Branding & Design

How to Know When Your Firm Needs a Brand Refresh

04.11.2024 4 Minutes

While a firm’s brand is made up of more than just a logo, the visual identity does play a huge role overall in the process of branding. Simply put, your brand’s visual identity should positively distinguish your firm from the competition.

The idea of branding as we understand it today comes from the practice of burning an instantly recognizable “mark” into the hides of cattle to help distinguish between owners. In doing so, farmers and ranchers could tie their “brand” to the quality of the product they’re producing (the cattle), resulting in increased demand for animals tied to that brand and helping to increase differentiation in the broader market.

In marketing, however, it’s not just about differentiation. It’s about setting your brand apart and standing out — positively — from the crowded sea of competition. Simply being recognized is not enough. Your visual brand needs to evoke an instant, positive reaction in the viewer, reminding them of the core elements of your business’s communications and messaging (your mission, vision, core values, etc.).

So is your brand an asset or a liability in that endeavor? Here are a few thoughts on knowing when your firm’s brand needs a visual update.

A dated look and feel

Just because you can still wear clothes from high school or college doesn’t mean you should! Fashion styles are often representative of their “era,” and as time passes those styles will often change. Likewise, some brands just look visually dated and are in need of an update. With few exceptions, failing to convey a progressive “with the times” message visually can be a detriment to your brand.

HRHR - before and after logo

Health Research of Hampton Roads has been advancing medical research for over 25 years, but a renewed focus on delivering the highest quality patient-centered experience called for a clean and approachable brand.

Remember, the point of branding is to stand out from the competition, but you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t have to be a wholesale change, just modernizing the overall brand look will often have significant and lasting impacts on your brand impression. Similarly, you’ll want to leverage the equity that you already have in your existing brand to build something new that brings your brand into the modern era.

Acknowledgement of the digital age

Many brands have a timeless look (think Coca-Cola) and are not subject to the previous point. However, many brands were developed before the digital age, when we lived in a predominantly print world. As you know, digital has had an enormous impact on marketing, and firms need to expand their brand identity to acknowledge the digital space. Corporate websites, social media profiles, email signatures, email marketing, video and other digital media have added complexity to the traditional brand standards guide, meaning that older brands and logos often struggle to seamlessly transition into digital spaces.

SGH - before and after web homepage

Despite being a cornerstone in the industry, SGH recognized their need for a brand that would accelerate their growth; the result is a bold and unique brand reflective of their history and newly focused vision for a digital world.

For example, the traditional primary/secondary color palette can and should be expanded for the web to include tertiary colors, shades and tones, and even brand-unique forms of white and black that compliment the overall visual identify of owned digital spaces. Firms that fail to strategically address the unique challenges of branding digitally (instead choosing to adjust and adapt on an “as needed” basis) will often struggle to effectively translate their successes and messaging in the real world onto their website and into other digital channels.

So if your firm has not considered all the various digital applications of your brand and addressed those in a strategic manner, it might be time for an update.

Changes internally need to be reflected externally

Some firms experience fairly significant changes internally that warrant a refresh of the existing brand identity. Whether changes to the business model, addition or subtraction of key services or markets, or cultural transformations, these internal changes should be communicated to the external audience in an effective way, both in key messaging and in visual identity. This is where a communications plan comes into play. And part of the communications plan should include a refresh or update of the existing brand, because significant internal changes also need to be reflected in a brand’s visual identity and key messaging. If your firm now looks different on the inside, it also needs to look different on the outside. 

Consor Engineering - before and after web homepage

After five years of rapid growth, Consor Engineering needed a brand revitalization that reflected their legacy in water and transportation and a collective focus on their future.

For example, a common hurdle that large and growing firms face is how to integrate subsidiary firms into their broader brand after rapid M&A activity. After all, if your brand goes from containing one company to holding ten or twenty (each with their own unique brands and cultures), it can often be difficult to ensure everyone in your company is pulling in the same direction. A strategic brand refresh, combined with internal campaigns for improving the brand and employee experience, is often necessary to bring order to this scenario and ensure the overarching company’s brand and messaging penetrates into all levels of the acquired firms.

An underdeveloped brand identity in the first place

As firms naturally change and evolve over time, the brand elements that were established at the onset of the business begin to be stretched outside of their intended purposes. To put it in simple terms, the brand that got you here may not be sufficient to get you there — to push your firm to greater and grander heights.

Due to this fact, some firms feel that their brands are underdeveloped in comparison to their peers, often as a result of recent growth or prolonged M&A activity. And so for one reason or another, the existing identity doesn’t adequately represent the firm and needs to be refreshed. As stated earlier, you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. So, if the quality of the visual brand doesn’t accurately reflect the quality and essence of the firm itself, strategic design considerations should be given to the brand.

Rockingham - before and after logo

Longstanding Rockingham Group is known for their great service as a quality-focused insurance company, but their brand did not accurately convey the vibrant energy and deep community connection of the firm.

Refresh vs. rebrand

It’s important to distinguish a brand refresh from a full-fledged rebrand. You don’t always need to start from scratch — developing an entirely new name and new logo. Think of a brand refresh as more of a facelift, leveraging existing brand equity while expanding the look, feel and messaging with fresh treatments and positioning.  While sometimes a brand update impacts the logo, other times it doesn’t; it may just involve looking for ways to explore new type treatments, color palette expansion, photography styles, messaging and other brand elements.

Thurston Springer - before and after logo

Thurston Springer did not want to lose the recognizability and reputation that came with their brand, but needed to enliven and modernize their look and presence.

Time to consider an update?

The visual identity of a brand is foundational to conveying the attributes, characteristics and messaging that differentiates your firm from everyone else. If any of these circumstances resonate with your firm, it might be time to consider a refresh.

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