We Take the Mystery out of Refreshing a Brand
The focus of this document is to empower you to accomplish a successful brand identity refresh.
Our design studio has earned a solid reputation for breathing new life into brands that have lost their mojo.
Designing a Superior Brand Identity
The goal is to set your organization apart from the competitive landscape, connect with the audience, and change brand preference.
Through the years, Michael Patrick Partners has listened to and learned from market leaders.
When redesigning brands, recurring comments we’ve heard from chief executive officers have included “We’ve outgrown the look of our market presence. The overarching image doesn’t reflect where we are today.”
Chief marketing officers echo similar statements. We routinely hear that an identity and supporting communications environment is dated and lacks style. A new design is required that will evolve as the company evolves.
And a brand manager recently told us: “Our identity design is inconsistent—we see it produced one way for corporate and another way for sub-brands or our international offices. We’re consistently inconsistent. Because we’ve made so many incremental changes to the identity over the years, excessive time is spent correcting off-brand applications.”
A brand identity that will serve you well must be nimble, dynamic, easy to reproduce, and must lead (not overwhelm) the overall identity system in which it resides.
By referencing this checklist, you will be able to develop a refreshed brand identity that reflects your organization’s depth and scale.
The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective
To start, maybe it’s time for an outsider’s epiphany. Or a creative partner who just gets you better.
The value of learning a new, objective perspective is priceless.
An educated outsider arrives with no preconceived ideas and no political baggage—the outsider often strengthens internal team resources. Bringing in people who think differently—and have vast experience—means internal teams are exposed to practices that can help them in the long run.
Organizations benefit from interaction with external creative partners. They typically work faster than their client counterparts. They juggle multiple assignments with ease. And they propose novel solutions to brand management.
Today’s business obstacles presented by COVID-19 and employees working from home have posed extraordinary challenges never envisioned. Marketing managers who apply intellectual objectivity from outsiders—with specialized expertise—are thriving on multiple levels.
Consider welcoming advisors who provide new perspectives and new strategies. Partners who will shake things up and help you reevaluate the status quo.
Comprehensive Brand Refresh Workflow
On the pages that follow, we’ve listed our particular approach (steps) specific to organizing a brand identity refresh assignment.
With that said, as you review the following pages, the same workflow can also be applied to complete product and start-up identities.
Consider this process checklist your road map. A broad brushstroke.
It’s a resource we created for both seasoned design veterans and people new to identity design—information everyone will value.
Our tested process has guided organizations ranging from the Fortune 500 to renowned universities—workflow that can be applied to any industry.
Depending on the type of assignment (i.e., incremental refresh or complete redesign), the workflow steps vary slightly, but the principles remain the same.
We suggest that you focus on four critical areas: the schedule and planning, stakeholder buy-in, design, and brand architecture system.
Detailed schedules and planning lessen stress, highlight the next step in the process, and ensure that everyone understands their respective responsibilities.
Getting stakeholder buy-in supports informed, end-to-end communication within key groups.
A superior design engages audiences and reflects the organization’s culture.
And by applying a comprehensive visual brand architecture system, you will promote synergy throughout the enterprise.
When the schedule and planning, stakeholder buy-in, design, and brand architecture system are meticulously executed, a winning outcome is achieved.
The big question is: Will the project scope involve a refresh or complete redesign?
Two Approaches: Refresh or Redesign
Stakeholder emotions run high at the thought of changing a brand.
The goal will be to determine if a refresh or complete redesign is required. Surveying key stakeholders regarding their viewpoint of the existing identity will guide your decision.
It is critical that you inform key groups of the assignment goals and get their buy-in at the outset.
Applying a Likert scale survey to gather preferences is a sound practice. It’s also an excellent tool to identify potential barriers and help promote early adoption of the new identity.
If it’s determined that significant visual brand equity exists and that stakeholders are opposed to change, minimal design modifications should be explored. In this case, we refer to the work as a brand refresh.
On the flip side, if the brand strategy requires dramatic alterations and the target audience is receptive to change, the steps required for that process vary from a refresh. In this case, we refer to the work as a brand redesign.
The Role of Brand Architecture
Aligning brand relationships within an organization ensures all designs work in harmony to build value as a whole.
There are two roads to follow in brand architecture: a “branded house” or a “house of brands” strategy.
It’s imperative to be forward-thinking. You must determine a brand hierarchy (relationship) between the institutional brand and current and future acquisitions before it’s urgent.
We’ve seen our clients add new products through an acquisition but not be prepared to include the brands into the existing environment. Being forward-thinking and initiating a formal brand architecture system ensures a successful, long-term outcome.
A forward-thinking brand architecture system results in heightened recognition for the institutional brand and a reduction in the cost to manage new requirements. It promotes a proactive mode of brand management and prevents disparate product designs from cannibalizing the institutional brand.
No company is too small to have a formal system. Brand architecture guidelines must be in place for your internal staff to provide strategic brand management guidance.
