Nick Car­son, chair of judges for CA’s Brand Im­pact Awards, dis­cusses three key ap­proaches to re­brand­ing with pre­vi­ous BIA win­ners

Computer Arts - - Contents - IL­LUS­TRA­TION: Kyle Wilkin­son www.kylewil­kin­

Nick Car­son, chair of judges for CA’s Brand Im­pact Awards, dis­cusses three key ap­proaches to re­brand­ing with pre­vi­ous BIA win­ners

Re­think­ing, repo­si­tion­ing and re­design­ing brands is a sta­ple task for many design stu­dios. Although start-up or­gan­i­sa­tions will al­ways be a blank can­vas by def­i­ni­tion, it’s fairly rare for an agency to de­velop a to­tally new iden­tity sys­tem for a client.

As a cre­ative ex­er­cise, re­brand­ing poses a unique set of chal­lenges com­pared to brand­ing from scratch. This is sim­ply be­cause, for want of a bet­ter phrase, there is cre­ative bag­gage at­tached – and that bag­gage was of­ten the work of an­other agency.

In the fol­low­ing pages, we’ll ex­plore three of the most com­mon strate­gic ap­proaches to the re­brand­ing process, com­plete with in­sight­ful ad­vice from some of the world-class agen­cies that have tri­umphed at CA’s Brand Im­pact Awards in pre­vi­ous years.

Th­ese key routes in­clude draw­ing on a brand’s her­itage, and restor­ing its for­mer glory af­ter it’s lost its way; grad­ual evo­lu­tion, re­fine­ment, and mod­erni­sa­tion of a brand to make it fit for pur­pose; and fi­nally, rip­ping it up and start­ing again, as if brand­ing from scratch.

Ac­cord­ing to Chris Moody, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Wolff Olins, and two-time Brand Im­pact Awards judge, the big­gest chal­lenge of re­brand­ing in 2018 isn’t cre­ative: it’s the wider global cli­mate. “Po­lit­i­cally, so­cially, and tech­no­log­i­cally we are in times of mas­sive change, and as a re­sult there is a great deal of ner­vous­ness and trep­i­da­tion,” he points out.

“There’s also lot of noise and blus­ter, so to a de­gree the big­gest chal­lenge is man­ag­ing ‘vol­ume’. There’s the lit­eral vol­ume of peo­ple in the room – clients and num­bers of agen­cies in­volved in projects has never been larger – but also deal­ing with the in­creas­ing vol­ume of feed­back and rounds of design it­er­a­tion,” he con­tin­ues. “Craft­ing a dis­tinct, sin­gu­lar brand voice has never been more nec­es­sary, but it has also never been more tricky to pull off.”

Moody be­lieves we’re on the cusp of a third era of brand­ing design. “The de­signer’s pal­ette now

in­cludes motion, hap­tic, tex­ture and voice as stan­dard,” he reels off. “At Wolff Olins, we have started to de­fine this third wave – af­ter cor­po­rate iden­tity, and brand iden­tity – as ‘in­tel­li­gent iden­tity’.

“If you’re a de­signer work­ing in brand, it’s your im­per­a­tive to steal some of the per­ceived author­ity from prod­uct teams, ser­vice de­sign­ers and, most of all, en­gi­neers,” he con­tin­ues. “It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to set the agenda for the whole brand ex­pe­ri­ence, and to be the ones in­vent­ing and cu­rat­ing the de­fin­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions we have with a brand.”


It’s a rous­ing bat­tle cry from the vet­eran agency widely cred­ited with ‘in­vent­ing’ mod­ern brand­ing as we know it. But it sits at odds some­what with an­other rel­a­tively re­cent chal­lenge for agen­cies to face: the of­ten alarm­ing speed with which a re­brand is met with pub­lic scru­tiny, of­ten be­fore the more nu­anced as­pects of the scheme – the “whole brand ex­pe­ri­ence”, as Moody puts it – are re­vealed.

“For some rea­son, ev­ery­one is now an ex­pert and a critic, with­out in re­al­ity be­ing ei­ther,” laments Sean Perkins, part­ner and di­rec­tor at North, which picked up Brand Im­pact Award tro­phies for its re­brands of Co-op (see page 50) and Ar­jowig­gins in 2016, the same year it topped the list in CA’s an­nual peer rep­u­ta­tion sur­vey, the UK Stu­dio Rank­ings.

Perkins points out that ma­jor changes to any or­gan­i­sa­tion’s iden­tity sys­tem are ex­pen­sive and can be risky, adding that all of North’s re­brand projects stem from a le­git­i­mate strate­gic busi­ness need. But that pub­lic scru­tiny all-too-of­ten fo­cuses on the logo: “In their re­veal, they can be im­me­di­ately crit­i­cised or com­mented on for en­tirely the wrong rea­sons,” he says.

