Brand Identity: Making The Transition From Old To New

So, it’s time for a new look.

Taking the time to develop an appropriate and authentic new brand identity, then ensuring your brand management systems are up to scratch are both vital to long-term success.  But what of that step in-between?  The unveiling, the launch, the kick-off – whatever you want to call it, the transition period between your old and new brand identities will have long lasting impact its success.

First impressions are important when your brand is ‘meeting new people’ and this is amplified when reintroducing yourself to your current ‘friends and family’.  Those within your brand’s sphere of influence will, consciously or subconsciously, adjust their opinions and expectations of your brand – and those most loyal can have the biggest reactions.  Some will love it, some will loathe it, and a few others just won’t care.

We all want to temper those negative reactions and even swing a good portion of them into the positive.  So, when transitioning to a new brand identity, explaining WHY is key.  Whichever transition method you choose, no matter how big or small the change, clarity in the reason behind the change is vital. Confusion is a killer for a rebrand.

A merger, acquisition or organizational restructure is an obvious reason for an identity change.  Love or hate the new Google identity, there is clear reasoning behind it.  Almost every person I have spoken to that dislikes the Google rebrand, has told me that they understand why they made the change, but it’s just not their style.  There are, of course, devout loyalists who believe in everything Google, so you know they are going to love it.  But instead of just sitting back and enjoying the fandom, Google have given those brand evangelists more fuel for their fires.

“Google is amazing, Google is great.  Did you see the new brand??  It looks awesome – and it’s so on-point!  Perfectly executed.  And exactly what was called for with their restructure.  Did you know blah, blah, and so on…”

The negative effects have been lessened, and the positive reaction is heightened, all by answering that simple question – WHY?  Now, I know we’re not all Google, or even global-spanning enterprises with a multitude of divisions, companies or industry sectors, so mergers, acquisitions and restructures may not be on the table.  That’s fine.  There are plenty of other good reasons to implement a new brand identity.

A business sale and purchase is treated the same as an acquisition; a change in your product offering may spark a need for change; perhaps it’s an outdated, now disconnected brand from the 90’s.  Whatever your reason for change, explain WHY in a clear, concise and easy to share way. No reason for the change?  Oops – maybe you shouldn’t have wasted resources on a rebrand just for the sake of it.

Moving past the question of ‘WHY?’ we get to the questions of ‘HOW?’ and ‘WHEN?’.  How will this image transition take place?  When will it begin (and end)?

With every brand’s situation being different, let’s cover the three most common options that a majority of hybrids and nuanced variants are based off.  These options are ‘The Big Reveal’, ‘The Timetable’ and ‘The Evolution’ – each option a valid choice.  A choice which should be informed by your brand’s situation.

The Big Reveal

Trumpets sounding, fireworks – the big reveal is an event.  Everything changes at a set time, on a set day.  The benefits of a (hopefully) crisp, clean transition and a specific point in time to focus all of your promotion and brand education on are very appealing.  On the flip side however, to be completed successfully, a reasonable lead-time is required, and a lot of resources will be needed up front.

One big ‘shock to the system’, then smooth sailing from there – that’s the goal here.  There is less confusion and a much shorter time period to educate about the change.  Once the rebrand has been implemented, the focus is on reinforcing the new image rather preparing people for more change.

Having a set ‘event’ also offers stronger promotional opportunities around it.  Teaser campaigns, product/service promotions linked to the change and powerful ‘this is the date the world changes’ PR are all open to you.

The Timeline

As the name suggests, the transitional period for the brand is controlled by set, timed stages.  A common reason for this is spreading your investment over a number of financial periods. Remember, there’s a lot more to a rebrand than just the design – you need to replace everything too.  The reveal is also staggered, allowing for a quick change to the core branding if required.

The Timeline method acts in a similar way to The Big Reveal from a design and production standpoint.  The major differences are in the customer facing side of things.  Instead of waiting three or four months for everything to be ready, the first part of the brand identity reveal happens once it is ready for ‘consumption’.  This staggered approach can greatly reduce the lead-time, but with a trade-off of a longer transition (and risk of brand identity confusion).

Done well, with appropriate customer education, a brand refresh on a set timeline can be reasonably seamless.  And as you reach each stage in the transition, you have another valid reason to keep in touch with your customers.  Teaser campaigns and product/service promotions are also still at your disposal; however the law of diminishing returns comes into play as you move along the implementation timeline.

The Evolution

Sometimes an instant or speedy transition isn’t the order of the day.  Previously, this has often been the result of budget constraints or overwhelming logistical issues.  However, as the rise in agile marketing and branding philosophy continues, we are seeing the evolutionary method being used more in an experimental manner.

The more agile or evolutionary your brand is as a whole, the more applicable this option can be.  It even opens up opportunities to get customer feedback on brand reiterations, offering a door into the wonderful world of co-creation and real brand ownership for loyalists.  Be warned, however – a long, drawn our brand evolution can easily lead a brand to lose its way (again and again) without clear guidelines, structure and an overall vision.

Whether you use one of these transitional methods directly or take a hybrid approach, remember to answer the question WHY?  An answer to that question should be available the moment you first announce any plan for a brand identity refresh.  In the first press release, the first mention of it on your website, the first time your employees and stakeholders hear about it. Explaining WHY is a very powerful tool for getting stakeholder buy-in.  And while not necessarily as vital, explaining WHY you are transitioning the way that you are can also be of benefit – more so internally for ‘The Big Reveal’ and externally for longer term transitions.

So be prepared to answer the question of why you’re changing your identity and choose a transitional method that fits with your brand, your organizational structure and any constraints you may be under.  It’s (kind of, almost) that simple.

Your new identity will be given the best opportunity to succeed, and with it, so will your business as a whole.