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Rebranding vs. Brand Refresh: What's the Difference?

4 Minute Read

The difference between these two processes is fairly well defined, and yet the two are often mistaken for each other. Part of the reason for this is that they both involve much of the same research, thought, and creative work. Their goals are often similar as well.

In reality, the difference between the two is a matter of degree. The best way to gain an initial understanding of the difference between refreshing a brand and rebranding is by analogy.

Let’s say your kitchen saw its heyday in the mid-‘70s, when garish floral wallpaper, linoleum tiles, and colors inspired by a rainbow of vomit were all the rage. The way you choose to pull the room into the 21st century illustrates the difference between rebranding and refreshing.
If you feel like some of the decor is salvable, you would refresh. You might decide that the wood cabinets are timeless, and don’t need to change. The appliances are aging, but they still work and add a funky, vintage aesthetic that you like. So you only refresh the bits that feel dated. You repaint the walls, put in new countertops, and cover the floors with a lovely, modern, click-and-lock tile. With a brand refresh, you keep what works and spruce up what doesn’t.

But let’s say there’s nothing redeemable about the kitchen, and if you could, you would drop a hand grenade in the sink and run. Then you would opt for a full “rebrand.” You’d gut the space, pitching everything, and draw up new plans. You might remove a wall, or add an extension. Your kitchen would be completely remodeled, and in the end, the only thing it would share in common with your old kitchen was the fact that it was still a kitchen, located in your house. Rebranding is a total revision of your brand.

How Does That Translate?

Whether you need a refresh or a total rebranding depends on how much of your current brand isn’t working. If your customers still relate well to your brand identity, and your logo is recognizable in a positive way, but overall your image is feeling a bit dated, then a simple refresh may be all you need.
You might tweak your color palette, and change the font used in your logo. You could take a look at your marketing collateral with fresh eyes and tweak the bits that are feeling ineffective. You might update your website with new content and give a bit of an edge to your brand voice.
These are all minor changes. After a brand refresh, your brand would still be recognizable to outsiders. It would just be a bit different.
Rebranding, on the other hand, involves radically altering some aspects of your brand, or your brand in its entirety. This isn’t a process that businesses enter into lightly. Rebranding often destroys brand equity. The new brand won’t enjoy the instant recognition that the old one did, and any associations that people had with the old brand will be fractured.
However, that may be precisely what a company needs. Rebranding is usually only done when the benefits outweigh the costs. If something has happened, that’s weighing down your brand with negative associations, or if consumers perceive the entirety of your brand as outdated or ill-fitting compared to your competition, then a total break may be the right move.

Why Might You Choose to Refresh a Brand?

Over time, the marketplace changes around you. New competitors enter the market; new technologies alter business models, and fashions ebb and flow. To stay relevant, businesses should audit their brand occasionally to determine what’s working, and what isn’t. Occasional brand refreshes based on the results of these audits are an excellent way to make incremental changes that keep your brand fresh without damaging the equity you’ve worked hard to build.
In theory, if a business engages in periodic refreshes, it might never need to undergo a full rebranding, as slow, incremental changes over time keep it connected to its customers, current trends, and the state of its industry. This is the preferred strategy. Brand refreshes are far less risky than a total brand overhaul. 

When is Rebranding Called For?

Rebranding can be a necessary move, but the reasons for rebranding and the possible ramifications should be deeply considered before beginning. There’s simply no guarantee that customers will accept the new brand that results. And the results can be disastrous.
In 2009, Tropicana, the iconic orange juice brand, underwent a significant rebranding to make its packaging and products more accessible to customers. It turns out that people liked the old packaging, and the radical change ended up confusing and alienating them. After suffering a 20% drop in sales, Tropicana quickly resurrected their old brand.
In Tropicana’s case, they chose to rebrand when they probably only needed a refresh. There were no real problems with their existing branding. Customers still identified with their products, and sales were healthy. A radical shift was unnecessary and too risky.
But rebranding can be warranted, and even necessary, under certain circumstances. 

  • Your brand is outdated. If a company is in an industry that changes rapidly, it may find that its branding has fallen out of step with current trends. If this is causing a drag on sales, and undercutting the brand’s legitimacy, a rebrand may be called for. 
  • You or your audience has changed. If your product or service offerings have evolved to the point that they no longer fit comfortably under your current brand, or if your target audience has shifted, and your new audience doesn’t connect with you as it should, rebranding can help with realignment.
  • Your current brand has grown confused. Ironically, this can result from the accrued changes resulting from occasional brand refreshes. If you’re not careful, as you make minor changes to different aspects of your brand over time, these changes can begin to compete with one another. Eventually, your brand can end up feeling disjointed and incoherent. Rebranding may be the only way to reintegrate.

Brand Change Is a Matter of Degree. Do Only What You Need To.

If there were one lesson you should walk away from this article with, it’s that you never want to change your brand more than is warranted. You need to engage your customers, your employees, and the competitive landscape to determine precisely what’s lacking, and modify that alone. Any more, and you can wind up in Tropicana’s shoes.
This is why, if you think your brand has some issues, you should engage the services of an experienced branding firm, like us! We have the requisite understanding of the branding process to help you get it right. Both refreshes and rebrands can be extremely positive experiences. Let us help you with your next brand audit. We’ve guided dozens of companies in the right direction, and we can leverage that knowledge for you.



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