Brands evolve in many ways, some very visible, others not. Graphic identity is the most visible, and personal, sort of change. But it can be a risky business: The Gap, The Big Ten, and Starbucks have all had recent changes which have garnered some pretty strong, and often negative, consumer response.

Today consumers are more protective of “their brands,” taking ownership in ways that are different from the past. Once passive users have become active stakeholders. So change has to be done carefully. That’s where an evolutionary approach can be effective. Sometimes subtle changes can be the most powerful, altering people’s perceptions without anyone realizing anything is different.

Of course, sometimes more dramatic change is required. It’s worth noting the most successful such updates occur when they’re purposeful, yet respectful, of the past.

Whether your evolution is subtle or drastic, one thing is certain. Change for its own sake, or to make something more current in and of itself, is not the route to success.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your visual Brand Evolution:

  1. Consistency – While it seems contrary to change, consistency is a critical component to successful changes in branding. Marketers sometimes miss that consistency doesn’t come from a logo alone, but rather, it is something that is built and developed through many elements in a brand identity system. Consistency engenders loyalty and with time, a sense of authenticity. It is the design and use of a robust and thoughtful identity system that allows brands to practice consistency across geographies, throughout communications, and within product and service experiences. Consistency generates greater awareness and familiarity; when it is done well it can even give a brand the flexibility and credibility to evolve. A good example being the new campaign, which shows the true power of a consistent brand.
  2. Authenticity – The most successful brands use change to signal true change at a company. A new identity says something is new. If it’s the same old product and attitude, change could very well disappoint.
  3. A Process for Communicating Change – So you’ve made the decision to change. You’re excited. You’ve done your homework, written the brief, and explored your options. You’re ready to unveil a fresh new identity. How do you make your announcement and make sure that you’re not merely rationalizing the change with “brand speak,” but actually creating a positive impact on your business? Communication of change is critical, because it is human nature to find comfort in the familiar. Over time, we’ve found two critical factors to communicating change with success. They are both about giving people reasons to believe, or “walking the walk” versus merely “talking the talk.”
  4. Internal Communications – The first people to talk to are the people inside. They are people who represent the brand, sell it, support it, and bring it to life. Too often, insiders are last to know. It’s unfortunate, but there are too many examples of insiders being the last to know when it comes to company news like new branding or new communications. When you engage support from the inside out, you build ambassadors among those most able to help manifest your vision day in and day out with your customers.
  5. Contextualize – Context is critical to delivering a meaningful evolution versus a purely aesthetic or ego-driven change. When these two considerations are in balance then you earn the privilege of being able to change your brand and to do so while allowing people to consider it “their brand” as well as yours. Big brands need to have the courage to change, but they need to do it with respect for their past, with sound reason for evolution, and a smart plan as they announce their news to the world.


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