“Rarely is a new brand iden­tity about look­ing nice. Iden­ti­ties are about do­ing a job, and they have a strate­gic pur­pose to ex­ist. On so­cial me­dia, peo­ple are quick to point a fin­ger, like or dis­like,” he con­tin­ues. “Per­son­ally I don’t care: most of the com­ments are ill-in­formed and naive. But their com­men­tary causes con­cern for clients: no busi­ness wants con­tro­versy

“Rarely is a new brand iden­tity about look­ing nice. Iden­ti­ties are about do­ing a job, and they have a strate­gic pur­pose to ex­ist”


over a new iden­tity, es­pe­cially af­ter spend­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money in im­ple­men­ta­tion.

“That means clients in gen­eral be­come more cau­tious, and wary of mak­ing changes in the fu­ture. They be­come less brave. Our in­dus­try’s rep­u­ta­tion is dam­aged by the vo­cal in­fight­ing around taste and style, and po­ten­tially smaller design agen­cies’ rep­u­ta­tions would strug­gle to sur­vive sig­nif­i­cant con­tro­versy.”

“The big­gest chal­lenge is, as it al­ways has been, to de­liver and meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of the clients, no mat­ter how high, or how re­al­is­tic those ex­pec­ta­tions are,” agrees Kate Mar­low, cre­ative part­ner at Here Design and judge for 2018’s Brand Im­pact Awards. “The spe­cific design chal­lenges them­selves haven’t nec­es­sar­ily changed, but in most cases the bud­gets are leaner and the time­lines shorter.”

Like Moody, Mar­low is ex­cited about the di­verse multi-plat­form op­por­tu­ni­ties that are avail­able to agen­cies in 2018. “More so now than ever, brands recog­nise that they need to be seen across all plat­forms: we call it their brand world,” she says.

“That can span every­thing from pack­ag­ing, to print, to en­vi­ron­ments, to so­cial me­dia and beyond,” she con­tin­ues. “It’s a lively pe­riod, where our role as de­sign­ers is to be con­stantly think­ing beyond con­ven­tion, and to be orig­i­na­tors of ideas.”

Join­ing Mar­low on this year’s BIA judg­ing panel is Chloe Tem­ple­man, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Design Bridge. She iden­ti­fies that an in­flux of new, chal­lenger brands – in the food and drink sec­tor in par­tic­u­lar – are now pos­ing an ad­di­tional chal­lenge when it comes to re­brand­ing more es­tab­lished clients.

“Brand­ing for th­ese start-ups tends to fo­cus on design in­di­vid­u­al­ity, with ‘unique­ness’ and ‘new­ness’ as design cues,” she ex­plains. “So many claim to be small-batch, nat­u­ral and sus­tain­able, or fit within the ‘clean eat­ing’ trend. There’s a lot more choice for con­sumers than in the past.”

Tem­ple­man points out that more-es­tab­lished brands of­ten feel like they’re fall­ing be­hind their newer,

younger coun­ter­parts. “How­ever, their strength lies in the fact that they’re trusted and sta­ble, which is im­por­tant in this eco­nomic cli­mate,” she con­tin­ues. “This is where us­ing design to cel­e­brate the brand’s story and jour­ney can be very pow­er­ful, re­mind­ing peo­ple of the con­nec­tion they al­ready have with them.”

Some­times, of course, a re­brand is nec­es­sary to help re­verse ill for­tune for a brand. “I love work­ing on a brand that has lost its way a bit,” en­thuses Tem­ple­man. “You can go back in time, un­der­stand its some­times for­got­ten past, and then bring it back to life again, in a way that res­onates to­day.”


This leads us neatly into the first of three main re­brand­ing strate­gies, and one that’s been high on the agenda in re­cent years with wide­spread talk of the ‘retro design’ trend, aka dig­ging around in the ar­chives un­til you find some­thing that could be mod­ernised.

But ac­cord­ing to Spencer Buck – co-founder and cre­ative part­ner at Bris­tol’s Taxi Stu­dio, a dou­blewin­ner at last year’s Brand Im­pact Awards for its lim­ited-edi­tion Køben­havn Col­lec­tion for Carls­berg (see op­po­site page) – talk of trends is ir­rel­e­vant.

