The dos and don’ts of brand evolution

Brands are known to evolve over time – some subtly, others quite drastically.  

Most recently we experienced Elon Musk’s extreme attempt to salvage Twitter with a complete rebrand to X. This change has been met with mixed reviews – some claiming it was bold and necessary, others predicting this marks the beginning of the end for Twitter, with Bloomberg predicting billions will be wiped off in brand value.   

This wouldn’t be the first or last epic brand fail.  

In October 2010, American clothing brand, Gap, unveiled its new logo to refresh their brand image from classic to modern and cool. It turned out to be a $100 million fail. The consumer feedback was overwhelmingly negative – so much so, they returned to their old logo merely one week later.  

Side by side, before and after comparison of the American apparel brand, Gap's, logo

On the flip side, the rebrand of Airbnb was a success and this can be attributed to the fact that they backed the change with consumer research. 

By listening to their current customers and the ones they wanted to attract, they were able to reposition the brand from being associated with ‘low-cost lodgings’ to ‘upscale and sophisticated accommodation’.  

Side by side, before and after comparison of Airbnb's logo

If you are considering a brand refresh or complete overhaul, first take stock of the following three pointers:  

1. Have a clear vision 

Steve Jobs’ vision for the name of his company was always clear. In 1981, when a journalist asked him why the name Apple, he responded with, “the main idea behind Apple is bringing simplicity to the public, in the most sophisticated way, and that’s it, nothing else… The fruit of creation, Apple. It was simple but strong.” 

This was reflected in his logo – an apple. Simple, but strong. And while the logo has had a few subtle updates, the overall shape remains unchanged for 33 years. 

This ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach is mirrored by Coca-Cola who have largely maintained the same logo since it was trademarked in 1893. Pepsi, on the other hand, has undergone eleven logo refreshes since 1898.

What this illustrates is that an established brand doesn’t necessarily need to change to stay relevant. 

2. Listen to your audience 

Understanding customer sentiment is vital to the ongoing success of a brand. Had Gap listened to their customers, understood the logo resonated with them and that change wasn’t necessary, they may have saved themselves a lot of coin.  

What Airbnb did well was sound out their market – their current audience and those they wanted to attract going forward. They recognised the current brand was dated and it didn’t do justice to the breadth of the company’s offering. 

Gathering feedback through surveys, focus groups and social media listening provides valuable insights into whether change would be beneficial… And then testing and refining the proposed change before launching it.  

Research might also reveal that a subtle update or refresh is more appropriate than a complete overhaul. This approach maintains brand recognition while modernising the brand. 

3. Take people on the journey  

When you rebrand, you need to tell your consumers why you’ve done it. Sharing the story behind the change can be a powerful way to convey the brand’s journey, evolution, and future aspirations. This storytelling can create a profound impact and leave a lasting impression on consumers – and help to get them onboard.  

When Airbnb revealed their new logo, they launched a video that explained the concept and inspiration behind the design. The video took viewers through the design process, showing how the logo was derived from elements like the heart, the location pin, and the letter ‘A’ for Airbnb. It also touched on the idea of the ‘Belong Anywhere’ campaign, reinforcing the message of inclusivity and belonging. 

Additionally, Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, shared a detailed post explaining the reasons for the rebrand. He spoke about the company’s journey, the challenges they faced, and the importance of the new identity in representing Airbnb’s core values. 

Through this multi-faceted approach of a compelling video and an insightful post, Airbnb successfully showed that the rebrand wasn’t merely a superficial makeover but a reflection of the company’s growth, vision, and commitment to creating meaningful travel experiences. The story resonated with both existing and potential customers, creating a sense of connection and understanding that went beyond just a logo redesign. 

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Ultimately, the decision to change a logo should be made carefully, considering the long-term implications and alignment with the overall brand strategy. 

Our brand specialists and research and insights team can help you develop a strong brand that resonates with your audience – leaving a lasting impression on their hearts and minds. 

Connect with our team today.