Successful rebranding goes beyond aesthetics and coming up with a new logo to appear fresh and relevant in the ever-changing world. First of all, it should solve problems that the brand is currently facing.
In the world of information overload and short attention spans, it can be tempting to “shed an old skin” just to create a newsworthy event and bask in public’s attention, if only for a few seconds. Maybe even make a viral splash in social media and become known to more people!
These are some nice additional benefits, yet they must not be the core elements that drive the rebranding.
This story focuses on three cases of rebranding done right and the problems it helped to solve. More importantly, I will analyze how exactly it was done visually and what mechanisms brands leveraged to elicit the desired response in their customers.
Great Western Railway
This British railway operating company is a great example of how history can repeat itself in a good way. The old logo and overall design were conceived in 1998 when Great Western became part of the FirstGroup family.
The color scheme and the logo were shared with other services such as First Bus and First TransPennine Express, so it had little to do with the essence and history of Great Western Railways that dates back to the 1830s when the original tracks were laid.
In fact, the old logo together with the wordmark would look more natural on the side of an airplane. On second thought, it wasn’t even conveying the basic idea of travel. For a foreigner, it might as well sound like a bank.
No wonder, this branding didn’t age well! The old design was dated, cluttered, and, some experts claim, even cheap looking. The train livery under the old design flaunted fluorescent blue and pink swirls – something that screamed, “I used to be modern twenty years ago”.
Therefore, they tapped into their history in search of classy timelessness.
They ditched the “First” and added “Railway”, becoming once again the Great Western Railway, a company that imprinted on British culture and even art.
The new logo is a reiteration of a vintage monogram that company throughout the twentieth century. It appears as a plain silver painted on the side of cars, but for the engines, they’ve made metalwork plates seemingly attached by the rivets – a neat throwback to the age of industrial revolution.
This way they’ve highlighted the ties to the age of steam when the railway was a cutting-edge technology and a posh experience. However, reconnecting with their heritage, they were also very aware of the modern connotations, so they tried to invoke things that represent “Britishness” in the world.
You can get some Edwardian vibe (a period popularized by costume dramas such as Downton Abbey) and even some magically flavored Harry Potter franchise influences (that W could easily stand for “witchcraft and wizardry” being welded on the side of the red steam engine).
The new logo looks stately. It is reminiscent of regal monograms of the past (VR, GvR), with the W standing out as a crown. But it is also modern and energetic, the big W can be read as a pulse line – for unstoppable life, heartbeat, echoing steady beats of wheels on the tracks. Alternatively, it can be lightning – for speed and pure energy.
It can also be seen as rail tracks crossing and leading in various directions from the station. This time logo proudly declares “railways” not only with the letter “R” in it but with the whole look and the associations it conjures.
Simple and elegant dark green livery might look a bit military, but in the overall look of the station, compartment seats, and timetable guides they have used brighter green to signify growth, the freshness of the new design and hope for prosperous future of the brand.
In fact, choosing a calming green over the stimulating pink deserves additional mentioning. It was very appropriate – UK railway network is very dense and overcrowded, trains often get delayed and as result, overbooked, so the last thing fuming customers need is outrageous magenta all around them.
More often than not, such mishaps are outside of service provider control, so every little bit helps. Even such little bit as reserved colors for brand identity.
Unsplash is a well-established stock photography sharing site. The previous logo of Unsplash was as low-key and minimalistic as it can get, or so we thought.
The creators of the service wanted it to look inconspicuous, so they went with the simple black camera icon to create a distraction-free space where all the attention goes to photos themselves.
The problem with it was that it was a wee bit too inconspicuous. One could not tell the difference between the logo and a generic camera icon found anywhere else (see Google image search, Instagram “make a photo” icon, etc.)
Essentially, it looked anything like a logo only paired with the brand name. Without one, it didn’t say anything, undermining any logo’s very purpose – to be distinctive.
On the screenshot below, you can see it for yourself. The logo is in the upper left corner, next to the search bar, while the wordmark is placed beneath the said bar. The logo does not look like a logo at all. If anything, it looks like a “Search by image” option akin to the one Google has.
This needed to be addressed, hence the logo redesign.
The new one is still a camera, only even more abstract. You can see a highly schematic one with white space for the lens. Alternatively, it can be a camera viewed from the top with a dark block as a kit lens. This logo wins for many reasons.
Yet most importantly, it is open to interpretations.
However, unlike the controversial Airbnb logo that made quite a stir four years ago, each interpretation has something to do with the service and hence is very apt.
Apart from a camera, one can see the logo representing an image being chosen from a selection of images, or, in reverse, an image falling into place to fill the gap and complete a website/project/publication, another association being pixels that constitute a digital image.
There is also the shape of the letter U as a subtle nod to the brand name. Some people also claim their first thought was of a person holding their arms up as a sign of cheer or gratitude. One comment from the photographer was that new logo reminded him of a shutter button that he was compelled to push.
