How to rebrand and not get burned

Simon Manchipp

The ability to self publish + the belief of entitlement + effortless global reach = the big question. How do you do anything commercially creative, anything new — without it getting slammed (often within the very sector that created it) before it can prove itself?

Gap was worth over $4.5 billion (£3 billion) in 2010. Yet it was forced to apologise to social networkers because it released a new logo that was the result of a graphic designer having a fiddle rather than the launch of a new idea, story or action that actually had any kind of benefit to its customers. If any brand launches (or sneaks out) a new logo, rather than something that can actually be seen as useful, it gets attacked for wasting time, money and resources.

Gap unveiled this new logo (left) in 2011, before announcing it would not be used
Gap unveiled this new logo (left) in 2011, before announcing it would not be used

Public reaction was previously limited to an outraged letter in the pages of a newspaper, the occasional Gallup poll, an angry march or bit of a scuffle in front of the big gates of some big organisation. But all change now. The ability for people to comment and complain has soared to height previously unheard of. The number of people with inclination to comment and complain has rocketed. And the belief that others are actually interested is off the scale. 

Brands now have to listen, because they have to ask. We’re way past broadcast as a credible approach to launching, relaunching and managing brands. Significantly, audiences have moved from being reverential to being referential in their behaviour and mindset.

Previous generations trusted what brands told them. Banks were believable. The High Street was useful. The Internet was yet to emerge. Grandma hadn’t been let down, and neither had our parents, so why doubt the service behind the logo?

The University of California was forced to pull this logo last year following online protests
The University of California was forced to pull this logo last year following online protests

Now people do not trust what large organisations say. Audiences look to other people with first-hand experience to learn if brands are telling the truth before they make purchases. Even the most trusted and authentic brands kneel at the alter of Trip Advisor and Amazon.

Brands need to adapt to this move to referential.

It’s harder than ever to do anything genuinely progressive for commercially minded brands hooked into social media. In other words, any company with balance sheet. This is because creativity is terrifying to commission and the public are more vocal than ever. Even if the most vocal elements of the public is a teenager who has momentarily stopped going on a date with Palmela Handerson.

No-one crowd-sources anything they think is really important. In fact, we are actively dissuaded from looking up anything significant online — looking at crowd-sourced website forums for medical solutions is a guaranteed one way trip to madness. ‘I AM GOING TO DIE IT’S GONE BLUE.’

Yet there is so little respect for design, so little understanding regarding the true competitive business power of the strategic and the visual and so few people standing up to promote professionally applied commercial creativity — it’s no wonder people still think it’s surface mounted fluff that people end up studying when they are not very good at adding up.

Everton's new identity was unveiled in May. Following fan protests, the club says it will be replaced for the 2014/15 season
Everton’s new identity was unveiled in May. Following fan protests, the club says it will be replaced for the 2014/15 season

It’s this lack of understanding that continually flicks clients attention to what the bloggers, Tweeters and Facebookers are saying and keeps it there. Twitter typically has a one-hour memory — if brand stewardship is strong it rides the wave of reactionary ‘why wasn’t I consulted’ trolling to calmer waters relatively swiftly. 

Smart brand launches and relaunches don’t just bring people with them, involve them, ask them to reference their friends, their networks, and get back to them along the way… they consult with — rather than dictate to… and they invent for. 

In times of unprecedented comment and complaint about predetermined selections, people crave choice. So if we invent for people, generate adaptive, useful curated spaces and let people choose rather than dictate to them, then complaint falls away and adoption of the new happens more naturally and rapidly.

Simon Manchipp is co-founder of SomeOne.

Hide Comments (11)Show Comments (11)
  • Paul Bailey November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Many good points, well put. I would add that another way of thinking of how to involve people in the branding process is to think less instruction and more invitation.

  • Miles Newlyn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I don’t think you should defend bad design (the examples) but more importantly I don’t think you should defend the nervous insecurities of the inexperienced brand manager by lowering design ambition.

