BRAND REFRESH OR FULL REBRAND? SHOULD YOU GO BIG OR GO HOME?

BRANDING

CONTENTS

16 min read

“Should we go for a brand refresh or full rebrand?”

Tell you what, while you decide that, I’ll go for a full face palm a la Captain Picard meme.

Rebranding a company is no easy task, but I’m sure you know that already.

Still, this question lingers, and lingers, and lingers.

“Are we just refreshing it? Or are we overhauling it? Can we just tighten it up here? Or should we scrap the whole thing and do it again?”

Here’s my advice:

If you can afford to, go for the full rebrand. Then why not?

Technically speaking, money is the only real barrier here. There are a few other things to consider, which is what this post is all about.

But:

Regardless of whether you decide to go for a small tweak, or a substantial change, you probably have a lot of branded collateral (swag, merchandise, promotional materials, or otherwise) that will all need to change too.

And whether that change is minor or major, it isn’t likely to dramatically impact the cost.

In this post where we explore the different routes you could take with your rebrand, we’re going to park the entire discussion around brand strategy and focus on brand identity only.

Simply because the concept of a brand refresh or full rebrand is easier to talk about when considering the visuals.

However, you have to keep in mind that there is your overall brand strategy to consider too. If that’s going to change, then plainly speaking, you’ll need to rebrand properly. A simple refresh likely won’t suffice.

Ready to dive in? Let’s get going.

What is a Brand Refresh?

When people talk about a brand refresh, what they typically mean is they want to give their logo a bit of a spruce up. A spring clean if you will.

Maybe there’s some small tweaks to the font and colours, and a bit of a tidy up to your branded stationery and sales templates, but that’s normally where it ends.

Typically, these are small visual adjustments made to course correct and make a brand seem like it hasn’t lost touch.

The brand strategy remains in place, as does the concept behind your visual brand identity.

A brand refresh could be summed up in 6 words:

“Keep the concept. Adjust the look.”

Essentially, you’re tidying your brand identity up a little.

Two brand designers working on branding concepts.

What is a Full Rebrand?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the full rebrand.

This could go 1 of 2 ways;

  1. You change everything- brand strategy, brand identity, website, marketing strategy
  2. You focus on just certain parts of it- maybe tighten the strategy but overhaul the identity etc

Either way, you’re not going in here to “tidy up a little bit.”

When you’re talking about a full rebrand, everything comes under scrutiny. In most cases, you’ll be throwing it all out and starting again.

Your logo? Gone. Your typography? Changed. Your colour palette? Reworked. The branded notebook you’ve used to compile notes on this very rebranding project? Hand it over, it’s time for it to take a long nap.

Essentially, you’re getting rid of it all and starting over. And along with that comes a big list of questions that you’ll need to be prepared to answer.

When you launch your company’s rebrand, you’re looking to make a huge splash!

Pros of a Brand Refresh

If a full rebrand is the more comprehensive option, then what are the advantages of a refresh rather than a rebrand?

First up:

It’s often easier to sell into the board. Why?

Because it comes in smaller chunks.

Imagine this scenario. Your CEO wants to know:

“How much is changing the brand going to cost us?”

“Well, first we’ll tidy up the identity, that’ll be around £5000.”

You nearly finish up the visual refresh, then start talking about the website, and there’s another smaller chunk of budget getting spent.

It’s an easier pill to swallow than:

“Yeah, it’s going to be expensive. Probably £20-30k.”

And for all it’s completely counterintuitive and far less effective to work in smaller chunks like this, it can make getting that all important gold tick from the higher ups just a little bit easier.

The irony is, because you’re working with an agency over lots of smaller projects, there’s no economy of scale and you probably end up spending more than you would doing it in small chunks.

A key stakeholder to consider when opting for a brand refresh is your customers.

If you’re modernising your brand and only nudging it forward slightly, you’re far less likely to alienate your customers. It’s not a huge change, and could almost be positioned as a “growing up” of the brand, rather than a complete overhaul.

Also, if things are going well for the business, then you’re not changing too much. You’re taking small steps to make your identity work for where the business is now.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It actually becomes even more understandable if the business has a whole load of collateral, or a huge range of brand touchpoints, to deal with.

Take care homes for example:

They have a huge amount of physical touch points to consider. A care home chain with 20 or so homes would be in for a real shock to the financials if they decided to overhaul everything in one go.

Not only do you have the brand identity and website, but for each home, there could be a possibility of having to change;

  • Signage
  • Brochures
  • Welcome packs
  • Business cards
  • Photography
  • Uniforms

The list goes on and on. The likelihood is, you’ll want to take it slow and steady.

Embarking on a full overhaul of a care home brand and website is no easy task. Therefore, it would make sense to opt for the brand refresh approach.

