A company's brand is the promise it makes to its clients and key stakeholders--employees, industry analysts and partners. Its brand is a reflection of what a company stands for and what sets it apart from the competition.

When your corporate executives recognize that your brand is no longer getting the results--the return on investment (ROI)--they need, they may reach out to your in-house creative team for fresh ideas in hopes that a brand refresh will keep the brand current and energetic by:

  • Ensuring the company stands out in an ever-changing marketplace
  • Helping the company gain an edge over competitors and generate more business
  • Expanding the company's reach to new customers and excite the existing customer base
  • Reducing the sales cycle

As a creative leader you should proactively approach your executive team if you feel it is time for a brand refresh, though never suggest to senior management to refresh the brand simply because you or your team are tired of it. Refreshing brand should be a strategic business decision with explicit business goals.

There is no rule for knowing when it is time to refresh your company's brand, though it's a good idea to re-assess your brand at regular intervals. If your company is anticipating a change in leadership, introducing a new business offering or undergoing a merger with another company it may make sense to also look at a refresh. In the absence of a major event, you should consider a brand refresh every 3 to 5 years. Whatever the case, your company's CEO, CMO or brand director will need to determine the extent of the brand refresh, whether subtly refreshed or totally redesigned.

How to Begin Your Brand Refresh

If your company decides to pursue a brand refresh, you and your team may be asked to support both the messaging and visual identity components of the brand. In doing so, you must evaluate both. What should be retained and still has value, and what should be refreshed are the main criteria in both evaluations.

Before you jump into the creative, ensure that the company's executives have defined the company's new promise and it has been written and approved. As Creative Leader, it is your job to creatively position the company's policy, strategy and vision, not define it. Once defined, it is the creative team's job to communicate it in as few words as possible that will resonate with the target audience. Here's an example from Apple: Innovation that empowers the individual.

Evaluate Your Messaging

Branding is about sending a strong and consistent message. That is why it is essential to establish both clear messaging strategies and communications tactics to ensure the company communicates what distinguishes them from their competition. Customers and prospects will know what your company stands for before a presentation is given or a proposal submitted. Your message should be clear, concise and compelling. The tone you use is critical for all communications, because it helps establish the personality of your company's brand. When evaluating messaging, creative leaders need to consider:

  • Who you are talking to: Consider the audience and choose the approach that's the best fit. Your key messages are important to different people for different reasons (employees, clients, analysts, partners). Tailor your messages in a way that is specifically meaningful to your audience.
  • Why you are saying it: Think about the purpose of your communication. You should have a clear goal in mind in order to provide clarity to your readers.
  • Where you are saying it: Think about the application the writing will live in--a letter, a brochure, a Web site. The tone for these applications is different and should be considered once you've considered where the writing will be seen.

Evaluating Your Visual Identity
In this over-communicated and over-saturated environment that we all live in today, a company's visual identity is a 'short-hand' to who your company is and what it promises. It has tremendous impact. Ensuring that it is accurate and relevant in the new market is critical. In evaluating your company's visual identity, here are a few basic considerations:


  • Has your company built equity in the current brand elements?: This is usually the case when refreshing a brand. Review the elements that work and don't work, then incorporate the elements into the new brand that do work. It is important that with the new brand, your company doesn't look like an entirely new company.
  • Do the logo and identity signatures of the company need to be refreshed too?: Unless the company's logo has been found detrimental in a changing marketplace, i.e., Washington Bullets, or derogatory in a country where they do business, i.e., Esso, then consider maintaining it. The identity signature or tagline should be reviewed for relevance as well. Does it still identify the promise of the company? Does it still resonate with the target audience? Unless the identity signature is no longer relevant, consider keeping it as well. It will help 'anchor' the new brand. The company's logo and identity signature can 'transfer' acceptance of the new brand. Establishment of a new logo and tagline in the audience's mind takes time and money, i.e., mindshare. If there is equity in them, use them in the new brand.

Keeping Your Brand Identity Looking Current


Regardless of whether your company is going through a formal brand refresh, it is important to keep up with changes in consumer styles, changes in design styles and changes in business focus because your brand needs to be relevant. Looking dated will communicate that the company's services are dated too. Keeping your brand looking current is really not that complicated. It means that while you keep things consistent, there will be elements that change over time. A subtle change could be the width of a font, or shade of the corporate color. Visually refreshing a brand involves colors, fonts, lines and image placement with a goal of keeping your look and feel up to date. In keeping your brand current, creative leaders should consider:

  • Changing your non-key color palette: Your Web and print materials should stick with your main color palette, especially your company logo. Secondary colors can change as new colors come in and out of vogue frequently.
  • Updating your image library: In Web and print design, outdated photos will make everything look old. Showing outdated hairstyles, clothing, technology, computers and cell phones will also make your communications materials look out of date. Review your image library of any stock or royalty-free images you are using and update them with current imagery as appropriate.
  • Sizing and scaling elements differently: As design styles change and presenting information changes, the elements for your collateral, web products and signage must change as well. The elements can remain the same, just emphasizing the information and elements differently can maintain a fresh and updated look. Or, they can be driven by your changing business. Certain information now is more important and should be emphasized. This can be reflected in reorganizing your website with different navigation, with different elements highlighted or made more prominent.
  • Reformatting contact information on business cards, stationary, press releases and email signatures: In refreshing or ensuring an updated look on these items, re-positioning or re-typesetting the information without tampering with the logo or other key elements can accomplish the goal. Make sure that these updates are driven by brand consistency and freshness, not changing for the sake of change.

Advancing Brand Leadership
For you and your in-house team to become and remain effective brand leaders for your company, focus on improving the interaction and brand experience for your stakeholders. Your team should keep and maintain what the brand stands for by consistently producing high-value, high-quality brand application on every deliverable. In addition, your team should periodically audit materials created by those outside of your group for compliance.

Through your team's brand leadership, creation of buy-in with the new brand from your stakeholders, performance of due diligence on what visual elements and messaging works for the new brand and insurance that the brand is fresh and updated in all the company's elements and products, your brand refresh will be successful.