January 5, 2021

New Year, new brand? How to refresh your identity without losing its soul

Sam Ladlow

Creative Director


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Few brands want to look the same as everyone else. But it’s amazing how many do look and sound alike. To differentiate yourself from competitors, it may be time to rebrand or refresh your identity.

I shared the image below in my last article on, “Is the web killing creativity?”. It shows 20 cars that, for all intents and purposes, look the same.


When there’s so little to choose between them, why would you choose one over another?

You may choose one because it has a strong brand heritage or luxury touches. One because it has eco credentials or another because it’s proven to be safer.

Your choice may also come down to how they position themselves:

  • Does one feel more powerful or energetic?
  • Is another more playful?
  • Do you prefer a brand that feels more statesmanlike?
  • Or alternatively, more family oriented?
  • Or maybe you lean towards brands that support causes that resonate with you?

How a brand positions and talks about itself is often more important than what they sell, especially when their product may be almost identical to a dozen others.

When your offering is similar to everyone else’s, you definitely can’t afford to have an identical brand, too.

Let’s face it, this applies to most brands these days. So if you need to differentiate yourself from the competition, you may need to rebrand or refresh your identity.

I’m going to look at some of the factors to consider when you’re thinking about rebranding and some brands that have managed to reinvigorate themselves without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

First up, what’s your brand strategy?

Branding is 80% strategy, 20% implementation. Investing time upfront will always save time in the long run.

So it’s important to ask:

  • How are you positioned right now? Where are you strong? Where are you weak?
  • How do you, as a company, perceive your brand? Is this aligned with your external identity? Or are the two mismatched?
  • How is your business perceived by potential customers and in relation to other brands in your space?
  • Are you looking to be cutting edge or do you want to play on the credibility of your established look and feel?
  • Is there a great deal of equity in your logo or the colour palette? Or is it looking dated?
  • You can use your answers to these questions to weigh your legacy and history against the risk of stagnation and not evolving with the times.

Before you rebrand - calculate the true cost

Another important factor in the decision to rebrand is, of course, cost.

If you're a multinational with multiple channels, refreshing your wordmark or colours can’t be done overnight or without considerable investment.

For instance, updating the font you use may appear to be a small decision, but it can have huge repercussions.

Using a free font – such as a Google font – doesn’t cost a lot in material terms but may cost your brand because it’s so ubiquitous it becomes unremarkable.

But if you pay for a unique font, there's still nothing to say that another company can't use it and it can be pricey.

On one high-profile branding project I was involved with, changing the typeface across all the brand channels resulted in a £30,000 total cost for the font alone. That was without the hundreds of design hours it took to apply it.

Three brands that evolved without losing equity

If you do decide to go ahead and rebrand, you’ll want to run a brand strategy exercise so you’re clear on what your brand stands for at its core.

This will help you decide whether to rebrand completely or what brand elements you need to keep. Here are a few brands that managed this well.



Nike has a very strong visual identity mark and brand feel, but they're constantly evolving.

Their brand truth is “If you have a body, you are an athlete”.

As the ‘Just do it’ tagline and the iconic swoosh both have billion-dollar equity and still epitomise this truth, there’s no need for them to change their core identity, even though the brand offering and accompanying visual elements are changing all the time.


When Google rebranded, rather than doing away with all core elements of their multicoloured sentence-case logo, they just changed the form.

They went from a serif to a sans serif font, modernising their identity whilst maintaining the core elements which they felt had equity.

Significantly, they retained the angle of the E which gave the original wordmark an uplifting, friendly feel that people loved.

They also kept their trademark use of blue, red, yellow and green colours that still permeate through all their different icons and services.



The original Airbnb wordmark had a script font which had begun to feel dated and had not kept pace with the ever growing global nature of the Airbnb business.

The new version is clean, elegant and simple. This is a timeless look that will last and speaks to their core value of ‘belonging’.

Which is another consideration, are you designing something just for now or something that will grow with you?

It's important, as a business, to think about the longevity of your positioning and your brand.


Aim for simplicity

Rebranding or simply refreshing your identity is a big decision with significant cost implications.

However, you can maximise your investment by aiming for simplicity, longevity and ease of application.

Nike’s swoosh proves how effective this can be. Another example which many may not consider a ‘logo’ or ‘identity’ is the cross, surely the embodiment of a simple yet iconic mark.

The cross has been a globally recognised symbol of Jesus and Christianity for over 2,000 years.

Likewise, the ichthys or "sign of the fish" is still adopted today after first being used in 2nd century AD.

Simpler is better. Anything that’s visually complicated or uses a lot of colour needs significant consideration, as it will be harder to apply.

Be sure to create an identity that can easily be transferred to multiple touchpoints across print, digital and motion as well as any relevant emerging technology.

But more importantly - guide your rebrand with a strategy that is authentic to who you are and who you serve.

This is impossible to do alone. We all have blind spots when it comes to our branding, so get the support of a professional team who can help you see yourself in a fresh light.

If you’d like a fresh pair of eyes on your brand or have a question, please message me here or connect with me on LinkedIn. I could chat branding all day.