The brand refresh playbook: A guide to updating your brand identity

Photo by Anna Nekrashevich

From Starbucks updating its logo with its signature siren branding to Dunkin’ ditching the ‘Donuts’ from its name, refreshing brand identity can be transformative to a company’s image.

A refresh might sound easy in comparison to a rebrand, but make no mistake—both take plenty of work. With a refresh, you still need to make sure your updated brand elements are modified across the entire organization to maintain consistency.

We’ll break down what a successful refresh entails. But before we dive into tactics, let’s clear up a common question: how do you know if you need an extensive reboot or more of a subtle fine-tuning?

It’s crucial to correctly diagnose your brand identity’s misalignments from the get-go, or it can be an expensive and time-consuming mistake.

Here’s your complete guide to strategically updating your brand identity.

Brand refresh vs. rebrand

A brand refresh is an overhaul of your brand’s image, while a rebrand is a total transformation that repositions your brand identity.

What’s a brand refresh?

A brand refresh revitalizes the look and feel of your brand without making fundamental changes to your brand. Focused on addressing weaknesses in brand identity rather than transforming it entirely, a brand refresh is not intended to fix deep-rooted issues. While brand refreshes are usually composed of visual changes such as an updated logo, color palette, or typography, they can also include updates to messaging and culture.

What’s a rebrand?

A rebrand makes changes to your brand on a fundamental level to create an entirely new brand identity. Used to fix more pervasive misalignment issues, more is at stake in a rebrand in terms of protecting a brand’s reputation. A rebrand modifies both visual and verbal elements of a brand, making changes to a brand’s logo, color palette, and typography, and updates to verbal language along with making changes to a brand’s positioning.

When do you need a rebrand?

You would consider a rebrand in the following situations:

Merger with another brand

During a merger, each company coming together already has its own brand identity, so these individual identities are often reconciled by creating a new one.

Verizon, the preeminent cellular brand, wasn’t always the Verizon as we know it today. In 2000, Bell Atlantic, the then-global technology company, and GTE, the largest independent telephone company, merged to create Verizon communications, with the goal of making it a leader in the communications space. The new name exemplifies the company’s vision for the rebrand, combining the word ‘veritas,’ connoting truth and dependability, and ‘horizon,’ signifying its future-facing and enterprising nature.

New leadership wants to reposition the brand

When new leadership overtakes a company, they may want to make changes to the brand’s positioning.

In 2017, when the then-Huffington Post was undertaken by new CEO Jared Grusd and editor in chief Lydia Polgreen, the brand not only made stark visual changes to its logo and name, updating its name to HuffPost, it redirected its editorial vision. According to Jared, “The rebrand … symbolize[s] our commitment to continually evolve to help our audiences connect with a world that is changing rapidly around them.” The brand’s new mission was to build upon Huffington Post’s legacy as a leader in the digital news space. Its now authentic and approachable voice would use controversial news topics that spanned different points of view and perspectives to unify people.

HuffPost’s logo update

Damage control

Esteemed British apparel brand Burberry rebranded when sales began to plummet in the UK. The brand became associated with miscreants, and counterfeit Burberry was running rampant in the region. Refocusing its mission and positioning, the company rebranded to restore its reputation with a new and enhanced brand identity. As part of the rebrand, it discontinued its mass-market line to re-establish the brand’s status as a more elite and aspirational label. It also implemented innovation and embraced digital transformation, launching social media campaigns and featuring A-list brand ambassadors in its marketing materials, including the likes of Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne.

Rebranded Burberry campaign featuring Kate Moss as a brand ambassador.

New audience targeting as your brand grows

Vacation and temporary rental marketplace Airbnb rebranded to reach a more mainstream audience. First designed as an app to help budget travelers find affordable places to stay, the app transformed beyond its original purpose as more and more listings were added to the marketplace—including luxury listings. It changed its logo and rebranded its site to exemplify a sense of belonging and community to appeal to a larger customer base.

According to Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, a rebrand was necessary to help the company reach a wider audience and expand consumers’ perception of the brand. “I feel our brand of yesterday was starting to hold back our ability to go mainstream, and limiting people’s idea of what it could become. This new branding changes the whole identity and expression of the company.”


Airbnb’s new branding

Current brand perception alignment with your desired brand identity

California-based branding agency House of Who’s client SDL, a cross-platform software development library, rebranded to enhance the company’s positioning to better align with how the brand wanted to be perceived by its audience. Now driven by state-of-the-art technology, the brand had a more cutting-edge identity than when it had first entered the market years before.

