A new identity can do wonders for your company’s image, but without laying the groundwork for a smooth brand transition, you’re likely to throw your audience for a loop, or in more extreme cases an all-out anti-rebrand rebellion.
The Gap learned this lesson in 2010 when they rolled out a redesigned logo without explaining exactly what made this new mark significant to an already iconic brand, or why the rebrand was necessary in the first place. Long story short, Gap lovers of the world took to social media to express their utter disbelief and disappointment in the rebrand. Within days, Gap released a public apology from the company’s then-president and threw together a social media campaign to “crowdsource” a new-NEW logo from already disgruntled fans. When (somehow) that didn’t work, Gap admitted defeat and reverted back to the classic logo.
Let The Gap’s rebranding debacle be a lesson that, no matter how deep your branding research or how stunning your new mark, the process doesn’t end with logo selection. As many rebranded companies have learned during the transition period, an identity launch is more complex than simply swapping out a few files and printing a new batch of business cards.
To set your organization up for rebranding success, you’ve got to go in with a plan on how to make a smooth and mindful transition — not just for your team, but for the audience that knows, trusts, and reveres your existing identity. Below are a few of the tips we give clients when it comes time to transition to a new identity.
Make your new identity part of a larger story.
Human beings crave stories. We want to know the meaning behind everything, and like it or not, that includes your brand’s new identity. Take the opportunity to tell your identity transition story, from why a brand shift was necessary, to the reasons why this new mark fits your organization.
Earlier this year, Airbnb rolled out their new brand look. While the Internet had plenty to say about what the logo may or may not look like, from day one, the company reiterated that the logo represents something bigger: a sense of belonging.
The same goes for The Whitney‘s recently revamped aesthetic. The institution took the time to explain that this brand shift marks the upcoming transition to a new building, and the mark itself “illustrates the Museum’s ever-changing nature.”
“As with a line, every story needs a beginning.” Read the entire story behind the design process of our new identity: http://t.co/kjAX0LVdeV
— Whitney Museum (@whitneymuseum) May 21, 2013
Get buy-in from your employees and stakeholders.
Your employees, board members, investors, and other internal stakeholders are your brand ambassadors. You want them to both appreciate and understand this identity so that they can enthusiastically pass on both the story and the positive perception. To get that buy-in, make sure that this crowd knows about the transition well in advance, understands what prompted the change, and can effectively share the story behind the new look. Airbnb shared their rebrand with community members first via an exclusive live stream event, which they promoted with the series of email teasers shown below. You can also get the word out and build excitement among employees or board members at an in-person identity launch celebration, complete with a selection of free rebranded swag.
Beware the gradual rollout.
Put yourself in your audience’s mind for a minute. You’re researching a brand, and on their website, you see one logo, but that mark doesn’t match the sign on the physical building, and the brand’s Facebook page has another look entirely. This is an inherently confusing brand experience and one that you can avoid by flipping the switch all at once, rather than piecemeal. Make a comprehensive list of all of the places your logo exists. The examples below can get you started, but you’ll want your team’s input to ensure that all the bases are covered.
- Social media platforms
- Physical signage
- Business papers
- Email signature
- Online directories
- Advertising and marketing materials
Take a multimedia approach.
For every enthusiastic fan that appreciates your witty, long-form storytelling, there are dozens who would never, in a million years, consider reading that 2,500-word brand transition essay. Prepare for these media preferences by taking a diversified approach to your brand launch. So while you may be set on writing that clever story of brand rebirth, you should also include a more visual approach, and even consider an animated video that illustrates the before and after of your new look. Airbnb launched their new symbol with a mixed bag of media: lengthy text-based descriptions, social media-friendly visuals, an infographic, brief animated explanations, and founder interviews.
Create a hub for the new brand story.
You’ll probably end up pushing this story out via a variety of platforms: social media, snail mail, press releases, and email newsletters. But will the details and visual assets live anywhere permanently? Consider dedicating a page — or even a full-blown microsite — to the story behind your new identity. This will give you a place to send customers, press, and investors.
Southwest Airlines launched a microsite that explains the ins-and-outs of their new brand, including everything from employee portraits to a narrated video and an FAQ section.
Consider giving your new identity a name.
In the weeks that follow launch, you and your staff will tell the story of the new look again and again. Since “our new brand identity” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, you might think about giving your new look a name of its own.
Airbnb simplified the storytelling process by deeming their symbol the “Belo.” Anyone familiar with The Whitney will refer to the museum’s new brand mark as “The Responsive W.”
Don’t overdo the brand identity talk.
While you — enthusiastic marketing person or designer — likely lived and breathed this identity for months, the same does not go for the rest of the world. You’re excited about the launch, and if you play your cards right, your audience will be, too. Just remind yourself not to overload your audience with self-congratulatory tales.
To learn more about launching a new brand, read “Brand Launch Lessons,” our interview with Studio Eagle’s brand director on how the firm rolled out its new name, brand, and website. For more articles on brand identity, digital, and content, subscribe to our quarterly newsletter.