Alternatively, if you’re making Scrooge McDuck-like snow angels in a pool of money, then ignore everything I’ve just said and move straight into a full rebrand.

Pros of a Full Rebrand

Now that we’ve covered off the pros of a brand refresh, let’s talk about the pros of fully rebranding your business.

A full rebrand gives the chance to reintroduce yourself to the world.

It’s probably the best option if you’re looking to target or engage with a new audience. It also allows you to move on from any problems you’ve had with your old brand.

Thinking specifically about your brand identity here, maybe:

  • Your logo was awkward to use on collateral
  • It also didn’t look great when scaled down for social media
  • All of your printed materials were dark and your printing bill was running into the thousands every month!

You get the chance to revisit every single thing about your brand when conducting your new brand audit.

A full rebrand of your company is a good chance to move away from everything that’s come before, only retaining the things you know work.

Something else it gives you is a chance to distance yourself from any problems from a PR or marketing standpoint that you may have had in the past.

Take Volkswagen for example:

They had a lot of bad press about cheating emissions tests back in 2015. They had a lot of work to do around rebuilding trust with their audience.

Once that exercise was complete, they stepped into a rebrand, with a huge renewed focus on electric vehicles and clean air policies.

Their rebrand allowed them to turn the brand on its head, opting for a lighter, more futuristic looking identity that helped reposition them as car manufacturers of the future. Specifically, by the end of 2025 they’re looking to have a range of at least 20 electric models.

And finally, there’s the effect that rebranding the business can have internally.

First of all:

You get a chance to sell everyone on the new brand vision, who you are, and where you’re going.

This can reinvigorate teams with a palpable buzz. You get to do the ceremonial burning of the business cards, crack open some beers, and celebrate as you re-announce your presence on the world stage.

Sounds trivial?

Sure, but misalignment and mixed messaging across companies can go unnoticed for years. A realignment through rebranding can have sweeping positive effects on your company.

And, to top it all off, the cost of a full rebrand can often be comparable to the cost of a brand refresh anyway.

Even if the numbers aren’t that similar, if you look at the value you’re likely to get out of the full rebranding exercise, it’s often better value for money.

Cons of a Brand Refresh

The easiest way to write about the cons of a brand refresh, would be to take all of the pros of a full rebrand, and make the counterpoints.

But that wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog post. So, take the pros of a full rebrand, and reimagine them as a con. But also, consider the following:

If you opt for a refresh instead of the complete overhaul, you only have half a chance to announce it to the world again.

It’s more party popper than explosive firework display. Why?

Again looking purely at the visuals, imagine this:

“We’ve refreshed our identity. It’s all a bit tighter, a bit nicer, a bit easier to use.”

“What’s changed?”

“…”

It’s not the same as “Boom! We’ve rebranded, check out our new everything.”

It can actually look like you’ve done half a job on something that you should’ve fully steered into.

But, the next point, to me, is probably the most important of all.

As we’ve established, the investment level between refresh and full rebrand might not be that different. However, applying your new identity to all of your collateral will be an even closer match in terms of investment level.

Those glossy magazines you need? Refresh or rebrand, same price.

The new business cards for your 50 person team? Same price.

Sure, I’m speaking in generalistic terms here, and print finishes can have a knock on effect on the price – but still, whether it’s a slightly more refined identity, or a complete change in identity, you still have a lot of collateral to take care of.

Unless you’re not particularly specific about your brand (which you should be!) – then you’re not going to keep using your collateral until it runs out.

When the brand changes, you’ll change it. So either way, that’s an expense you need to factor in.

You’ll also miss out on a lot of the “Ooh, that’s new” factor that comes with a rebrand.

Just presenting new ideas, a new tone of voice, and a new face to your customers and clients can often be enough to elicit a positive reaction.

And again, that internal positivity you can capitalise on with a full rebrand just isn’t there when you’re having a quick tidy up or refresh.

In fact, it can be quite the opposite. If you’re modifying a few colours, font choices, or background patterns, it could be more of an annoyance than anything to your team.

Sales teams have to go change up their slide decks, finance will have to change up their invoices, the marketing department needs to change up all of their advertising, from print adverts to digital adverts.

And from their perspective, it could all seem like it’s for nothing.

Finally on the cons of a brand refresh:

If you realised something isn’t working, why not change it entirely?

If you know your current branding isn’t working for your organisation, then a few tweaks or a spring clean around the edges isn’t going to magically make it happen.

You could end up mounting problems on top of problems, then having to fully rebrand in a year or two anyway.

Two women sat at a desk with a laptop, talking and laughing

Cons of a Full Rebrand

A full rebrand will definitely be more time and labour intensive than a brand refresh.

There are a whole host of extra considerations to make including:

  • Which branding agency are we going to work with?
  • Who’s going to manage the project internally?
  • How are we positioning the brand moving forward?