According to Shannon DeJong, founder, owner, and designer at House of Who, “People rebrand when how they view themselves is no longer consistent with how they’re viewed by the outside world.”

Rebranding was critical to helping the brand better communicate the value of its offerings as well as reposition the brand to be more competitive in its industry.

“With a good rebrand, you can make what you stand for appear more current, or unleash some deeper potential that you haven’t been able to tap into,” Shannon goes on. For SDL, this meant exemplifying a new narrative through the rebrand that communicated the brand’s value as “neither technical nor linguistic experts, but a combination of the two.”

Examples from companies of when to refresh

You would consider a refresh of your brand identity when you want to update your brand, freshening up and modernizing an image that feels stale or dull without entirely repositioning it or making major changes.

Starbucks created a new design methodology

In 2019, Starbucks updated its signature siren logo design to a more contemporary iteration as well as developed a new design system to exemplify its refreshed visual identity while remaining the same brand at its core.

The Starbucks site explains, “As we evolve to meet beautifully diverse customers all over the world, our brand has evolved too. Here we introduce a fresh new design system that maintains the core elements of our brand while keeping our customers’ experience central to creative expression.”

Its refreshed visual image includes “an expanded palette” of green hues, its signature Siren, as well as new typefaces.

Starbucks’ updated logos throughout the years

Buick revamped to reach out to millennials

Buick, an American automobile manufacturer, used a refresh in 2018 to expand its image beyond one that was associated with only designing vehicles for older generations. The brand wanted to rejuvenate its perception by becoming more in touch with a younger audience of millennials.

To revitalize the brand, Buick partnered with the lifestyle blog Thrillist to throw events geared toward a younger, hipper crowd, launched social media campaigns and refreshed the look and feel of several of its car models including the Enclave.

Refreshed Buick Enclave

Canva transformed its logo to re-energize its design personality

We at Canva also recently revamped our brand identity, focusing our refresh on developing an updated logo. As we explained in our blog, our mission of “empowering the world to design” would remain the same, while some of our core visual elements would be evolving. We worked with type designer and lettering artist Rob Clarke to design a new watermark that exemplifies our new creative direction. Our refashioned logo exudes a playful feel, with curved lettering and a gradient of vibrant blue to purple tones.

Updated Canva logo

How to approach a brand refresh

Find gaps between your desired brand identity and current audience perception

The first step to a brand refresh is to identify weaknesses and misalignments in your current brand identity. Conduct an audit to identify those weak spots and determine what changes need to be made to align your brand identity with the perception you aspire to.

Ask questions such as:

  • What changes can you make to be more competitive?
  • What are your industry’s trends, and where is your industry headed?
  • How can you update your website to make a better user journey?

Keep in mind that the goal here is to not reposition your brand—you are looking for opportunities for updates.

Decide what you want to change

What you decide to modify will depend upon how far away your brand is from your preferred identity and its current perception by your audience.

You may decide to make changes to visual or verbal elements of your brand as part of your refresh to enhance its look and feel.

Freshen up visual elements

Make sure the visual elements of your brand align with your updated brand identity and exemplify your revamped personality.

As part of your refresh, you may decide to update your logo to modernize your brand’s image. Logos are powerful emblems that encompass what your brand is and what it stands for and are crucial visual icons to celebrate your brand’s purpose and personality.

With Canva’s drag-and-drop interface, you can easily reinvigorate your brand with a fresh, new logo design. Explore a selection of logo templates to get inspired and customize to your heart’s content to create the ideal new face for your business.

New logo design example in Canva

You may also decide to update the color palette of your brand. Different colors create varying moods and vibes for your brand identity, evoking certain emotions in your audience as well as creating a memorable perception of your brand. For example, bold tones such as red and orange are striking and eye-catching and associated with dynamic, high-energy brands. Yellows are warm and bright, creating a friendly and welcoming disposition for your brand, and blue is known as the color with the widest, universal appeal, exuding a feel of reliability, loyalty, and trustworthiness.

Consider which colors will comprise your primary palette and which will be more secondary to your refreshed identity. Use Canva’s color palette generator to see if potential brand colors will complement each other.

Canva’s color palette generator

Typography is also a vital element of your brand’s personality and identity. The fonts you choose to communicate your branding and messaging will not only impact the kind of audience that most resonates with your brand but can make or break how easily recognizable your brand is.

