Brand Management Part 1: When Is It Time to Update Your Brand?

Things to Consider Before Diving Into a Brand Overhaul

When Is It Time to Update Your Brand?

Your brand is the very essence of your business. It’s how your customers perceive you. It’s the feelings they experience when they hear your company name, see your logo, or use your product or service. While your brand is something you help build, it’s also influenced by your employees, your customers, and even the industry in general. And yes, it’s so much more than your logo or the colors you use on your website.

Marketing guru Seth Godin defines brand like this: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

So let’s talk brand management and when it’s time for an overhaul. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on three different elements that make up your brand:

    1. Messaging – the narrative or “stories,” as Godin refers to it
    2. Look and feel – while your brand is not only your logo, your logo and overall visual presence, especially online, does influence your brand
    3. Customer perception – what your customers think and say about your company

Wondering how these three elements work together? Think of them like this: When you meet a person for the first time, two things will affect your immediate impression (customer perception) of him or her. How the person is dressed (the “look and feel”) and how the person verbally presents himself or herself (the message/story). And even as time passes, it’s these things—the person’s way of talking and how he or she presents himself/herself—that will influence what you think of that person (and whether you recommend to your friends that they should get to know him or her).

When should you adjust your messaging?
Your messaging is something you should revisit every year, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be overhauling it every year. A good time to review messaging is at the end of your fiscal year. Things to think about:

  • How has the narrative changed in the last 12 months?
  • Have there been any major developments—positive or negative—within the industry that might affect the narrative?
  • Are we hearing consistent feedback about certain topics from customers, feedback that might shape or change the narrative?
  • Have we launched any new products or services in the last 12 months? If yes, how did this affect our story?
  • Did our business experience any major milestones (e.g. one millionth customer or 20 years in business)? Again, how does this affect and shape the story?

What requires a major messaging overhaul and what requires only tweaks and refinements? If you go through the above questions and you’re finding that you have long, complicated answers for each one and that your current messaging doesn’t address or incorporate these answers, you might be in need of a messaging overhaul.

If, however, the answers are less involved or if you’ve adjusted your story along the way, you might need to make fewer, if any, changes. Messaging should never be changed on a whim or because “it’s been awhile.” Always understand your motivations and make sure you can justify the changes. Don’t forget your messaging is more than the words on your website: it’s the story you tell throughout social media, advertising, in person (think networking and presentations), through your employees, and, ultimately, through your customers. And it will influence the look and feel, which brings us to the next point.

When should you adjust your brand’s look and feel?
We’re specifically talking about the logo and brand’s colors. As we’ve discussed above, a brand is so much more than just your logo. That said, we don’t want to diminish its importance. Here are questions to ask yourself:

  • We’ve just done a major overhaul to our messaging—does the look and feel still accurately represent the story we’re telling? It’s OK if the answer is “yes.” Resist the temptation of changing your logo simply because you updated some of your messages.
  • When’s the last time we updated the look and feel? Is it “time”? This is a trick question! There’s no one “right” time to update a logo. Just as you should understand what motivates you to revise your messaging, you should understand the reasons why you need to change your logo. Saying, “Well, it’s been x number of years” is not a good reason.
  • What are the benefits to updating our look and feel and do they outweigh the costs? Think about this in a practical, rational manner. There can be many benefits to updating your logo. Just make sure you can articulate what they are.

While a major messaging overhaul might involve an adjustment to a logo, that’s not always true. Think about Google’s logo, which has remained consistent since 1999 (a lifetime in the tech world), even though the company’s narrative has significantly evolved since then.

When should you adjust customer perception?
Everything your company does influences customer (and potential customer) perception. In fact, customer perception is so important that it should always be on your radar; you should constantly monitor it. How you respond to it is what you have control over (but know that your response will influence the perception yet again). It’s the most important element of your brand because it will ultimately drive all of your other decisions (including messaging and the look and feel). Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are we listening to what our customers are saying to us on social media? This involves more than simply responding to people. It means keeping track of common themes, ones you may want to address in your messaging.
  • Have we recently conducted client perception interviews or customer surveys? A great way to tap into what people really think about your company is through anonymous surveys (perfect if you’re a b2c business) or client perception interviews that a third-party conducts (like a marketing firm – this is perfect for b2b businesses).
  • How are we responding to criticism and negative feedback? How are we responding to positive feedback? You need strategies for both (yes, different strategies).

It’s important to note that the answers to these questions tie in closely with your company narrative. If you’re seeing a strong trend among your customers—for example, they’re talking up a certain aspect of your business that perhaps you haven’t put much focus on—consider weaving it into your company narrative (even before the end-of-year messaging review we recommend above). Remember, your narrative is fluid. And you will need to test certain messages, based on customer perception.

So what happens if you went through each section above and you realize you need a MAJOR brand overhaul? What should you do next?

  • Consider contracting outside help. You’re busy running your business, and refining your company’s brand will likely be a full-time job, at least in the short term. Outsourcing the work to a marketing firm or brand specialist will help take some of the burden off your shoulders. Even if you have a full-time marketing person or department, it still might make sense to have a consultant weigh in with some objective advice and a fresh pair of eyes.
  • Don’t rush into major changes. Remember, it’s important to think through your strategy. True, nothing is forever, nothing is written in stone, and your brand will continue to evolve, even after you conduct a major overhaul. But getting the overhaul “right” the first time will help minimize the need for major changes in six months or a year.
  • Don’t panic. It’s unlikely that your current brand is “broken,” and there are certain steps you can take right now to get your brand back on track, even as the major overhaul is being planned behind the scenes. For example, if you haven’t been paying attention to what your customers have been saying on social media, this is something you and your staff can start working on right away.
  • Remember to dig deep and have fun. Give yourself and your staff permission to get creative and to think outside of the proverbial box. The more authentic your message—the more human, the more real—the more likely it will resonate with customers and prospects. This involves digging deep but also having fun while you’re doing it.

In part 2 of our brand management series, we’ll be looking at six companies that are rocking their brands and discussing what you can learn from them.

What do you think? How do you approach branding and brand overhauls? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Allison Rice

About Allison Rice

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