It’s just a much bigger job. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re already time poor, you should know that before diving in.

There’s also a real possibility of alienating your existing customers, so you have to manage your communication around that effectively too.

Make sure you map your new personas effectively with our Customer Persona Worksheet.

When launching a rebrand, we recommend our clients launch (or sometimes pre-launch) with an email to existing customers that follows our RESET framework:

  • Reassures – let your customers know you’re making changes, but it’s for the better.
  • Explains – explain why you’re making the changes.
  • Sells – bring the benefits to the forefront and get your customers to buy in.
  • Essentials – give them the essentials and what it means to them.
  • Timely – announce the rebrand in a timely manner so it doesn’t just drip out with a whimper.

You can also get your existing client base drawn into the process by mentioning it to them beforehand, and getting them to keep an eye out for changes.

There are a lot of ways to manage engagement around your existing customers, but alienating them would certainly be a drawback!

Another concern is that of losing any brand equity you have in your current identity.

If your logo has become widely recognised, or you use it to produce merchandise etc, then you could stand to lose brand equity that way.

However, again, with a carefully managed process, that doesn’t have to be the case!

On that note, you also have to change all of your branded collateral from Day 0. You can’t go to market with any remnants of your existing brand hanging over you, or, you risk confusing your audience.

And finally:

What happens if you miss the mark altogether?

Without a professional agency running a comprehensive branding process, there’s every chance you could miss the mark with your rebrand altogether.

Choosing an agency isn’t an easy task, but stick to the basics:

Review their portfolios
Check out their testimonials and reach out to current clients
See how they communicate with you from the enquiry stage

We’ve got a whole post about choosing a rebranding agency coming soon – so remember to check back for that!

The risks are high but, when executed successfully, a full rebrand can reap rewards for years to come!

Who’s Done What? (Brand Refresh vs Full Rebrand Case Studies)

We’ve already touched on how Volkswagen changed their strategy and positioning with their rebrand. But which other brands have adopted which rebranding strategy?

Brand Refresh: Peugeot, Renault, Nissan, and BMW

In the last few years, a lot of car brands went a very similar way with their branding.

They cleaned up their logos and brand identities, to support the cleaning up of their brand strategy and carbon footprint.

They all stripped their identities back to basic lines and shapes, dropping dated looking shadows and gradients from their emblems.

A huge focus on electric vehicles and the automotive industry of the future is what drove the refreshed identities of some of the world’s largest car manufacturers.

Full Rebrand: Cadbury

The Cadbury rebrand was carried out by Bulletproof. And wow.

Sure, on the surface, it might look more like a refresh.

After all, the famous Cadbury purple was never ever going to change. Neither was it’s iconic “glass and a half” – but it did get a tidy up.

The rest of the identity however, was a complete change.

The script / signature logo became more refined. They introduced a sublime new textural pattern to the brand. The chocolate packaging all changed. And so did the advertising.

Check out the Rebrand Review on our YouTube channel to see more.

Burger King Rebrand

Somewhere in Between: Burger King

Make no mistake, Burger King’s marketing team are one of the best on the planet.

From hiding McDonalds’ burgers behind Whoppers in photoshoots, to letting customers order free meals using McDonalds’ wifi – they’re playing in a league of their own.

Back in early 2021, London based Jones Knowles Ritchie got their claws into the Burger King’s brand. And my oh my did they deliver.

In terms of brand identity, it’s a complete overhaul for Burger King. But also, it’s not.

They reintroduced a visual and concept that had been ditched by the brand way back in 1999, but gave it a 21st century twist.

The new identity is a throwback to a simpler time and serves up a great nostalgia kick for all the 80s kids on the block!

A juicy new font, beautiful colour palette, and perfectly executed illustrations make Burger King’s new/refreshed look one of the most well received rebrands of all time.

Brand Refresh or Full Rebrand? Should You Go Big or Go Home?

Like I said at the start of this post:

If you have the marketing budget to work with, or you’re solving for a real problem, then the likelihood is a full rebrand is the way to go.

If you’re just looking to give your identity a little bit of a freshen up, then the brand refresh is your best option.

Everything with branding and rebranding always comes back to your goals and objectives.

Changing the colour of your logo from blue to lighter blue isn’t going to help propel your brand past a huge PR disaster. That’s going to need a more comprehensive rebranding approach.

On the flip side, if you just want to inject life into something that’s looking a little tired, then you probably don’t need to go in all guns blazing. Often a new piece of marketing collateral or a bit of a website reshuffle can do it.

And remember:

If Burberry can successfully reposition their brand as high end fashion after pivoting away from the links with gang violence in the early 2000s, then you can certainly use rebranding to sell more widgets.

So, will it be brand refresh or full rebrand? Let us know in the comments below.

And, if you’re ready to get started with your rebranding project – get in touch with us to start your project.