How Can Brands Remain Relevant?

Medium Read

Getting your brand positioned correctly (strategy) and then looking (visual identity), talking (verbal identity) and walking! (the rebrand roll out) is a big investment of both time and money. The investment, when done right, will allow you to access new markets, grow your brand fans, retain or attract great staff and grab market and wallet share. Key to any new rebranding launch is to ensure that what has been created can remain relevant for as long as possible, the last thing you want as a business is a total rebrand every 3 years! We can’t predict the future, but we can provide some clear pointers to keep in mind before and during your rebrand to ensure longevity is embedded. The strongest brands seem to move seamlessly across both traditional and digital channels while staying true to their brand purpose, so how can you do that too. The first step when you’re going through a rebrand is always to keep this question in mind: “What will our end-user connect with beyond today?”

The strategic foundation

Core to longevity is starting with the central brand strategy for your business; ensuring your brand is positioned correctly is a critical aspect. Once you have agreed and established your brand strategy, be open for this flexing over time. The interpretation of the brand strategy might change, the wording and the visual identity that reflects it might even change – but the sentiment shouldn’t.  

Lets look at a successful longstanding brand as an example. Outdoor clothing giant Patagonia, is an American billion-dollar retailer founded in 1973. Patagonia operates stores in more than ten countries globally and is heralded as one of the worlds best-loved brands for being true to its brand strategy – and applying it consistently over time.

Patagonia’s mission was to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Their business has taken many forms over the years, from a pure mountaineering gear company to a now (to their surprise) fashionable outdoor clothing brand. However, their core brand mission has always remained central and relevant to who they are and their customers. Even the mission statement has had refinement in recent years, and it now reads simply, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” The copy has changed, but the sentiment hasn’t. 

The business consistently demonstrates its brand strategy by putting the planet ahead of profits, in part by telling customers to “buy less” and repair their Patagonia clothes for free. It’s a bold mission statement that, purposely or by happy coincidence, has resulted in tremendous growth for the company. 

Don’t be afraid of a name change

If you find that there is a strategic rationale of why you need to evolve or change your name don’t be afraid to do it. Even ‘Google’ started out as being named ‘Backrub’ 

Changing your name and logo can make sense and be the right thing to do if you have a strong rationale aligned to your positioning. No matter your size it is possible to do this successfully, and global brands can do it too. In January 2019, Dunkin’ Donuts changed its name to Dunkin’, to reflect their increasing emphasis on coffee and other drinks as well as sandwiches not just doughnuts. By removing the limitation of doughnuts from their name, Dunkin’ became a more flexible master brand system to accommodate any future ventures and disconnected it from the perception of being a doughnut-first brand.


Focus on the end-user

In agency land you’ll hear ‘end-user’ a lot. End-user is a catch-all term for; customer, consumer, user or audience. They are the people who purchase or consume the services or products. They can’t resell the product or service they purchase. For example, a retailer who resells your product is not an end user.

Numerous studies have shown that the emotional connection to a brand far outweighs any other rational factors in purchasing behaviour. Therefore brands need to keep in touch with their end-users needs in order to remain relevant and this lesson extends beyond brand and marketing and into product too. 

A good example of this not being done in the past is the music industry. As a whole, they failed to understand their reasons for success properly; they lost focus and ignored the end-users in this case consumers’ love for music in favour of their retailers. As Steve Jobs pointed out “The music industry thought their customer was Tower Records or Virgin MegaStore…but it never was. Those were their distribution channels. The actual customer is the person who consumes the music.” This understanding and connection Jobs had with the end-user led to the creation of iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone and so on.

To help identify your end users, setting out a set of audience personas can help businesses identify whom they should focus on. Once the end-user has been identified, it’s easier to hone in on how to connect with them with your brand, how it’s positioned, and how that’s communicated across multiple channels.


Confident use of visual trends

Fashions change, we’re not walking around dressed from the 1950’s and neither should your brand! Often, to connect with its end-users, brands need to look modern and relevant, and as an agency, this is where we help most of our clients. It is essential to be aware of trends but not to embrace them too heavily when creating a distinct visual identity to ensure longevity. 

We often see whole sectors mimicking each other. This always starts with a disruptor changing how their visual identity appears, usually impacting the rest of the industry’s market share. Before long, eveyone looks the same, so the brand needs to evolve again – often drawing from it’s heritage. The most recent example of this was Burberry’s rebrand in 2023 in which the brand has gone full circle. 

Of course, innovation trends should be embraced when it comes to packaging for example, sustainability or digital design products have only been improved by the trend of accessibility that has now become a core requirement. But for a visual and verbal identity, make sure that you look beyond what is seen as on trend right now to avoid creating a copy-cat brand.

To summarise…

Start with the mindset that your business will need to stay relevant beyond the present day, and don’t be afraid to adapt and flex your brand. What you create today will likely have a 8-10 year window of relevancy and yes core items will remain but other areas will likely need to be updated to feel modern and relevant to your target audiences. Make sure your strategy is solid – the most famous brands in the world really know what they stand for and make sure their brand connects by applying this consistently. Look out for any graphic design ‘trends’ that are happening in your sector and make sure you don’t fall into the trap of creating a copy-cat brand of a competitor. To truely stand out its about understanding your audience, what you stand for and visually zagging when others zig!