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3 Ways to Update a Brand Without Rebranding

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For creatives, rebranding is one of the coolest jobs you can get. There’s a weight of responsibility, sure, but the possibilities are pretty much endless, and creatively there are few rules. But to do the job right, a lot goes into it. A lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of money, usually. A true rebrand is kind of the nuclear option—you really don’t want to do it unless you’re certain that you really, really need a rebrand.

But there are plenty of times where a brand’s becoming stale, even when perhaps things don’t rise to the level of requiring a full rebrand or even a real brand refresh. You need something, but the money and time aren’t there to completely remake your brand.

If that’s where you find yourself, there’s good news. There are ways that you can update your brand without having to go through the full rebranding process so you can keep your brand modern sans a massive budgetary outlay. Let’s talk about a few of them.

Fix inconsistencies within the brand

If you’ve gone a while since the last time you took a look at your brand—and, if you’re thinking about brand updates, there’s a pretty decent chance that’s the case—it’s likely that some inconsistencies have started to creep in. In most midsize or large businesses, a lot of people touch your brand. Some of them know everything there is to know about it. But even in the most brand-forward businesses, it’s very difficult to ensure that everyone knows everything. And even if they do, things drift. People try things that might be cool, or they might set the brand a little bit off-course. Someone forgets that you’re not supposed to use that color in that situation. It happens.

One answer is to do a brand audit. That’s basically exactly what it sounds like—in a brand audit, you gather every asset related to your brand and examine them all to determine just where your brand stands at the present moment. The more in-depth that audit is, the better—ideally, you’re able to compare every brand touchpoint ever, from your company’s founding all the way until yesterday. But even a more cursory brand audit does a lot of good for the time-strapped marketer.

Figure out where inconsistencies are most likely to pop up. Take the time to establish a style guide to help mitigate those inconsistencies. And when you see those inconsistencies in assets that you’re currently using, it’s imperative that you fix them. An inconsistent brand is, really, not much of a brand at all.

Make subtle changes to your existing brand assets

Making major changes to your brand without doing all the background legwork to do a real rebrand is a bad idea. You need to know as much as possible about your audience, your industry, your competitors, and your own business in order to really get it right, and getting it wrong is incredibly costly.

But that doesn’t mean your brand has to stay completely stagnant between major rebrands. Often, the real answer is just to simplify. Like I said before, a long-lived brand tends to drift a lot, and one of the ways that drift can manifest is in complication. Stuff gets added to a logo. Someone adds a new color to the palette for a one-off engagement, and it sticks. You start writing to a new segment of your audience, traffic increases, and bingo, that’s a new buyer persona. Any or all of this can happen pretty easily, and together these relatively minor changes can add up. Going back to basics can help.

You might determine that things are swinging in the other direction as well. It’s less safe to make positive changes to a brand (that is, adding something new rather than reining in shifts away from your established brand) without going through the full research process. But if there’s an obvious change to make, make it. Delete the roundel from your logo if it’s making your web homepage crowded. Darken the shade of green you’re using if it doesn’t show up right as is on mobile. In most cases, these are going to be quality of life improvements that won’t hurt you, and you don’t need to invest six to eight weeks of audience research to determine whether or not they’re okay to make.

A/B test new messaging options

In my humble content marketer opinion, of all the places where you can really try stuff with your brand, content is the easiest. A new design element is really going to stand out to people who know your brand well, even if it’s relatively subtle. If people are really loyal to your brand, and you tweak the shade of green for mobile, people might actually notice. That’s fine, that change is still worth making. But in most cases, a change to your brand’s messaging or voice is going to be just a little bit more subtle.

That doesn’t mean you should just go buckwild, and change your tagline and start writing to an entirely different audience. But you can test some more subtle changes without having to expect any issues. The smartest way to make such changes is to A/B test them—that might feel like something that’s more at home in digital marketing than brand work, but testing is something that should be a part of pretty much everything you do as a marketer. Have a cool new messaging idea? Try it out in an email or a digital ad campaign, but maintain a control group and compare your new take with the old way. Does it perform? Roll it out in a wider fashion. Did it tank? Scrap it and learn from the experience.

These tests might lead only to minor insight and change to your voice going forward. Or it might be the first step towards deeper knowledge about the direction you should take things. Either way, it’s worth a shot, as long as you don’t take things too far without doing deeper research.

Don’t overdo it

Your brand is critical. It’s the most important pillar of your business’s marketing efforts. That means you definitely have to make sure that it stays updated, but it also means that you can’t risk botching a change. It puts marketers in kind of an awkward position. It’s critical that you make alterations to keep up with the market, but it’s just as important that you don’t overextend yourself without doing the foundational work to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

There is a line between brands that can survive with simple tweaks and minor changes and brands that need more intensive work. Do not try to eyeball a new brand—if these updates don’t help, that means it’s time to really dig in and really rebrand or refresh the brand. But when things are already pretty good, simple shifts might be enough to keep your brand at the top.

Thomas Wachtel Team Photo at Element Three

Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.