With a formal brand architecture system, all brands will be united via common visual themes. And audience marketing touchpoints (digital and print communication materials) will also conform to a strategic relationship. The result is a seamless market presence.
Planning and Research Workflow
Planning and Research Phase
To initiate the work, you must flesh out scheduling, planning, and research specifics early on—anticipate the unexpected.
Assignment Planning and Statement of Work Assignment planning should include a detailed statement of work to reiterate deliverables and confirm creative partner and client responsibilities.
Project Brief A project brief identifies the basic elements of the assignment and empowers teams to initiate the work. It confirms the audience, deliverables, objectives, process, and schedule at a very high level. It is not a detailed scope agreement, nor does it include content intricacies; the intent is to identify only the fundamental elements.
Scheduling One of the keys to your success is meticulous scheduling. It’s all in the details. Aspects of the planning, creative, research, production, and process must be identified and scheduled.
Competitive Audit To ensure that the creative strategy is distinctive, a competitive (or field) audit of the brand identity designs that exist within your landscape should be conducted. The audit is then applied to guide a 360-degree view that will optimize the design. This step helps prevent creative directions in use by competitors, thus further differentiating your visual positioning and mitigating any confusion in the marketplace.
Market Research An informal review of market research conclusions—between the design team and marketing management—is required to enable data to be made actionable. A formal deep dive into segmented audience influences should be conducted separately by your research teams.
Rollout Strategy Defining a rollout strategy ensures a smooth transition from design, all the way through to messaging, and the branded marketing communications environment.
Brand Strategy Workflow
Brand Strategy Phase
The brand strategy phase ensures that the design supports your overall market position and works in harmony with institutional messaging.
Target Audience Personas Target-audience personas and their care-abouts are developed to identify segmented target groups. They are determined based on assumptions regarding demographics, interests, pain points, values, fears, motivations, internal influencers, knowledge of your product, and keywords used to search for your offerings.
Brand Platform Review A formal platform is an essential brand management tool used to memorialize defining principles. It helps ensure stakeholders understand, care about, and authentically represent the umbrella brand and product lines throughout all messaging. The goal is to memorialize why the brand exists.
Brand Architecture Audit An internal brand architecture audit should take place to analyze the identification system used to unite your product families and sub-brands into a strategic visual relationship.
Naming For the purpose of this checklist, it is assumed a brand (product or institutional) name is not being changed.
Benchmarking Survey To guide decisions, design benchmarks must be established. Prior to initiating design, it’s prudent to conduct an online Likert scale survey with stakeholder groups to inform them of the assignment and identify requirements to achieve early adoption. The current identity should be evaluated to verify existing brand equity of individual design elements that make up the logo, icon, and wordmark.
The goal is to determine which elements can be refined (evolved or changed) and what elements (if any) should not be eliminated.
Legal Compliance It’s imperative to identify the legal restrictions and compliance requirements that could affect an institutional wordmark, product brand, or tagline.
Emotions run high when redesigning a brand identity—you must know what lies beneath the surface.
Creative Strategy Workflow
Creative Strategy Phase
The creative strategy is the heart of the assignment. To clear a path for a successful conclusion, it’s essential to identify the preferred design direction that stakeholders envision and that the audience will favor.
Rorschach Test To initiate the work, examples of brand identity designs you believe to be exceptional should be reviewed. Consider this a type of Rorschach test to learn visual preferences.
Creative Positioning There are many ways to develop a brand identity. All clients have a vision for the design. To ensure that preferences are discussed, we suggest including a creative-strategy exploration step. Think of this process as a mood board that sets expectations, recaps goals, and analyzes potential design and copy approaches (options).
The exploration should include a historical reference of changes that have been made (if any) to the existing brand identity, a recap of elements to be preserved and weaknesses to be evolved, an examination of the color palette, and potential new typography families. Your brand identity guidelines are reviewed to ensure that recommendations adhere to brand standards or to determine if a fresh approach is required.
At this time, a range of initial design explorations—from 10 to 20—are presented for review. Then, up to three design options should be selected to move forward for refinement.
Design Presentation—Round One At this time the design intricacies—directed by the exploration critique—have been completed and are presented for review. The intricacies should include considerations for wordmark typography and symbol form.
Tagline Recommendations If a new tagline is being considered, it should be anticipated and refined as work progresses.
Design Presentation—Round Two Now the preferred designs selected from the Round One presentation are subjected to more focused evaluations and design nuances. At this presentation, two designs should move forward for continued scrutiny.
Illustration If the help of a creative partner is required to illustrate an identity element such as an icon or symbol, that partner should be engaged.
Design Presentation—Round Three This presentation features work completed for the top two designs. Attention is on showing how each would function within your existing communications environment (e.g., how the new logo would be applied to a company vehicle wrap, packaging, advertising and literature templates, PowerPoint presentations, website home page). At this meeting, additional refinements are discussed to prepare for testing and to determine color palettes and color breaks.
