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Need a new look? Here’s how to approach your brand ‘refresh’

By Jeff Caporizzo
Sep 16, 2020
4 MIN. READ
To ensure a winning brand refresh, start by asking the right questions and aligning on the definition of success. We’ll show you how.

An updated look. A tweaked logo. A freshened design. Chances are, you’ve been asked to deliver one or all of these as part of a brand refresh.

“Refresh” is a broad term, so what exactly goes into this effort? Unfortunately, there are few brand or campaign initiatives with more gray area. Some people might think a refresh is only nuanced changes while others may expect an entirely new look and feel.

At its most basic, a refresh is about improving the impact of your brand while retaining the majority of your existing creative assets. But any change to your external appearance is a high-stakes moment for your brand, your creative, and your core team.

Succeeding at this ask requires a smart strategy. It starts with questions, which if diligently asked and answered, will map the engagement to success. Let’s get into it.

What is driving the ask?

The first question to ask is why does your company or organization want to make a change? Ideally this question would have a strategic answer—one grounded in the business, based on research of some kind, and pointed toward a specific goal.

Perhaps your customers have been asked about the legacy logo or design direction in qualitative/quantitative research and the feedback demands a change. That could be the case if you’re seeing a downward trend in key performance measures.

Perhaps a competitor has stepped up their game in the way they come to market, and your brand must respond to be competitive. Perhaps your business, product offering, or development has changed in a significant way, and the brand should reflect this. All good reasons to make a change in a nuanced way that builds on the brand equity already in place, yet opens the door to evolution and growth.

The worst answer to this question is, “Well, our logo, look, or design has been like this for a long time,” or “Some of our people are sick of it,” and other answers in this vein. While it may be true that some members of your company or organization have grown tired of the creative, you need to dig deeper and understand how any change will solve a tangible business or communication challenge.

Getting solid answers may require adding research into the scope of work. That may be challenging if you’re eager to charge ahead and start looking at creative mockups. Stay focused and remember the benefits of aiming before firing. Your hard work now will pay off later on.

What does “refresh” mean for your organization?

It is important to drill down into the elements of the existing look and feel and get specific about what will change and what won’t. What will you be keeping or changing when it comes to the colors, the fonts, voice and tone, tagline, and logo?

Knowing the difference between “refresh” and “redo” is critical. Are you changing so much that it’s like starting from scratch? If the answer is yes, then you may need to move the conversation in a new direction.

On the other end of the spectrum, is there resistance to change? Keeping too many of the legacy elements may limit the refresh so that any changes will be incremental and ineffective.

Determining the creative effort and setting expectations are what this step is all about, so that everyone is on the same page about what “refresh” means. These considerations will affect timeline, budget, and internal expectations.

If you’re wildly successful in this effort, what happens?

Finally, talk about the endgame before you start the work. What does success look like? Your report card should include metrics that tell a clear success story. Did you move the audience to a specific action? Did you get the engagement you wanted on social? Did you grab the earned media you wanted? Basically, you need to demonstrate that you solved the original challenge defined at the outset.

Iterative testing with audiences is a great way to check your work and prove its effectiveness. For example, you can compare the digital metrics for pre-refresh versus post-refresh ads. You can also look at sales numbers or organize specific follow-up focus groups. What you want to avoid is relying solely on anecdotal feedback or an echo chamber of only people involved with the project.

By framing your success in metrics, you move past opinion or preference to impact. “I like the new look” or “I don’t like the new look” is important feedback from internal and external audiences, but it can’t be the only feedback. You want to always connect the results of the work back to solving the original problem. Design elements are brand tools that have a specific job. You can measure if they are doing their job in order to determine whether the refresh was successful or not.

While “refresh” can mean many things, it’s imperative that you narrow down that definition. Define the refresh as a specific step toward something wonderful for your business, organization, campaign, or brand—and when that wonderful thing happens, celebrate together.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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By Jeff Caporizzo
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