An apple. A swoosh. Two golden arches. They’re the brands so etched in our consciousness that most of us could draw them from memory. Behind most big brands though are huge organisations and countless people, so much so that the task of redesigning a mega-brand often brings with it more complexity than the fun of a clean slate. What to keep? What to throw away? How to maintain good will and loyalty while rejuvenating an existing brand for the future? There is more method than madness to answering these questions correctly, from logical decisions, good design flows. So here are some tips for how to make those big brands bang:
Get the scope right
“Finding the right design solution depends on first asking the right questions.”
Finding the right design solution depends on first asking the right questions. That’s why it is important to ensure a brand refresh meets all of a company’s demands, including the less obviously stated. Getting the brief right can entail analysing the context, market realities and audiences. It can involve understanding products and services, as well as a full audit of a company’s organisational structure, and resource and budget constraints. So when leading pharmaceuticals company, the Swiss Zur Rose Group needed to integrate many new sub-brands into a new European online brand, from our analysis, it became apparent that a whole brand ecosystem had to be created. The new brand DocMorris was the result.
Get the governance right
“There’s three things a big project will always need. Anticipation. Anticipation. Anticipation.”
There’s three things a big project will always need. Anticipation. Anticipation. Anticipation. Managing a big brand’s transformation is like helping a captain of an ocean liner change its course. It’s a big ship, and it’s anything but nimble. You need to map the context and understand the company, and plan possible courses of action in advance. You have to understand the possible consequences of the different plans and often budget them. You must know the company’s governance, the ship’s chain of command, so that you can allow approvals to find their path all the way to the top. Change can breed resistance, unless that is, you know how to take absolutely everyone for the ride. And you have to look far ahead and make your decisions in advance. The company has a big inertia –its brand direction needs to be clear and gather support– so that it has the time and the energy it needs to transform. When telecommunications provider Movistar merged with TV channel Canal+, to become the leading pay TV platform in Spain and Latin America, the rebrand wasn’t simply a question of inventing a spanking new visual identity. It meant making sense of two very different existing corporate cultures. The new brand resulted from an extensive consultation process with many key members of both companies so that a philosophical and executive transformation could occur.
Get the data right
“Know where you are before taking important steps.”
When transforming a big company’s brand, much is at stake. Jobs, purpose, survival even. Of course decisions are made with a vision, but they must be backed by data. Technology and data recollection points are important, but they must be aimed at conducting qualitative analysis to look into the company’s values and culture. Customers and stakeholders don’t know much about a company’s operation or its product design, but they understand perfectly what it stands for, and tend to produce their own narratives based on brand signals. Know where you are before taking important steps. Data is also a good way to work around the next important item: brand hypothesis.
Get the narrative right
“Get the narrative right, and the brand will follow.”
Some brands get so big over time, that a refresh becomes an opportunity to solidify and update the brand’s message, and its foundations. The Visa network, for instance, powers $11 trillion of commerce. Connecting 3.6 billion credentials, over 70 million merchant locations and tens of thousands of partners, its gold and blue stripe and four-letter logotype are already iconic. But after 60 years in the business, rebranding Visa meant clarifying what Visa stands for today, especially in the age of digital commerce. We added a human narrative to the values of security, reliability and convenience for which Visa’s brand resources are already known. Values like equality are at the core of Visa, but also deeply related to their current symbol. So this new narrative reenergized an existing idea. We optimised the brand symbol, the brand type and the signature colour palette for digital applications. We used photography, iconography and illustration, we made the story of Visa speak to the gig-worker, the online entrepreneur and big business alike. This is just an example of how key a narrative strategy is to transform a brand. And narrative is born from purpose and values. Without a clear vision for these, there is simply no brand. Through narrative, the symbolic elements are put in place so that the culture of a company can change. Get the narrative right, and the brand will follow.
Get the plan right
More and more, big brand transformation projects demand looking at the possible course of action. This does not just mean imagining what could happen. Through techniques of speculative design, hypotheses can be drawn. And more importantly, they can be tried out through qualitative testing, evaluated by brand teams and company executives, and budgeted for production repercussions. The use of prototypes to produce in depth analysis either of possible values, narratives or brand design have proven extremely helpful to set the right direction for the brand.
Get the implementation right
“The devil is in the detail, and a brand is only as good as how well it is applied.”
The devil is in the detail, and a brand is only as good as how well it is applied. And in the current mediascape that can mean literally thousands of applications. These days it takes more than a comprehensive style manual to make sure a big brand is properly implemented. In our experience there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving this. Many kinds of support and tools are needed to facilitate a smooth brand rollout. These depend on a company’s organisational structures, internal capacity, external partners and individual needs. Our rebrand of 150-year-old Spanish insurance leader Catalana Occidente involved the consolidation of 19,000 insurance brokers in more than 50 countries and a way to rationalise the acquisition of new local and regional brands. We not only provided a new clear brand architecture and modernised monogram but also a comprehensive brand guardianship programme and an internal brand launch. Paramount to all these support models is making sure all employees as brand ambassadors understand not just the what and how of brand changes but also why certain decisions and rules were made.
A successful mega-brand can and should make the task of design look easy. Remember though that meaningful design is not simply the trimming on the tree. It comes from asking the right questions, listening to the people involved and gathering the data insights. And from these, a whole team of brand experts and key company players must come up with a meaningful purpose which can translate into a narrative strategy. A big brand redesign requires method and logic, not to mention dialogue and trust. Meaning, method and experience will always take the ship safely to port.