Knockout Legal Search If significant changes were made to the original identity design, now is the time to conduct a preliminary trademark (logo) search to learn if there are obvious conflicts and if it’s worth investing in a comprehensive trademark study.
Design Presentation—Round Four Based on input gleaned from the knockout legal search, two final identities should be brought close to completion. Aspects of the continued design include character height and spacing, symbol refinement, color selection, and sizing standards.
Logo and Tagline Applications If a new or existing tagline will be applied, a general presentation should take place to resolve how the identity and the tagline lockup will be achieved.
Testing/Final Evaluation Surveys The two final designs are now tested using a follow-up online Likert scale survey with the same stakeholder groups that were originally queried. Or if there is a great deal at stake with the introduction, formal, in-person focus-group tests should be implemented with segmented audiences. After test results have been evaluated, one design is selected to complete.
Refinement, Production, and Development Workflow
Refinement, Production, and Development Phase
During this phase, refinements are made to one identity. Plan on up to three additional rounds of design proofs and multiple rounds of production proofs. You will then complete the identity file formats and plan launch activities.
Transition Between New and Existing Identity Applications Discussions must take place to anticipate how the new design will impact existing branded environment applications—institutional, sub-brand, and business unit—in the short term.
Design Refinements Myriad, ongoing refinements and presentations are made and evaluated.
Sound Mark If a sound mark is being developed, work should be close to completion. A sound mark can dramatically heighten recall and can support desired emotional connections such as happy, approachable, confident, innovative, simple, and trustworthy.
Illustration Completed If the help of a creative partner was required, that work must be finished.
Final Design Presentation The preferred design will be completed—an emphasis should be placed on readability, typography (weight and kerning), color breaks, and symbol refinement. The design must now be approved as “final” to enable production files to begin and plan launch activities.
Production Proofs The number of production proofs required to complete the identity is dictated by the assignment scope and complexity of the approval process.
Animated Logo If the identity will be animated and an audio cue integrated, this work must be finalized.
Institutional Wordmark or Product Brand Design and Tagline Applications Now the final design, and the tagline lockup must be resolved. You must determine when and how the identity is to be applied as a freestanding element, as well as how the identity and the tagline will be used together in the combined lockup.
Brand Architecture System A comprehensive brand architecture system is invaluable and must be developed. It’s imperative to be forward-thinking, and before it is urgent, determine a brand hierarchy (relationship) among the institutional brand and current and potential future sub-brands.
Integrating the New Identity A plan to integrate the new design into institutional, sub-brand, and business-unit branded environments must be concluded and production initiated.
Digital Files Popular digital files for the identity and the combined lockup should be completed and transferred to your team. File formats include the following:
+ Adobe Illustrator—the original editable working file. This is a vector file that can be scaled to any size without loss of quality.
+ PDF (Portable Document Format)—a format universally viewed on any computer with Adobe Acrobat (or another PDF viewer).
+ EPS (Encapsulated PostScript)—an outdated format still in use by some organizations.
+ JPG/JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)—JPEGs are most commonly used for digital applications, because they provide compression without degrading the image; the image file is very small, so it loads quickly.
+ PNG (Portable Network Graphics)—PNG images are lossless, meaning they do not lose quality during editing. Most important, they allow for transparency when designing overlays.
Messaging Lexicon PAssembling a list of approved words and phrases that track back to the brand’s value proposition, market position, and attributes ensures that all content providers stick to the script when developing communications across diverse marketing channels.
Rollout Plan A carefully orchestrated brand rollout plan is essential to ensure a smooth transition from the old identity to the refreshed design. Begin the planning far in advance of the rollout date. Meticulous scheduling is required.
Interim Brand Guidelines A simple, interim brand guidelines document should be created to help marketing departments become familiar with applications prior to the formal launch.
Comprehensive Brand Guidelines Work on a comprehensive brand guidelines document should be initiated. Sections that showcase the brand platform, messaging system, brand architecture, and writing style are essential.
Brand Engagement Kit The process should also include a brand kit—distributed to all employees—that explains why the new identity is vital to the organization’s future and how employees can help promote market acceptance.
Campaign Asset Guide Fastidious management of creative assets is essential to maintaining seamless, on-brand communications. A valuable brand management tool is a campaign asset guide to empower marketing teams to apply messaging and design that fall outside the scope of a creative partner’s involvement.
Employee Training Refreshing a brand and creating brand management tools is one thing; having marketing teams eager to integrate new strategies into their day-to-day routine is another.
Stakeholder Reveal Prior to introducing the new brand to the public, you must reveal the work to the key stakeholders. As mentioned, early adoption is critical to your success.
Rollout Your hard work can now be rolled out to the general public. Congratulations—you’ve created a superior brand identity.
Formal training sessions must be conducted with key marketing groups to ensure that identity assets are applied with confidence.
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