The symbol is also reminiscent of the upload/download icon. There is also a drop and a splash it makes – another win for Unsplash. The list can go on and on.
This polysemy was quite intentional and might be the essential component of the logo’s success. The human brain is wired to find pleasure in pattern recognition (that why we like, among other things, to watch the clouds and assign meaning to random forms they take).
Humans find it strangely satisfying to create order from chaos and make sense of the world, explaining something that is not quite clear.
Hence, the logo that invites your brain to play with it, decipher it, and offers more than one right answer is attention-grabbing and pleasing.
Unsplash is no longer invisible and they can even drop the wordmark in the future without becoming unrecognizable. After all, that is a sign of success and every brand’s ambition.
Another total revamp on this list is a paper writing service PaperHelp. Their logo wasn’t as much changed as tweaked a bit to reflect new colors. The bold white “P” inside a vivid-colored square was a good solution for various screens and media, so they left it almost as is, with necessary corrections to the new color scheme.
However, the overall website design was changed dramatically. Colors are the key to this one.
Once again, the old one was okay but too generic. Inviting, extroverted, and mildly stimulating hues of orange-y yellow, a smiling crowd of youths and girls, wearing backpacks and hugging their books – it explained for whom the service existed and conveyed a certain warm ambiance, yet hardly created an identity as such.
It could be a college official page, it could be a student loan landing on a banking site, it could be a volunteer organization encouraging younger demographics to take part. Nice, but lacking personality.
That is why the choice of colors and imagery for the revamp was centered around the new philosophy of the brand: helping students in achieving their long-term goals by removing some of the tedious short-term hustle.
While yellow is associated with intellect, happiness, and extroversion, purple is associated with wisdom, imagination, and introversion, so new colors shift the accent from the now to the future. Instead of simply helping students to improve their grades, the service invites them to contemplate what is important for their future and offers to remove the obstacles on the way to that vision.
For this reason, the new site design uses the purple color scheme to convey the sense of wonder and creativity. It is also space-themed, prompting customers to reach for the stars. To reinforce this idea they have also added a mascot – an astronaut that surfs the Galaxy.
The mascot, however, does not act as a spokesperson for a brand. It is rather a figure for customers to identify with. For this very reason, apparently, the character is faceless – either turned away from the viewers or facing them with the visor down – anyone can picture oneself in the astronaut’s place.
If anything, a brand is represented by a rocket that brings the clients safely to the target destination (some kind of wormhole shortcut comes to mind and plays well into the whole “shooting for the stars” and “imagining future” thing).
New design helped the brand to find its personality – a supportive ally to their customers who cares about their future. Today, when many students are insecure about life after graduation, this sounds like a smart move. The brand has also achieved what it was striving for – became unique.
Make it work for your brand
If you are trying to make your brand memorable, either through rebranding or creating it from scratch, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Do not disperse your efforts. Remember about the pains of your customers, but try to address the main one, the underlying one, THE pain. GRW’s customers wanted to travel with dignity, wanted some value for their money. They got the sense of being a part of a proud tradition. Unsplash attracts people that need images as the last piece of a puzzle for their projects – Unsplash put the promise to solve that implicitly into the logo. PaperHelp’s customers are anxious about their future – the brand reassures them through color scheme and visual scenarios.
- Be unique. Brands often use some tried techniques that definitely will work. Red color for fast-food brands, arrows for transport and delivery, images of people for services and communication. Yet the success of GRW, Unsplash, and PaperHelp came from rejecting those template solutions and adopting something that will make them stand out among similar brands.
- Remember that your logo and colors won’t exist in the vacuum. Always keep in mind where your customer will come in contact with them: on a smartphone screen, on a desktop, on a roadside sign? GRW’s old brand name and logo were too cumbersome – you hardly had time to read something this long when in a hurry to catch a train. The new one is laconic. Unsplash’s old logo taken out of context meant nothing, but the new one can be used on merchandise without the wordmark and still be informative. PaperHelp’s logo practically is the ready-made icon for an app – easily identifiable and unlikely to be mistaken for something else (cue PayPal vs. Pandora case).
- Use neuromarketing tricks. They are the shortcuts in communication between your brand and your customers. GRW used color to appease. Unsplash leveraged our brain’s partiality to visual riddles. PaperHelp deliberately made a universal mascot that can stand as an alias for any customer, thus making it individual and inclusive at the same time.
Means, not ends
Some brands, like Unsplash, tweak logos to make them more recognizable yet stay true to their philosophy and identity. Some, like Great Western, reconnect with their heritage and shed superfluous details that were passing fads, while some, like PaperHelp, redefine themselves and seek their new identity.
Whatever the case with your brand is, always remember what you are trying to achieve through this tinkering with your public image.
What are the challenges? What are the goals for the future? Defining those will save you time, money, and in some cases, lots of embarrassment.
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