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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 www.shareacoke.com 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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It seems like you can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting an ad guy espousing the benefits of evolving your brand. So how do you separate the pretenders from the contenders? How can you tell the hucksters from the buck-sters? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Turn on your TV, go online, read a magazine – do you see much evolution out there? We see a lot of stuff that looks exactly the same. Do not confuse wacky advertising with brand evolution. In fact, we believe one of the biggest reasons everything looks the same is because most of it is just plain wacky and there is no actual evolutionary branding. Anyone can stick a new logo on the ad, that’s not evolution, either.

Here are 5 ways to really be evolve your brand in your messaging:

1) Talk to your core (but invite others to listen in). In this era of specialization, you can’t be everything to everybody. Stop trying to appeal the largest common denominator. Be a reductionist, both in your messaging and your targeting. Brands evolve from the inside out.

2) Stop talking to yourself. An unexpected insight cannot come from within – it must be discovered externally. The simplest insights are unexpected. Reject complexity. Be simplistic. You can tell the brands that are talking to themselves: their messages are complicated. Evolution is simplistic…natural.

3) Sell something with your ad. It’s not trendy, or wacky but selling your product or service hard is not for the faint of heart. It’s hip these days to say, “people don’t want to be sold and they are bombarded with messages all day.” Okay, so what? In the face of that how will you sell? Some agencies do this very well. They’re not ashamed to drive transactions.

4) Be a category of ONE. Courage means having the conviction to break away from the conventions of your category. Most brands can swap their logos with their competitors and nobody would really be able to tell the difference. The insurance category is a recent exception; Flo, The Duck and Mayhem are distinctly different directions within the same category.

5) Trust your eyes and ears. If it can’t pass the “out loud test” – it will fail. You’re a smart marketer, so prove it. Maybe the best campaign of this century is Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World.” It’s the first time a beer brand sold beer to a target that “doesn’t always drink beer.” But, it works because it was the smartest approach for the brand. It was the smartest way to talk to their target. This is brand evolution at its best.

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