When creating the typography for your company’s logo and other core visual elements, your goal is to create a memorable impression so that you stand out in your industry but are also instantly identifiable. Many brands in the technology space have recently updated their logo typography to more simple, easy-to-read fonts like Sans Serif so they would also be universally recognizable on any device. They kept their individual look with distinctive color choices.

Recent tech brands’ typography changes

Develop new brand messaging

It’s essential that your language, tone, and brand voice reflect your company’s values and align with your brand’s refreshed personality.

First, home in on your target audience and evaluate whether or not your current brand messaging is successfully presenting your solutions and offerings to that audience.

Audit your current brand messaging to review how your language has been framed thus far. Look out for inconsistencies in tone and voice. Your refreshed messaging should be cohesive across all of your communication and marketing channels. Create a brand messaging guide to serve as a vital framework of your brand’s verbal elements and help ensure all language and copy are consistent and correctly aligned with your brand identity.

Assess your current brand voice to evaluate whether you need to make changes that better align with your brand’s personality. Evaluate core messaging such as your company’s unique value propositions and positioning statements to ensure that your language is complementing your company’s mission. As part of your verbal elements refresh, you may also decide to create new slogans and taglines to more strongly position your brand identity with memorable phrases that help you stand out in your industry as well as help customers better connect with your brand.

Create a brand style guide to ensure consistency

Now that you have all the fundamental components of your refreshed identity in order, you will need to develop a brand style guide. This single source of this truth brings together all visual and verbal elements of your brand and facilitates the consistency of your brand image across your entire organization. This is essential, so internal teams and external stakeholders are aligned with a unified understanding of your brand identity.

In your brand style guide, include vital verbal components such as your brand story, which contains your mission statement and vision, as well as guidelines about your brand personality and tone of voice. You will also add guidelines outlining core visual elements such as imagery, graphics, logo, and typography.

Build a brand kit to streamline visual elements of your brand

Keep everyone in your organization apprised of changes to your visual identity with a brand kit. Here, you will upload integral visual elements of your refreshed brand, such as your brand colors, typography, and your logo.

Skyscanner, a site that lists deals for travel and flights, used Canva to create a brand kit, which was an integral step in rolling out its refreshed brand quickly. With over 1,000 employees, keeping all teams aligned on guidelines for its new brand identity was a challenge. Canva made it easy to organize elements of its visual identity and maintain consistency across the entire company. In its brand kit, the company set up logos, colors, and fonts and used branded templates to help keep marketing teams up to speed on new design protocols. With Canva, the company successfully rolled out its refresh in six months.

Skyscanner’s brand kit in Canva

Roll out new branding

Now, it’s time to unveil your refresh to the masses. But first, you must have a proper plan in place to ensure your rollout is successful.

Launch the refreshed brand internally first

Run a soft launch to get your internal teams up to date on your refreshed brand identity. Coordinate across departments to communicate to staff about your refreshed image and branding. As you meet with your teams, explain the mission and strategy behind your refresh to ensure everyone is on board, and key stakeholders and partners are sold on the decision.

After all that hard work, it’s time to celebrate! Create excitement internally by throwing an event. Hold offsite events and workshops for a fun day out with your teams and a chance to walk them through your refresh. Get staff members fired up about your shiny, new brand image with awesome swag.

And don’t forget to ask for feedback to gauge how your enhanced brand identity is being received before the whole world is in on it.

Promote the refresh externally

The big day is finally here! Now it’s time to go public with your refreshed brand, so the whole world can share in the exciting news.

In the weeks before, start generating buzz with teasers and social media campaigns. Get press releases and announcements prepped and ready to go. Develop any other promotional marketing materials you will use to communicate news of your refresh, such as blogs, newsletters, and video. Reach out to your customer base to spread the word about your refresh. Offer loyal customers deals or referral codes to share with friends to heighten their excitement and strengthen their bond with you. Refreshing your brand is a perfect time to revitalize brand advocacy with your customers as well.

Remember, you only get one first impression of your refresh, and once you have unveiled it to the world, it’s out. So, only launch when you are 100% ready.

Refresh your brand with a robust design platform

While refreshing your brand can be a time-consuming and challenging venture, if successfully executed, it can do wonders for elevating your brand’s perception and positioning. Choose Canva’s comprehensive graphic design platform to reimagine your enhanced brand identity, effectively manage all of the visual elements of your brand in one centralized place, and easily and efficiently launch your refreshed brand out into the world.

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