Should you update your brand? Yes, and here’s why.

“He not busy being born, is busy dyin’.” — Bob Dylan

When I was a kid, every time I got new shoes was an event. The whole family would head to the local zapatería and wait while I tried on all the latest models — sprinting through the aisles to see how fast they were. When I finally settled on a suitably speedy pair, I would wear them out of the store and take off like a shot down the sidewalk, convinced my new kicks had turned me into The Flash.

Most of us know the concept of the placebo effect — the idea that your brain can convince your body that a fake medical treatment is real, and thus stimulate actual healing. The same concept can be applied to products and goods. A study with video game users from Florida State University showed that when presented with a “newer” version of a game (that only had superficial changes) the expectation that it would be better than the prior version was so strong, it created a similar type of placebo effect. Even when there was no actual upgrade, the users still felt they were experiencing a better game simply because it was newer. Not so different from the superpowers I got from new shoes.

It is exactly this concept that spurs companies to invest in the perpetual relaunching of products. Not only do people trick themselves into believing something is actually better, but it triggers a biological reaction in the form of a hit of dopamine and serotonin. To be sure, the fantasy doesn’t last forever and the chemical fix wears off, but as long as there’s another hit in the near future, consumers are hooked. If this works so well with consumer brands and products, why not apply the same thinking to all businesses? At my creative agency, we coined the term “brand evolution” to encompass this approach.

Normally, when a company goes through a full rebranding, there’s an underlying motivating factor; an acquisition, growth into new sectors, celebrating a milestone, or recovery from a scandal or negative press. These are all valid reasons to invest in such a tectonic shift to your public image. In reality the majority of businesses have a more consistent lifespan and don’t have scandals to escape, yet all businesses need to prioritize their public image. Too many leaders put off branding upgrades, either for budgetary reasons or fear of change. A brand evolution approach means making smaller investments more regularly, to keep the brand fresh while soothing the nerves of change-averse business owners.

In essence, the phrase “new and improved” perfectly sums up the benefits of brand evolution over “rebranding.” “New” signals change and triggers the dopamine, it can catch a new customers’ attention, but it can also make existing clientele wary. ”Improved,” on the other hand, is the modifier that suggests a business is building from what existed before, thus reassuring clients they’re dealing with the same company/product, only better. Likewise, an effective, visual brand evolution sparks the interest of potential customers by making notable augmentations to brand assets (logo, typeface, colors, tagline) while also reassuring existing customers that the company is staying true to who they are, by keeping certain key qualities in place. In other words, it’s not an entirely re-engineered shoe, but that new splash of color that magically makes the same shoe seem faster.

While the effects can be magical, the process of creating a successful evolution is nitty gritty science city. We dissect the brand and consider a variety of changes that can be made. Working with the client, we determine what can and cannot be altered by assigning percentages to guide the scope of work. Like chemists in a lab, we experiment with combinations of ideas before landing on the perfect concoction.

Brand evolution doesn’t need to be drastic to make an impact. In fact, sometimes a simple typeface upgrade will do the trick. The changes only need to be strategic and executed with an end message in mind.

Example 1: Harvard Management Company (~30% Evolution)

Example 2: Third Avenue Management (~90% Evolution)

Change Is Good

Other than being embarrassed to hand out your business card, how can you tell it’s time to dip your toes into the evolution waters? Our rule of thumb is, “if you’re thinking of updating your brand — you probably should.” In fact, much like the most successful businesses, the strongest brands are those that are gradually and consistently evolving. A brand identity that perfectly complimented your mission and vision a decade ago likely does not communicate the same thing today. It’s like skipping your 10 and 15-year high school reunion and being shocked at what your former classmates look like when you attend the 20th. You can ease the awkwardness of new branding by staying in touch with the shifting market.

Still, if you’re not a consumer-focused business, trying to move past a scandal, or entering into new markets, you may wonder if there really is a measurable upside to tinkering with your brand identity. There’s no simple way to measure the ROI on a redesigned brand, but there’s plenty of corollary research and common sense to consider. For example, studies show that major consumer brands can earn $415 to every $1 spent when the only investment is in package redesign — no extra marketing or advertising necessary! While many of our clients are not consumer-facing brands, this type of insight is a vital step towards understanding how any business is packaged.

Even if you’re a B2B business, a brand evolution, while not perfectly measurable, has an unquestionably powerful effect on the corporate culture and pride of your team. Similar to re-arranging the furniture in your bedroom, there is a notable energy and newfound lift in both the motivation and potentially the pride of team members excited to show off the new kicks. We see evidence of this in how quickly the new swag (promotional items) are adopted as soon as they become available.

As further encouragement, here are a few bonus value propositions to help keep your brand peeking over that all-important cutting edge:

Attracting New Clients

Investing consistently in your brand allows you to stand out from your competitors and showcases who you are today. Customers gravitate towards businesses that feel vibrant, forward-thinking, and authentic. The first impression of these qualities comes from your Brand Identity. ‘Nuff said.

Strengthening Client Loyalty

Loyalty to a brand is the holy grail of any business. Consistently evolving your brand with good communication gives them confidence that you have your finger on the pulse of your industry and are providing best-in-class service or products.

Attracting Top Talent

86% of HR professionals say recruitment is becoming more like marketing. (iCIMS). Companies are in an endless battle for top talent and your brand is a major factor. Mediocre branding attracts mediocre job candidates which ultimately affects your bottom line.

No matter your sector, when you undervalue branding, everyone else undervalues your business. Your ability to be seen as “new and improved” has more than a superficial effect. Remember, those people in the video game study actually had a better experience of the game simply because they believed it was a better version of the same game. You don’t need to embark on a budget-breaking soup-to-nuts rebranding; a great creative agency can help you determine better and more consistent strategies that create both tangible and intangible benefits for your professional universe.

In hindsight, I know my new shoes didn’t have Flash-like powers. Even with a catchy name change, I knew on some level that the new kicks were only a slight variation on the previous pair. So, was it all in my mind or was I actually faster? The important thing is that I felt faster — the sheer look and feel of newness made me soar like a superhero. Such is the power of brand evolution.

Townsend Belisle
Founder and CEO at Haystack Needle

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