Your brand is more than just your logo and color palette, so a brand refresh should be more than an exercise in graphic design.
Branding is the process of defining, conveying and maintaining your firm’s core value and differentiators. It’s about figuring out who you are, what you stand for, why your clients should care and then conveying in a meaningful and consistent way.
Great brands aren’t built without effort and intentionality. So if your firm has decided that the time has come to update your brand, it needs to be done with a strategic approach. Here are seven crucial elements that should be included in your firm’s brand refresh process.
1. Discovery and research
One of the most important elements on the list, but the one that often gets skipped over or undervalued is research. Ask your firm’s senior leadership who you are and what makes you different than the competition and they’ll surely have an answer. However, their answer might not be the same as what clients, prospects or even employees would say. That’s where discovery and research, conducted by third parties using qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys where appropriate, should be the starting point for a brand refresh process.
An important trait of a powerful brand is that it’s credible and authentic. In other words, it’s important that what you convey about your brand is consistent with what your clients and employees experience firsthand. Research should be conducted to understand how the market already views your firm, uncover what actual differentiators you possess, and look for overlap between the internal and external perspectives.
2. Competitive analysis
Before you update your brand platform, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape at a high level. If you want to look, sound and feel different than the rest of the pack, you need to know what the rest of the pack is up to—and do it differently.
Performing a competitive analysis helps you consider a number of important factors including (but not limited to):
- Taglines and key messages
- Logos, colors, fonts, styles
- Value proposition
- Thought leadership and content marketing
- Website and digital/social presence
3. Brand positioning and key messages
Once you’ve conducted research and have uncovered your firm’s market perception and true differentiators, the next step is to craft compelling key messages that pinpoint your unique position in the marketplace. These messages should aim to reach your key target audience at both a rational and emotional level. Your marketing does need to address basic facts of who you are and what you do, but don’t forget to talk about why you do what you do, how your approach is different (assuming it is) and how this ultimately benefits the client. The end goal of branding is getting past the tangible attributes of your company and tapping into the emotional triggers of your audience by conveying intangible attributes—the why factor—that can’t be easily imitated by the competition.
4. Logo and visual identity system update
The need for a distinctive visual identity can’t be overstated. If you sound different than everyone else through compelling brand positioning and key messages, it’s equally important that you also look different (and better) than everyone else too. Your visual identity—logo, color palette, styles, photography, fonts, textures and other brand elements—is foundational to conveying the essence of your brand.
Now, the extent to which a firm updates their logo will depend on their need and/or desire. A brand refresh doesn’t always involve completely redesigning the logo altogether—although sometimes it does. Think of a brand refresh as more of a facelift, leveraging existing brand equity while expanding the look, feel and messaging with fresh treatments and positioning. Sometimes a brand update doesn’t even involve changing the logo; it may just involve looking for ways to explore new type treatments, color palette expansion, photography styles, messaging and other brand elements.
5. Brand standards guide
The most powerful brands not only have a great visual identity, but that identity is methodically reinforced across every single touchpoint. Brand standards are a set of guidelines for how the logo and brand elements will be used. The guide will define specifics around the logo usage, including critical guidelines for size, positioning, margins and colors, as well as various “lockups” for all acceptable variations (color, black and white, horizontal, vertical, etc.) depending on placement and usage. It will also address colors, fonts, photography styles, graphic elements, messaging and other components that comprise your brand. Having a brand standards guide that is strictly enforced throughout the firm helps to ensure consistency and will support strong brand recognition in the marketplace.
6. Communications/brand audit
After you’ve established a new and distinctive brand identity system and developed brand standards to reinforce it, a communications audit is necessary to ensure that the new system gets applied consistently across every touch point. Take an inventory of anything and everything that uses your logo and all the ways your company communicates to external and internal audiences (emails, proposals, website, signage, etc.). You’ll want to evaluate your current communications and create a punch list of all the items that will need to be updated as part of your brand refresh.
7. Rollout plan
The last element of the brand refresh and one that is critical to the success of the process, is a plan for rolling out the updated brand both internally and eternally. You’ve invested time and resources, so you’ll want to generate excitement and build momentum with the launch of the new platform. The specifics on the rollout will depend on the extent of the change from the existing brand. But it will be important to communicate to employees, existing clients and prospects the inspiration for the change, some details around the process and the essence of the new brand platform.
Ideally, everything that was identified during the communications audit will be updated to reflect the new brand. If there have been more than just minor changes made to the logo, it’s going to involve considerable planning to rollout, and may require a phased approach.
Achieving your end goal – a powerful brand
Having a strong brand that stands out positively in the minds of your target audience and differentiates your firm from the crowded sea of competition is the end goal of the brand refresh process. In order to ensure that you achieve that goal, it’s crucial to include these seven elements as part of your brand refresh process.