“Quite sim­ply, you do it when it’s the right thing to do,” he shrugs. “I hate the ref­er­ence to a ‘trend’ as that im­plies tran­sience, whereas the point is to design the brand into a place where it’s more time­less and ro­bust. But the sad re­al­ity is that some brands were the best ver­sions of them­selves many years ago.”

Brand eq­uity can be eroded over time, Buck ex­plains: “It washes away crit­i­cal points of dif­fer­ence – brand USP, in old money – un­til the brand be­comes nor­malised in the mar­ket­place.

“Our job is to iden­tify the point it all went wrong, then seek to bring the brand back to be­ing the best ver­sion of it­self. Dig­ging in the ar­chives is not a ‘fix all’ for all brand­ing briefs, but it’s also not a bad place to start if the brand has dras­ti­cally lost its way over time.”

Richard Buchanan is MD at The Clear­ing, which picked up a Brand Im­pact Award in 2016 for its re­brand of Breast Can­cer Now. He draws at­ten­tion to sev­eral brands in the FMCG and au­to­mo­tive sec­tors that have been res­ur­rected for mod­ern times, in­clud­ing Arc­tic Roll, Mon­ster Munch, Fiat 500, Bee­tle and Mini.

“They were built on sen­ti­men­tal­ity, but also a reser­voir of good­will that ex­ists in con­sumers’ minds,” he ex­plains. “But those con­sumers alone aren’t enough to en­sure that brand is suc­cess­ful in fu­ture. They have to ap­peal to new au­di­ences.”

Ul­ti­mately, Buchanan adds, for a re­brand to tap into some long-lost her­itage it needs to have some­thing sub­stan­tial in its DNA that’s worth reawak­en­ing in the first place. “There needs to be a ben­e­fit that’s as rel­e­vant to­day as it was then,” he says. “Some essence, or at­ti­tude, that can be reimag­ined for a new au­di­ence. You need to iden­tify those golden nuggets, those lit­tle gems that make that brand spe­cial.”

Ac­cord­ing to Tem­ple­man, Design Bridge of­ten works with long-stand­ing brands whose rich her­itage may have been for­got­ten or some­how ‘lost’ over time. “It’s our job to find those hid­den gems, and tell those sto­ries through design in a way that is rel­e­vant to­day,” she says, giv­ing the agency’s re­brand of Guin­ness, which was highly com­mended at the Brand Im­pact Awards last year, as an ex­am­ple (see op­po­site page).

“But this ap­proach can only re­ally work when the brand has a past, and an in­ter­est­ing one at that,” she goes on, echo­ing Buchanan’s thoughts. “Some­times you search for the hook and it’s just not there, so you have to choose an­other route. There’s no science to it: some­times it’s a gut feel.”

Moody be­lieves in look­ing to the fu­ture, rather than the past, wher­ever pos­si­ble. “On a per­sonal level, I feel ner­vous about build­ing on her­itage alone,” he ad­mits. “It’s a valu­able com­po­nent, but in no other in­dus­try would peo­ple be so self-in­dul­gent and self-ref­er­en­tial to their in­dus­try over that of the client’s.

“All brands should aim to carry with them a core, for­ward-think­ing DNA that is true to what they stand for. Pick­ing a fixed point in his­tory as the only an­chor can hold you back,” Moody ar­gues. “Au­then­tic­ity shouldn’t be con­fused with her­itage: it’s some­thing that’s earned over time.”


If a brand hasn’t lost its way en­tirely, but is be­com­ing a lit­tle tired, some­times the re­brand­ing process is more about mod­ernising, and mak­ing a brand fit-for­pur­pose, rather than dra­mat­i­cally look­ing ei­ther for­wards or back­wards for in­spi­ra­tion.

“Small in­cre­men­tal changes are about sub­lim­i­nal re­ac­tion to the change, not overt sig­nalling of new­ness,” ex­plains Perkins. “They’re use­ful when brands need to ad­dress cer­tain func­tional is­sues to move for­ward, with­out jeop­ar­dis­ing the eq­uity and rep­u­ta­tion in their ex­ist­ing brand recog­ni­tion.”

Like so many high-pro­file projects be­fore it, Some­One’s re­cent re­brand of the UK Par­lia­ment (see op­po­site page) faced a wave of ini­tial crit­i­cism for spend­ing pub­lic money on what was per­ceived to be a few tiny tweaks to the portcullis logo. But as the tweets piled up, and more of the ‘brand world’ was re­vealed, it be­came clear to any­one will­ing to dig a lit­tle deeper that the re­brand was about dig­i­tal ver­sa­til­ity.

