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Evolution or Revolution: Defining and Refining your Brand Identity

How do you create a lasting brand identity that works for you? Our creative, branding, and research experts share the best practical advice, tangible strategies, and most common mistakes they see in brand identity projects.

The GO! Network

A brand identity is more than just the logo – but how strong is yours?

In this week's free virtual workshop from GO!, our creative, branding and research experts shared their best practical advice, tangible strategies, and common mistakes to avoid to help you build a brand with impact.

Download: The (Re)Brand Workbook

Getting Started With your Brand Identity Project

When to review your brand identity: Triggers and timeframes 

As with any marketing project, knowing when to start a project is half the battle. The need for a rebrand or a brand refresh might not always be clear.

We asked our experts where, and how, you start when changing up your brand. 

Starting at the beginning with your brand identity project

For Sarah Turner, Managing Director of Carter Wong, it’s important not to change a brand for change’s sake.

“If a brand becomes toxic or has negativity attached to it, this would be a good indication that it needs reviewing. When you do, make sure you start at the beginning of your journey.”

One of the biggest challenges Sarah has seen in businesses is their lack of insights and knowledge around customers and clients.

Look at the challenges and know your customers. Think about how often you want to review your brand and where you want it to end up; what will make it fit for the future?

Your brand is more than just a logo, it’s more holistic than that. It can be difficult to explain why this is important, but you need to step back and start from the beginning.”

Sarah Turner of Carter Wong discusses when and how to define and refine your brand identity

Strategic changes that may impact your brand identity

There are many different triggers which might indicate a brand-change is needed.

According to Sam Rowlands, Strategy Director of Delineo, “many of these revolve around major strategic changes, such as turning around a failing business, having a medium or long-term plan to sell, or sales/customer satisfaction decline."

Overall, the most common 'triggers' are:

  • Turning around a decline
  • Change of vision/ownership
  • Product and service innovation
  • Acquisition

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Getting started: Questions to ask yourself

To help decide if a full rebrand project is right for you, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself. Simon Allman, Creative Director of Absolute takes us through them.

“The first stage is the investigative stage. Ask as many questions as you can, even the most stupid ones."

  1. Is your brand clear with what it stands for, and does it have enough of an engaging personality? 
  2. Is your brand clearly different from your competitors. A lot of businesses get by for many years and are successful, but then begin to find the market becoming crowded.
  3. Has the brand become convoluted and lost its clarity? There’s nothing worse than handing over a brand toolkit for clients for them to begin to add to it and dilute it. You can avoid this by making sure you have a good internal brand manager in place
  4. Does it look dated? If so, it might need a refresh. Experience tells us that rebranding can realign teams and help everyone focus

Key points for knowing where to begin with your brand identity efforts

  • Don’t change a brand for change’s sake - make sure there’s a reason that's backed up by the data
  • Look at the challenges and understand your customers
  • Many reasons for a rebrand revolve around your wider business strategy
  • Ask as many questions as you can at the investigative stage

Read more from Delineo - 'Making Brand Archetypes work for you'

Measuring the success of your current strategy

To better know what your future brand strategy needs, it’s important to be able to measure the success of your current one.

For advice on how to do this, we turned to Nicolette Robinson, Strategy Director of Mimo Brands

“To measure the success of your current strategy, there are plenty of tools to help you do this. When working in the B2B space, the focus can shift to competitor analysis. This can be done with any size of business and budget."

There are a few ways to look at this, including:

  • Competitor analysis through tools, desk research, or specialist understanding
  • Brand monitoring tools and support
  • Talking to current users - and non-users - of your brand
  • Assessing whether your brand is able to command a price premium as a point of difference
  • Working out your value equation and unique equity
  • Bespoke research through specialist support - key stakeholders, consumers, wider markets

"You will more likely get good advice from people who have actively chosen not to use you.

For B2B projects, it’s also good to interview key stakeholders.”

Common blockers to understanding your own business 

One of the final points of identifying where to start with your rebrand strategy is to understand the common blockers of knowing your own business.

For Sue Benson, Managing Director of The Behaviours Agency, “one of the biggest blockers of understanding your own business centres around conflict.

If you interview stakeholders vs customers, you will see that there is a complete disconnect between these two audiences.

Sue Benson of The Behaviours Agency discusses when and how to define and refine your brand identity

Even internally, there will be a conflict between what CEO/Founders vs other people in the business. When you overlay this with consumer opinions, you will notices a big disconnect.  Spend time unravelling this and understanding the real perception.”

Read More from The Behaviours Agency - 'Winners and Losers of Brand Mental Availability'

So how do you do this? Look for data points, evidence that can be shared with the Senior Leadership Ream around the actual reality. 

Evolution vs. Revolution: The practicalities of a rebrand project 

Now we have some understanding of where to get started, it’s time to understand the practicalities of a rebrand.

To do this, you need to be able to decide whether your brand needs a full overhaul or a few tweaks here and there to get it up-to-date. 

Rebrand or refresh? Knowing how far to go 

Sam says, “I’d like to go back to Simon’s point earlier around clarity. Is your brand concise enough? Knowing if you need to do a full rebrand could be as simple as finding evidence that your brand is no longer relevant to your audience.

You need to respond to consumer and business needs, and this comes back to relevancy. Does it stand out, and does it say what you want it to say effectively?”

