Brand Makeover: Refresh or Rebrand? What is the difference exactly?

How does a brand decide to adopt one of the two brand makeover strategies?

A brand can never be a static entity. Changes in external environment, including but not limited to competition, as well as shift in consumer behavior make it imperative for companies to keep revisiting the bran. The change however, can sometimes be from within as well. A firm may choose to change its vision and mission, re-look at its portfolio or expand in different market(s) and consumer segment(s). Obviously, an existing brand (and its associated attributes like identity, essence and promise) may fall short of meeting the expectations of the changing world in and around.

Evolution of the Coca Cola Visual Identity over the years

There are multiple ways in which a brand can be made-over to represent its new-found vision and aspiration. This post looks at two such makeover strategies in particular — Rebranding and Brand Refresh, also because these are probably the most misunderstood terms in brand makeover strategies.

To understand the two terms clearly, let’s take a hypothetical example.

There are three brands — Brand Air, Brand Earth, and Brand Water. All the three brands cater to young audience between ages 18–35 years and are about 10 years old now. Air and Earth are facing some troubles in their sales cycles as well as customer retention and loyalty scores.

Executives from ‘Air’ found out that their Target Group (TG) isn’t able to relate to the brand anymore. The TG has attributed this disconnect to its visual identity (Logo, theme, colour, design). The target audience claimed that the brand didn’t convey a youthful personality and hence has resulted in eroded association and attachment of the customers towards the brand. It felt that the brand has not kept up with time and has remained stagnant in terms of its expression and what it stands for.

Conclusion- The brand isn’t preferred by its TG for its loss of appeal.

‘Earth’s executive had a worse reckoning with their TG. The customers claimed that they do not associate with the brand anymore and it is for their parents instead. They further added that the competitor has climbed up the ladder in terms of customer understanding, offerings, communication, engagement and even futuristic concepts for them. On the other hand, ‘Earth’ is still stuck with the same Brand Identity and older form of communications.

Conclusion- The brand is ‘there’, but ‘not there’ for its TG (“Not for me”).

“The brand is not for me, but for my parents”

‘Water’, was in a different boat though. Having done well in existing target market for its products, it now aims to appeal to a much larger segment albeit with a different set of products under its current brand. However, it understands that its current brand identity and messaging will not be able to appeal to multiple segments effectively. So, the brand needs to be acceptable to multiple markets and segments.

Hence, out of the three brands, what ‘Air’ needs is a facelift. A visual identity make-up which will make it more appealing to its target audience. The values and vision does not change, but the focus is only on cosmetic changes that would make the brand more appealing and relevant to the TG. ‘Air’ needs a Brand Refresh.

Britannia (2018)

However, it is not necessary that only those companies, which face issues as mentioned above go for Brand Refresh. Brand Refresh is often used as a routine strategy by some companies just to maintain a new visual identity that gives them a contemporary status in the target audience to avoid brand fatigue.

Godrej (2008)

Some of the examples of Brand Refresh globally are Google, Verizon, and Starbucks. Back home, Britannia, Godrej, Star TV and HUL have adopted a simple Brand Refresh strategy. While there may have been associated communication for their brand refresh launch, these were mostly cosmetic changes to be contemporary.

‘Earth’ and ‘Water’ have bigger problem and opportunity respectively at their hands though. They requires much more than a cosmetic retouching, something which is deeper and affects the core and values of the brand. The change would attempt to make the brand relevant, not just by its visual identity, but with its newly framed (or communicated) brand promise and even culture to the customers. These brands will see a structural change in how they look at the customers, what the brand will stand for and what does it intend to be for its customers. ‘Earth’ and ‘Water’ need Rebranding.

India Post (2008)

Rebranding can occur with or without any name, design or logo change (unlike Brand Refresh). Some of the examples of Rebranding globally are Old Spice (in 2010), Apple (post 1997 when Steve Jobs took over) and Walmart (From “”Always Low Prices,” to “Save Money. Live Better” in 2007). In India, companies like Airtel (To tap a larger audience through their internet services), Hero (Post split from Honda in 2011), India Post (“Giving wings to your dreams” campaign trying to tap youth) and Incredible India(Show India in a different light) have taken the Rebranding route for their respective brands.

Brand Bhutan

An interesting perspective on Rebranding is presented by the 2018 winner of REBRAND GLOBAL 100 AWARDS, Brand Bhutan. The video shows how a tiny hillock nation is trying to rebrand itself for its products and services, a shift from its earlier branding of a scenic and spiritual country. This way, one unified, overarching country brand has been developed for Bhutan. Click for more details on the Rebranding campaign — Brand Bhutan.

Finally, Rebranding and Brand Refresh are brand makeover strategies but should not be confused as being one and the same. Brand Refresh is a cosmetic change which essentially deals with the look and feel of the visual identity of a brand. It does not look at structural and architectural changes of the brand and does not affect its brand promise (at least not explicitly). Rebranding on the other hand is much deeper. A Rebranding strategy cannot be undertaken without making structural changes to the brand. It also leads to subtle changes in brand promise and brand identity, which are propagated down to the target audience through cues and messages, implicit as well as explicit.

So next time when you see a brand makeover strategy, hopefully you would be able to pin point if it is a brand refresh or rebranding.

References:

Khan, K., & Panwar, T. (2020). Achieving Sustainable Competitive Advantage through Brand Makeover. The Marketing Review, Volume 19, Numbers 3–4, 231–234.

Asst Professor of Marketing