Your identity should help you thrive, not just survive.

Evolving you brand’s identity: a Darwinian approach.

Clients often say, ‘We’re strong and doing well, so why do we have to evolve the brand’s identity?’

Well, Charles Darwin put it best, ‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those that can best manage change’. The zebra has evolved its black and white stripes to optically dazzle hunters and predators.

The short answer is… if your brand’s future depends on managing and adapting to change—think of your identity as the most fundamental and visible reflection of that ability to adapt. So here are five ‘triggers of change’ that you might want to think about next time you are reviewing your brand.

1. When you simply have to stay ahead

Seems like a strange one. If you are a leader, why bother refreshing your identity? Because if you don’t, someone tomorrow will challenge your leadership. And force a response. In 2010, Vodafone took a big step to simplify their identity and bring out the ‘speechmark’ more clearly. AirAsia was already the world’s #1 budget airline, but wanted to bring out their cool factor more clearly for a cooler audience.

2. When nothing has changed

Traditional brands have often worn their unchanging identity as a mark of pride and a reflection of tier storied heritage. However, in today’s world that is changing at light-speed across multiple points of interaction, you often have to run faster to stay in the same place. Identities can quickly become static and staid.

Ford replaced their blue oval after 48 years. The Connaught, a luxury hotel in London took a big step after a couple of centuries of mild tweaks.

3. When the audience interaction has changed

Mark Z says of people on Facebook: ‘They’re keeping up with their friends and family, but they’re also building an image and identity for themselves, which in a sense is their brand. They’re connecting with the audience they want to connect to.’

Great brand identities aren’t static. They’re dynamic and interactive because people today are far more empowered to be dynamic and interactive. Think Google Doodles. Think Coca Cola’s personalised cans.

4. When what is possible has changed

A brand is about more than a logo. It is about a vision and a promise. It is about an idea as well as how you deliver it. As your vision and promise evolve, so should your fundamental identity. Apple’s original logo had a man (presumably Isaac Newton) under a tree with a glowing apple above. When they launched the Macintosh, the logo evolved to the multi-coloured bitten apple. Jean-Louis Gasee, the head of Macintosh development said of the logo…’it is the symbol of lust and knowledge, crossed with the colours of the rainbow all in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy.’

5. When its time to let go of the past

Sometimes, the most important part of evolution is what people like to do the least—letting go. Over time, brands often collect equities, associations, even bad habits that become ‘surplus to requirements’. All that you end up with is fuzzy vision. When man stopped swinging from trees and started walking, the tail disappeared and two long legs took shape. Federal Express started life as, well…Federal Express. But when they realised people only referred to the brand as FedEx, they were bold enough to reflect that image in their identity and create an iconic logo to go with it. As Apple become more about simplicity, so did the logo. HSBC started life as the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation. And over the course of a few years, reduced to Hong Kong Bank and then further to HSBC. From the First National Citibank of New York through to just Citi today.

Charles Darwin could have been speaking about brand management. Adapt to evolve and thrive.

Note: all logos and brand imagery are registered trademarks of their respective brand owners.