For Sue, two metrics can be used to decide between a rebrand or a refresh.

“Two metrics can be used here, fame and distinctiveness. For the things you are famous for, such as the colour red for Coca Cola or Starbucks’ mermaid, you don’t want to do anything with them. Build on them and give them purpose.

The other side is being distinctive. You need to be able to build strong, distinctive assets to stick in the consumer’s mind.” 

Heuristics – making a brand stick 

In terms of what works for a rebrand project, Sue says it’s important to create a brand that is top of the mind for customers.

We’re trying to create connections in the brain. These connections are built up of four key things:

  • Brand assets
  • Category associations 
  • Consistency of delivery
  • Emotion

We start by looking at the heuristics; how a brand sounds and looks, the language it uses, the visual assets. This will help you understand if you need a rebrand or simply need to refine your existing brand.

Often, marketeers come in and feel like they need to change things. Before going through a change, ask whether you will disrupt memory connections people have with your brand.” 

How often should you undergo a rebrand?

It can be tempting to continuously adapt your brand as your business grows - but this can put your brands standing at risk.

According to Nicolette, “a good brand relaunch should last between 5-10 years minimum.

Nicolette Robinson of Mimo Brands discusses when and how to define and refine your brand identity

I’m not a fan of little and often changes. Soft launches appear that you lack confidence to make a change that is solid and robust. You can risk losing the trust of your audience.” 

Key points for implementing your brand strategy

  • Understand whether you need a rebrand or a refresh. Do this by asking if your brand is concise and relevant
  • Create a brand that is top of the mind for customers
  • A good brand relaunch should last between 5-10 years

Download: Guide for Agencies

Investing in your brand strategy

When budgets are limited and need to be used wisely, we asked our panel of experts some of the most important areas of a brand strategy that you should invest in, starting with Nicolette. 

Invest in insights that build your brand's foundation

 “Invest in research and insights. Find out what makes you totally unique that can in turn make you stand out from the crowd. This is often overlooked when looking at where to invest.

People can get frightened about research because of budget, but there are quick and easy ways of doing it.” 

Sue agrees with Nicolette, saying that she would start in the same place. “What people say and do are two different things. People have a perception of how people behave, and it’s often not true, so do your research!” 

Invest in people who understand your brand

 

For Sam, it’s important to invest in people.

Get a good brand strategist. It’s no good just handing over a brand book and expecting them to run with it. We don’t want to find that it’s dismissed by operations, make sure those dealing with it are living and breathing it and keep it implemented.”

 

Sam Rowlands of Delineo discusses when and how to define and refine your brand identity

This point is backed up by Simon, who says, “investing in people is key. When you’re building your marketing team, have good people in place. 

Invest in your brand narrative 

He goes on to also stress the important of good copy and a good narrative to help the success of a brand strategy.

Narrative is key to success. Where you are marketing across different channels, you need a robust and engaging narrative strategy across all of them.” 

Narrative is also a key point for Sarah.

“Make sure everything is joined up, and that your tone of voice and narrative are all trying to tell a good story for your business. Having a strong tone of voice is important. You need to join up across the business and ensure everyone is telling the same story.” 

Key areas to invest in your brand identity efforts for better outcomes

  • Insights development and consumer research (it doesn't have to be a heavy lift!)
  • Going out to your non-users as well as your existing users
  • Investing in people who understand and exemplify your brand in your team - particularly around content
  • Copy and narratives that can translate across your business
  • Support on managing a smooth process throughout
  • Tone of voice development to implement in your project
  • Objective brand strategy expertise from people who aren't facing inwards

How to avoid getting stuck with stakeholders

Of course, to get investment for any project, you will need the support of internal stakeholders. This can often be a sticking point and one of many reasons that a project never gets off the ground. 

Take them out of their comfort zone 

One way of getting them onboard, says Sue, is to take them out of their comfort zone.

You need absolute engagement with stakeholders along the journey. We like to take people out of their world and into the real world on a ‘retail safari’, looking at how customers engage with different brands and seeing it through their eyes.” 

Involve stakeholders in your brand identity efforts from the start

For Simon, it’s important that you involve stakeholders immediately. “Going into a brand project, things get stuck because stakeholders aren’t aligned to the vision of the brand.

Simon Allman of Absolute discusses when and how to define and refine your brand identity

One of the core problems that I’ve seen is that certain people haven’t been consulted from early on.

It’s important, when engaging with an agency, to work collaboratively. Interview as many people in the business to understand these challenges. Interview the naysayers, get back on side and change their opinion.

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Final advice - Trust your external partners

 

And finally, Sue wanted to leave us a piece of advice that is crucial to any successful brand-agency partnership – trust.

On the client side, you need to understand and trust your agency to do the right thing for you. You employ an agency because of their experience. If you engage an agency, understand that part of this is allowing them to do that job and give you the right answers. 

The goal is to make your business better. If an agency is undertaking research, trust what you’re told the results are. They are the best results, underpinned by research and discussion. It’s important to have the trust of the client.” 

These learnings were all shared in our dedicated virtual workshop series for business leaders, MARKETING+. Join an upcoming session here.

The GO! Network is a free-to-use marketing intermediary, connecting in-house marketers with vetted agencies that fit their specific needs. If you’re looking to review or take on support, let us know here.

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