How to refresh a brand, without blowing things up

Identity crisis: Rebranding is always a risk … but sometimes it's a risk you have to take, according to David Chauvin.
By DAVID A. CHAUVIN //

Just like your wardrobe, your company needs a makeover every now and then.

Industry changes, trends come and go, technology evolves. There’s a good chance that what appeared cutting-edge 10 years ago seems hopelessly outdated now. And if your branding, marketing materials or even company name gives an out-of-touch impression, that’s how your customers will think of you – no matter how state-of-the-art your work or products.

The trick is making sure you do your brand refresh right. Industries often change faster than brands can keep up. This is particularly true in media; Twitter as a communication form went from novel to instrumental in a presidential election in less than a decade.

When you step back and evaluate your years in the grind, you might find the work that distinguished you early on no longer defines your company. Oftentimes, your branding underscores this.

Consider “Dunkin’,” formerly Dunkin’ Donuts. Despite being one of the most recognizable brands in the country, Dunkin’ realized that “Donuts” was no longer an appropriate representation of its brand.

While the company’s new direction is likely connected to the anti-carb, anti-sugar food trends of the early 2000s, it’s also in line with the new ways consumers interact with the brand: In 2013, then-Dunkin’ Donuts reported that beverage sales reached around 60 percent of company revenue.

This shift in consumer trends led the company to make a revolutionary brand-identity announcement: The franchise that coined “time to make the donuts” was going to become a beverage company.

David Chauvin: Refresh button.

Dunkin’ is the quintessential example of a brand refresh done right. The company recognized it was allocating significant resources (and becoming expert) in providing a service that wasn’t the staple of its business, in order to meet the changing needs of its customers. Rebranding realigned the company’s brand identity with its new consumer relationship.

According to Dunkin’ Brands CEO and Dunkin’ U.S. President David Hoffmann, “Our new branding is one of many things we are doing as part of our blueprint for growth to modernize the Dunkin’ experience for our customer.”

I have firsthand experience with this within the communications industry, which is evolving drastically – both technologically and at the consumer level. The way people take in information and the way they build relationships with brands has drastically changed, and Zimmerman/Edelson in 2019 is a very different company than it was when Robert Zimmerman and Ron Edelson started it in the late 1980s.

Our core values remain the same, but the components of the strategic-communications campaigns we carry out are exponentially more complex. The methods and tools we use to engage people in our communities today look drastically different than they did 30 years ago. As a company, we’ve been forced to adapt, and have done so successfully, all under the same banner … for now (stay tuned).

Knowing when it’s time to rebrand is actually not difficult. Chances are, if you’re wondering if your company needs a brand refresh, you already have your answer. But there are certain telltale signs that your company is definitely due for some remodeling.

Your company may have changed its services or products. Your company’s overall aesthetic may be noticeably timestamped, and not in a good way. You may be expanding, and a brand refresh may be the best way to show your company is evolving.

A brand refresh usually doesn’t include a total overhaul. In all likelihood, what your company identity needs is a little modernization and maybe a new look – not to be blown up and rebuilt brick-by-brick.

Time to refresh the brand: Dunkin’ did it right.

Two giant brands, Uber and Bank of America, underwent notable brand refreshes in 2018. Unless you were plugged into either company, you may have missed them. But small changes to a company’s aesthetics can make a big difference: Bank of American, for example, merely tweaked its company typeface and logo, resulting in a strikingly modern look.

None of these companies – Dunkin’, Uber or Bank of America – changed what they were on a fundamental level. Dunkin’ still makes affordable coffee and donuts. Uber is still the leading rideshare app. Bank of America is still … well, a bank.

But by adapting their aesthetics to changing fashions, tastes and technologies, they maintain their edge as innovators and industry leaders. They stay modern, even if their products haven’t changed much in a generation.

Once you’ve decided to refresh, there are a few things you can do to mitigate potential risks and ensure a smooth transition. A comprehensive plan that maps out goals and timelines is a given, but effective communication during the transition is also essential.

Your employees can be wonderful ambassadors for your new brand, but only if they’re part of the process and feel like they have some ownership over it. It also helps to generate buy-in to the new company culture.

Communicating with customers is also particularly important, and more so the more established your company or product is. People like what they know. There’s bound to be some resistance to any major corporate rebranding. It’s essential to articulate that the core values of the company aren’t changing – and that longstanding clients are part of the journey.

David A. Chauvin is executive vice president of Great Neck-based public relations firm Zimmerman/Edelson Inc. and former director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, among several government positions.