“Only a fool rushes into an es­tab­lished brand with a to­tal dis­re­gard for the brand’s his­tory,” be­lieves Si­mon Manchipp, co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive strate­gic

“Only a fool rushes in with a to­tal dis­re­gard for an es­tab­lished brand’s his­tory. There’s nearly al­ways some­thing worth pre­serv­ing”


cre­ative di­rec­tor at Some­One, which won a 2016 Brand Im­pact Award for its D.Thomas skin­care re­brand.

“There’s nearly al­ways some­thing worth pre­serv­ing,” he in­sists. “With the UK Par­lia­ment, the portcullis is part of the very fab­ric of the build­ings. The Royal doc­u­men­ta­tion. Even the cur­tains. So there was never a ques­tion of re­plac­ing it. It’s a glob­ally recog­nised sym­bol, which in brand terms is worth bil­lions.

“It was stream­lin­ing and mak­ing it dig­i­tally adept that formed the ba­sis of our brand work, as well as cre­at­ing sys­tems to bet­ter clar­ify Par­lia­ment’s role in a mod­ern democ­racy. Con­nect­ing many parts to make one co­he­sive whole.”

Moody com­pares this ap­proach to the prin­ci­ple of ‘in­cre­men­tal gains’ em­braced by Team Sky in cy­cling events, and ad­mits that Wolff Olins has ac­tively en­cour­aged it in re­cent years. “How­ever, just like Team Sky, I’m now ques­tion­ing the true va­lid­ity of do­ing this,” he adds. “It’s not so much about be­ing un­able to plug in to other peo­ple’s de­signs, but more that it’s more im­por­tant than ever to design with to­tal­ity in mind.”

If small changes make a big im­pact, he rea­sons, then it’s a course of ac­tion worth pur­su­ing, but you need to be com­pletely hon­est with your­self. “If you are fid­dling with line weight for the sake of it, then it’s a waste of ev­ery­one’s time,” he smiles.

Moody gives the ex­am­ple of Eric­s­son’s re­cent min­i­mal­ist brand over­haul (above): “It’s pure hy­giene,” he ar­gues. “This is com­mend­able, and a crit­i­cal part of any brand design process, but it’s nei­ther gen­uine ‘re­brand­ing’ in any ma­jor sense, nor news­wor­thy.

“Fetishis­ing th­ese tweaks – see also eBay, Audi, and YouTube – gives them an in­flated level of im­por­tance,” he adds. “It feels like [highly-ac­claimed ar­chi­tect] Richard Rogers mak­ing a big deal about bleed­ing the ra­di­a­tors in one of his build­ings. De­sign­ers should aim for big, bold, rad­i­cal change. If you aren’t piss­ing some­one off a bit, you aren’t try­ing hard enough.”


Which leads neatly into our third, and most rad­i­cal ap­proach: start­ing again from scratch, treat­ing the client al­most like a new start-up. Al­most, but not en­tirely. Ac­cord­ing to Michael John­son – cre­ative di­rec­tor and prin­ci­pal of John­son Banks, an agency which has twice won Best of Show at the Brand Im­pact Awards – re­brand­ing is a very dif­fer­ent beast from brand­ing a new com­pany, and your cre­ative process should be tai­lored ac­cord­ingly.

“For a while I ap­proached both in a sim­i­lar way,” he ad­mits. “The penny dropped a few years ago that for ‘new’ projects it made more sense to start at the core – why they are here, what do they stand for, then work out­wards. Con­versely, when re­align­ing ex­ist­ing brands we of­ten start from the edges and talk about ‘how’ they work, and what they be­lieve in, be­fore we tackle the trick­ier and more es­sen­tial stuff at the core.”

John­son em­pha­sises that truly rad­i­cal change must be a col­lab­o­ra­tive de­ci­sion be­tween agency and client. “I think there’s a very naive view out there that de­sign­ers should ‘per­suade’ their clients to be more ad­ven­tur­ous,” he says. “I can only do a rad­i­cal piece of work if, client-side, they are on the same page.”

He adds that graphic design alone is rarely enough to per­suade: you need solid strate­gic foun­da­tions, based on a clear need for ma­jor change. “Walk­ing into a board­room with a clutch of new lo­gos and a pre­sen­ta­tion you could pré­cis as, ‘Wouldn’t this be cool?’ is ask­ing for trou­ble,” he smiles.

As ever, wider eco­nomic fac­tors of­ten come into play with any root-and-stem changes to a brand – es­pe­cially for a well-es­tab­lished, global one. John­son gives the

ex­am­ple of Vir­gin At­lantic, when both he and the CEO be­gan on the same page in terms of a rad­i­cal shake-up of the com­pany’s liv­ery.

