What Makes Branding Work?

Race car branding

If you’ve ever struggled to find your favorite app on your phone, only to realize it was there all along but the icon had inexplicably changed color after the most recent update, then you have an inkling of how branding works. Humans are very visual creatures, and we rely a lot on color and pattern recognition. Branding is a method of tying certain colors, shapes, and emotions to the products or services your company provides.

The stronger your brand is, the easier it is for customers to remember it and recognize it when they see it again. It’s why commercial jingles used to be popular – they’d stay in your head and you’d find yourself humming along and suddenly craving hot dogs.

Cellular network coverage mapsIf you need an example of how powerful branding is, think about mobile service providers. They often brag about the power of their network versus the other guys, but rather than mentioning brand names, they just show you color-coded maps. You immediately know who they refer to when you see red, blue, yellow, and hot pink. Each brand makes strong use of their color, from their logo to the lighting in their stores.

All of this is important to keep in mind when you’re considering a rebrand. Do you want to simply update your current brand to reinforce the connections your customers have already made, or do you consider shaking it up by completely changing your look?

Two Tales of Rebranding

The history of marketing is full of rebranding efforts, some more successful than others. Too extreme of a rebrand can be damaging – have you ever tried to find a product in the store only to realize that they not only changed up their branding, but renamed it? – but sometimes a big change can draw fresh eyes to your brand and revitalize your image.

Gap logo comparisonPerhaps the most outstanding example of rebranding failure is the Gap logo fiasco of 2010. When their brand was struggling, Gap decided to replace their iconic blue and white square logo with a design that kept the same elements, but rearranged them in a sloppy way. The result was something that was less “trusted clothing retailer” and more “internet startup that you suspect might actually be a front for money laundering.”

Gap reverted to their classic logo in just SIX DAYS after being raked over the coals by the internet design community and perplexed customers. The rebrand is estimated to have cost Gap $100m, not to mention the loss of face. To learn more about Gap’s failure and other stunning examples of ill-considered rebranding, check out this entertaining blog post.

Our favorite example of a good, strong rebrand is Old Spice. Long associated with the older generation, Old Spice wanted to target the younger market that was currently being dominated by Axe. They took their iconic red and white logo with the elegant old-fashioned font and kept it mostly intact. This classic logo served as the touchstone of a campaign based around rugged masculinity.

While Axe’s campaigns were largely based on the idea that sex sells, Old Spice took a more humorous approach. With tongue firmly in cheek, they presented an outre vision of masculinity that poked fun at tropes, while still encouraging men to be manlier. While Axe treated women like objects to be ensorcled by body spray, Old Spice brought them in on the joke. Look, the ads seemed to say, we know you’re the one who does the Target run. Buy our product for your guy so he won’t stink.

If you want to learn more about the thought process behind Old Spice’s rebrand and why it succeeded, check out this article from AdWeek.

Sometimes, Change is Good

Instagram logo comparisonTo bring it back to apps, consider Instagram. When I first installed it on my phone, it had a sort of beige logo that looked like an old camera. The message was clear – this is an app that applies filters to your images to mimic the effects of film photography.

Now the icon is a bright, warm-toned flow of colors, with a white logo reminiscent of a camera. Why the change? To me, it feels like Instagram’s new logo and color choice reflects how people use the app – it’s about fun. People use Instagram as a social tool to show off their lifestyle. Instagram went from being a photo filter app to being a bona fide social network, and so now their icon has bright colors and a simple shape, like the other social apps on my phone.

The color scheme also acknowledges the fact that Instagram has a strong female customer base – 68% of Instagram users are women. Instagram’s users also trend young, and so a young, femme, fun brand makes sense for a social network full of 15 year old makeup artists and college girls out at brunch.

When IG first made the change, I had trouble finding the app on my phone. But now I don’t even think twice about it. In fact, I like the new icon better. It’s brighter, it’s more cheery. The old one was, admittedly, kind of ugly. Who likes beige? Seeing the logo puts me in the mood to look at lip art and my friends doing yoga on their lunch break.

People Can Be Brands, Too

George TakeiIf you think none of this applies to you because you’re a sole proprietor doing business under your own name, think again. This is the 21st century and we all have our own unique personal brand that we should be capitalizing on.

For inspiration, look to celebrities. George Takei is a great example of a strong personal brand. Takei knew that he needed to build a large following in order to fulfill his dream of a Broadway show based on his family’s time in the internment camp. With a combination of his surprisingly deep, expressive voice, camp humor and attention to social justice issues, he rebranded himself from “that guy who used to be on Star Trek” to everyone’s favorite gay uncle.

Of course, George Takei’s story also carries a cautionary note. He lost a lot of his social credibility when his accounts began sharing too many ad-heavy clickbait articles. Remember that every action you take on your business’s social media accounts either builds or erodes your brand credibility.

Keys To a Strong Brand

Whether you’re an individual or a corporation, just starting out or rebranding, there are three keys to keep in mind for a strong brand.

  • Memorability
  • Authenticity
  • Consistency

If you keep these three concepts in mind when making marketing decisions, you can ensure that your brand doesn’t get diluted. Is your idea memorable? Is it authentic to your business’s brand statement? And is it consistent with how you present yourself to the world?

In Conclusion…

I could talk all day about branding. I mean, I haven’t even scratched the surface of the psychology of color theory (why are so many social media networks using blue and white branding, for instance?). And what about logo design – how simple is too simple? This is something we’re all passionate about here at Impel.Digital, so keep checking this blog for more thoughts on the subject, or reach out to us and start a conversation.

Image credits:
Main image: Pixabay / skeeze
Network map
George Takei

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