    No great design will come out of a process that treats the whole world as an unceasing focus group.

    Don’t listen to what people say, look at what they do.

    If you can’t design for yourself, you can’t design for anyone else. Don’t perpetuate the myth of choice….”Choose a three piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics…”

    Not choosing is a weakness, make a decision and have confidence – help create leaders not followers.

  • Paul Bailey November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I don’t believe you should treat the whole world as an unceasing focus group, but people want to be involved in developing brands that mean something to them.

    Asking the right questions is important, but more important is listening for the key parts from the responses.

    Here’s a short blog post on listening to people and deciding whether they want another horse or to go faster (it will make sense if you read the post).

  • John Lowdon November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    We led a brand identity project for a large town in the South West and, following the fact that the local council’s new identity was reverted due to public outrage the year before, chose to involve the people of the town in choosing from 4 shortlisted design routes on an online poll. Although it was quite a new and innovative thing to do at the time the public unfortunately chose the weakest, less progressive identity that reflected the town’s present and past rather than the future aspiration and potential – by the way the client was adamant in including this route 🙂

    Obviously we had to go with the publics favourite option but it just goes to show that invited public opinion isn’t a platform for progress but more of a side step to mediocracy.

    The identity has ‘done the job’ but could have represented and meant so much more.

  • Alma Hoffmann November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The Gap logo was redesigned in 2910. Not 2011.

  • PATRICIA NILAND November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Human beings don’t like change and John Lowdon’s comments highlight this perfectly. Because given a choice, the majority would opt for what they already know, rather than choose the unknown/untrusted. Unfortunately this response will always curtail creativity and as a consequence stint progression.

    The state of the economy has increased client fear regarding design spend, but companies need to acknowledge this reluctant aspect of human nature and know that different is not necessarily wrong – it is just new.

    Maybe part of our design role should be change management?

  • Lewis Wright November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with everything here and most of the time consulting the audience would always benefit the design process. But surely the decision to rebrand should – on occasion – be questioned by designers?

    Surely we shouldn’t be blindly redesigning perfectly good identities?

  • Ross Thompson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    We love change. But more importantly, we love moaning about it first… ’cause sometimes, it’s the easiest opinion to have, the one which will get the most laughs, and no one takes it too seriously.

    We also need to remember that a rebrand doesn’t always mean change the logo.

  • Jules James November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with Patricia and John. Take the 2012 Olympic logo – what a knee-jerk reaction that caused! But sometimes too many people involved in too many wide decision making stages, is daft. It is up to us to define what the results of that consultation mean and create the decisions or strategy to advise our clients on. Or we are just wind bags. Without narrowing that funnel and tightly defining you are in danger of creating Bland not Brand. I suspect even the most ardent despisers of the 2012 logo had to admire the show stopping eye-craft that captured the world at the games. I personally was blown away, to see it all working together and get a sense of the bigger pictures. People are critical. Not many have the ability to suspend judgement. Humans inherently judge by what they know AND like. And sometimes the context and the cleverness of a brand doesn’t come through in the way it is taken out to the world. The dots don’t join and people just don’t get it. So perhaps the problem lies in the communication of the brand less than it does the design?

  • Lloyd Wonder November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think John Lowdon is being a bit too blind about what the problem with his project was. If you had complete control of the project from the beginning then you could’ve tabled that idea of involving the public in the final decision.

    The fact that that mere choice was a given leads me to believe that control had been lost already. They most definitely should’ve been included in the research but never the final decision.

    They were probably given too many choices as well. Presenting a design you describe as weak as well is also silly. But if it’s the weakest of 4 strong ones then it doesn’t really matter that they didn’t pick your favorite.

    At the end of the day, your expertise is the reason you were hired and if that isn’t reaffirmed then you’ve already lost.

    Sorry for commenting on this months late.

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