

You've got to keep your brand tidy and up to date with the pulse of the times. And if you're seeing these five alarm bells ringing in your company, it's time to seriously consider a brand refresh.

Alarm Bell #1: Your brand's living in a time warp

Remember the adrenaline rush of those early startup days? That’s gone. Forget about it. Your company's grown up and you’ve hired a ton of amazing talent. But if your brand's still stuck in the old days, your whole company is living in the past. It's high time your brand matched the matured vision of your evolved organization.

Besides that, more likely than not, you have better creative resources that you had originally, and the brand makeover that can spawn from that can surprise you.

Alarm Bell #2: Your customers are scratching their heads

Your brand is your story, your promise. But if your customers need a dictionary to figure out what you're offering, that's not a good sign. It's a glaring red flag waving: “Brand Refresh Needed!” You've got to cut through the confusion and let your brand reflect what you're all about.

Alarm Bell #3: Your marketing asset management is a mess

Let’s be blunt for a second—you can't expect to win the game with a disorganized team. If your marketing assets aren't singing the same tune, it's not only confusing, it's also a major turn off for your customers. And if corralling your marketing feels like an impossible task, you've got the perfect excuse for a brand refresh. Consistency is the rule of the land.

Alarm Bell #4: Green-eyed monster alert

Got that pang in your gut when you see your competitor's branding? No shame in admitting it— but it's time to quit the jealousy and step up your game. If your brand's looking like a relic next to their polished presence, it's time to hit the refresh button.

Alarm Bell #5: Your inbound's gone AWOL

When sales slow down, that's one thing. But when your inbound starts drying up? That's a disaster. It could mean your brand isn't ringing any bells, or even worse, has turned into a forgettable, irrelevant ghost to your audience.

If your phone's gathering dust and your inbox is looking like a ghost town, a brand refresh might be just the thing to light up the way and draw in the crowds again.

The bottom line on a brand refresh

The secret sauce to staying in the race in a brand landscape that’s constantly shifting? It's relevance. And if that means ripping off the old and putting on a brand-new face, so be it. A brand refresh could be the adrenaline shot your company needs. Yeah, change can make you a little uncomfortable, but stagnation? That's absolutely no good.

So, keep your eyes open for these five alarm bells. If they're tolling for you, it's time to roll up your sleeves and take on a brand refresh. Worst-case scenario? A sharper, more aligned brand and a rise in inbound requests. Sounds like a gamble worth taking, don't you think?

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