Bland identity

A major coffee chain’s launch this month of a modified logo has provoked much debate. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because it has become the norm for any high-profile re-brand to be extensively interrogated in published and social media, with the fundamental question being, “were they right to do it?” The question usually contains an implicit assumption that they weren’t; that any re-branding exercise is a mere ego-trip and a waste of time and money. The job of respondents in the argument is to add weight to that assumption, else disprove it.

But that’s almost always the wrong question. In just about every major re-branding exercise that I can think of, there is a strong strategic case for re-branding that links directly
to the organisation’s achievement of its commercial goals. Sometimes the case is made on rational grounds (perhaps related to a change in the business proposition, organisational structure, or its application to digital media) and sometimes on emotional grounds (maybe it just looks dated). In any case, these days we know enough about the nature of human decision-making to know for sure that brand identity is an important business tool that can deliver significant commercial advantage. 

The real question that should be asked of most re-brands is, “why didn’t they do it better?” It is my opinion that the reason re-brands generate so much discussion is that most of them haven’t been executed with the degree of intelligence and craft that they deserve. A re-brand should always create something significantly, and obviously, better than the existing identity. It should be ambitious and bold. It should bring a smile, if not to the face, then to the mind. Re-brands that achieve this are not debated endlessly in the media and do not provoke the “why” question. They are quickly accepted, often celebrated, and the business moves ahead.

It’s not the principle of re-branding that should be the subject of media and public outcry. The real issue to debate here is why so many significant businesses settle for mediocre solutions when something so much better was not only possible but required.

First published on The Crossed Cow, 7 January 2011.