“Yet, when some­one pointed out that re­paint­ing just one plane cost a quar­ter of a mil­lion pounds, and my jolly lit­tle pre­sen­ta­tion had just ‘spent’ £10 mil­lion in im­ple­men­ta­tion fees, that was a killer blow – and il­lus­trates how the hopes of a graphic de­signer can some­times run head­long into ev­ery­day re­al­i­ties.”

The Clear­ing faced a sim­i­lar chal­lenge, al­beit on a slightly dif­fer­ent scale, with its re­brand of Royal As­cot (see page 54) – which needed to be signed off by the Queen. “They had a re­ally old, tired-look­ing mar­que, and we wanted to move it into some­thing quite pre­mium,” Buchanan re­calls. “We de­signed a to­tal cre­ative vi­sion, mapped out ev­ery sin­gle touch­point: prod­uct, ser­vice, in­ter­nal cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“When it came to sign-off, she didn’t ap­prove the logo, be­cause it was 2011 and we were still in what peo­ple thought was a dou­ble-dip re­ces­sion. She was con­cerned that they were seen to be spend­ing money on what wasn’t bro­ken. You would have had to change ev­ery sign on the race­course, and wayfind­ing and sig­nage be­comes re­ally ex­pen­sive.”


The Clear­ing suc­cess­fully re­vis­ited and re­freshed the mar­que at a later date, but like John­son’s Vir­gin At­lantic ex­am­ple, that ini­tial ret­i­cence to change was grounded in prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties. The cost, and as­so­ci­ated risk, of whole­sale change of a brand can be pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive in any sec­tor – and in most cases, a brand needs to be fun­da­men­tally bro­ken to con­sider it.

Buchanan uses two main mea­sures to de­cide this: saliency, or the ‘mean­ing’ as­so­ci­ated with a brand, which can be both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive; and aware­ness. “When the saliency is neg­a­tive and un­help­ful, and your aware­ness is re­ally low, you go: you have fun­da­men­tally pissed peo­ple off and they don’t par­tic­u­larly like you,” he rea­sons. “Then what’s the point in hang­ing onto it?”

Moody agrees that it usu­ally takes some kind of fun­da­men­tal brand cri­sis, or some kind of ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tional change, like a merger, for a brand to start again. “This is a shame, be­cause you end up start­ing from a bad place,” he ar­gues. “The brand­ing work done for Google’s par­ent com­pany, Al­pha­bet, was in­trigu­ing, as it was an iden­tity that made sense of some­thing that pre­vi­ously no­body had thought of. I sus­pect we will see more of this, par­tic­u­larly as West Coast brands reach their next stage of de­vel­op­ment.”

Moody be­lieves that cus­tomers are ac­tu­ally more for­giv­ing than we give them credit for, and that it tends to be the clients who refuse to let go of the past. “The world moves in­cred­i­bly quickly, so brands need to be more ag­ile. That should in­clude iden­tity,” he in­sists. “Imag­ine wear­ing the same clothes for 25 years. You’d look out of touch and stale.

“The ar­gu­ment against rad­i­cal re­brand­ing is per­verse, as it’s of­ten claimed that big changes erode hard-won trust,” Moody ob­serves. “But look at it an­other way: would you trust some­one who seemed decades out of step with the rest of the world?

“If cor­po­rate iden­tity was about stand­ing out, and brand iden­tity was about bet­ter com­mu­ni­cat­ing what you stand for, then this new third wave of more in­tel­li­gent iden­tity is about cre­at­ing brands and iden­tity sys­tems that can move with peo­ple, and move peo­ple emo­tion­ally, in real time,” he con­cludes. “If you are fo­cus­ing on build­ing new value, you’re less likely to need to cling onto the past.”

North’s brand­ing for RAC in 1997 in­cluded fa­mously thor­ough brand guide­lines.

John­son Banks picked up Best of Show at the BIAs twice, with its Cam­bridge Univer­sity and Unicef UK projects. This re­cent re­brand of His­toric Houses evolved to en­com­pass every­thing from cot­tages to cas­tles.

Design Bridge has reimag­ined pack­ag­ing ranges for Fort­num & Ma­son.

Stockholm Design Lab re­cently re­branded Eric­s­son by mak­ing small tweaks to im­prove dig­i­tal pre­ci­sion.

When Fit­ness First came to The Clear­ing, Richard Buchanan de­scribes it as “bro­ken”, with se­ri­ous un­der-in­vest­ment and a rep­u­ta­tion for poor value. “We kept the name, but for every­thing else we started again,” he ex­plains. The ground-up re­brand trans­formed it into a richer, more mo­ti­vat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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