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Focusing on Successful Rebranding

Stephen Biernacki

Starbucks, without question, is one of the most successful brands on the planet. If they unveil a new logo, you’re probably going to pay attention. That’s exactly what they did yesterday. Whether articles or comments on Twitter, most of what I’ve read so far about the change hasn’t been positive.

From my experience, deserved or not, this is an all too common reaction whenever a well-known entity makes a significant change. People are extremely quick to criticize without diving deeper. I think many rebranding/logo changes are viewed this way because the thought of changing something that has a history of being so successful and identifiable can be a difficult pill to swallow. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

Well, in the case of Starbucks, I believe the change makes a whole lot of sense considering their forward-thinking stance. Strategically, they certainly seem to have a full understanding of what they’re doing. This short quote from Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz tells the story:

“Even though we have been and always will be a coffee company and retailer, it’s possible we’ll have other products with our name on it and no coffee in it.”

They’re looking ahead, not back. There’s a well-thought out, strategic reason that they’re making the change. Their vision is not one that is short term, but one that has and will keep the long haul in mind. And as you’d expect, most brands (including institutions), think this way before undertaking a major visual change. Unfortunately, this is something the public eye doesn’t take into consideration before quickly offering their criticism.

Rebranding Examples
On the hunt for respected and/or successful rebranding efforts, I discovered that the company Rebrand does a great job compiling a list. The website has an enormous amount of examples and is a useful resource to see what other companies have done. For the most recent display of impressive rebranding efforts, check out the 2010 Global Awards Showcase. Another resource is Brand New, specifically, their Best and Worst Identities of 2010 (via @daviddjohnston). In comparing the best and worst brands, according to the resources above, I know that I’ve read and seen more coverage on Gap, United/Continental, and iTunes (“the worst”) than all of the best examples combined. I believe many times, the most excellent of rebranding efforts come to fruition without a whole lot of widespread fanfare.

It’s important to note that an entity’s brand and graphical identity are separate from one another. Where a graphical identity refers to visual elements, the brand is more of the heart and soul of the branding efforts. In many cases, the graphical identity is what people grasp, thus, being a well-known and integral part of the brand.

A question for the higher ed marketing community: have you heard of Mount Royal University out of Canada? A newly turned university from college, their new stature warranted a new look and feel. While Mount Royal’s rebranding effort doesn’t compare to the hoopla surrounding Drake’s D+ campaign, it has received rave reviews and mostly positive feedback. While early feedback is not always accurate in predicting eventual success and its true long-term value, all signs point to a step in the right direction.

Another higher ed example is Macquarie University in Australia. Check out Rebrand’s profile which includes before and after shots, and brief insight into the strategy behind the change. Interestingly, Macquarie reached out to stakeholders to help define their brand, compiled insight onto a website, which helped formulate which eventually came to be the new look.

So what are your favorite corporate or higher education rebranding efforts of the past year? What about the past decade? If a rebranding effort really struck a chord with you, let us know in the comments!

2 Replies to “Focusing on Successful Rebranding”

  1. I haven’t bought in to Starbucks rebrand yet, but I’ll give it (and myself) some time. Checked out Rebrand’s list and was very happy to find my favorite rebranding effort on there–Wal Mart. I remember when they first revealed the change–what a backlash. But, I love how it has worked out for them. Thanks for the reminder to “give it some time.”

  2. I’m glad your post included this qualifier: “It’s important to note that an entity’s brand and graphical identity are separate from one another.” That is true (although I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are altogether “separate”). Rebrand’s analysis of identities focuses heavily on the visuals, not the brand essence. This was a subject I tried to grapple with on my blog recently. It’s getting more difficult to separate brand essence from graphic/visual identity. Maybe that’s a good thing.

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