Brand refresh versus rebrand. What does your business need?

By James Scrivener, 19 April 2021 | 11 mins read

Your brand makes you stand out in the market and gives you an identity. It’s what customers look for and recognise, and represents your organisation’s values and personality. Given how hard your brand works, it deserves a little TLC. Even the biggest companies continually tweak their logos, slogans and brand positioning. The question is, how far do you want to go? Do you need a full rebrand or just a brand refresh? And what’s the difference, anyway?

Stat attack

Before we dive into the subject, here’s a reminder of why brands matter:

These are just two of many statistics that show the mighty power of brands. Apple, Google, McDonald’s: they’re recognised globally and familiar to billions of people. You might think that these brands are timeless and a constant in our lives, but closer inspection will reveal that they’ve changed over the years – some infinitesimally; others radically so.

Coca-Cola is a good case in point. Look at how the logo has evolved since its introduction in 1886.

But why do these mega-brands – or any brands – need to refresh or rebrand? After all, everyone knows them. So, what’s the point? Although the answer is different for every company, it comes to down to relevance: does the brand’s look and feel still represent the business or product accurately? Are they still in tune with the times?

It may be that the colours or font look dated, or the business wants to give a different impression. Look at how McDonald’s has changed its logo from red and yellow to green and yellow in Europe, to promote a more eco-friendly brand image. If your current brand fulfils or some of the following criteria, it may be that it’s time to refresh or rebrand – we’ll help you decide which in a minute.

Your brand…

  1. no longer reflects your organisation. Does your brand still represent who you are and what your company’s about? Is it modern? Does it suggest that you’re up to date with your industry?
  2. isn’t connecting. It’s not just companies that progress, people do too. Your target audience may not be the same as it was when you designed your brand.
  3. isn’t consistent. If you’ve altered elements of your brand frequently over the years, you may have weakened its impact A rebrand or refresh can set out a concrete look and feel so you can rebuild and re-connect with your customer base.
  4. is no longer fit for purpose. If you’re expanding into new areas with new customers, your brand may be obsolete. Mergers, new products, new directions: your brand may belong to a business that no longer exists.

Maverick Group – a case study

Point number 4 in that list used to apply to us.

Over the last 19 years, the Maverick business had transformed, developing nine separate services, including Production, Behavioural Insight, Design, Integrated Communications, Sports & Entertainment, and more. Thanks to this expansion, Maverick was a very different shape to when it started out. No wonder our brand didn’t fit: we’d outgrown it.

This realisation sparked a massive rebranding exercise, spanning our website, logo and our nine business areas. (Handily, one of them was our very own brand-building service, Electric.) Crucially, the rebrand encompassed our proposition, which changed to ‘Think Maverick’. Supported by a shiny new set of rules to guide the way we work, The Maverick Group was re-born, along with Flyno, the flying rhinoceros logo.

The rebrand was a gargantuan exercise but absolutely essential. Now, everything we do has to pass our test: “Yes, but is it Maverick?” Brave, agile and impactful is the only way forward here. Executive Creative Director, Jamie Bell, knows we made the right decision:


Our new group logo was a visualisation of the three things we promise to be - Brave, agile and impactful.” But an emblem counts for nothing if you don’t put in checks and balances that keep your feet to the flames. ‘But is it Maverick’ is our own benchmark, if the things that we produce are not Brave, Challenging or absolutely original they have no right to be called Maverick, and they have no place in our group. It’s a tough promise to live up to, but each and every one of us is up for the challenge.
Jamie Bell, Electric

Rebrand or refresh?

Maverick went through a full rebrand: everything changed – from our email signatures to the whole philosophy underpinning the business. However, your organisation may not need such a dramatic overhaul. A refresh may be enough. But let’s back up a bit. What’s the difference between the two?

Although the terms ‘rebrand’ and ‘refresh’ are often used interchangeably, they’re not the same thing at all. In short, a rebrand is far more extreme. If a refresh is changing your make-up, a rebrand is having cosmetic surgery.

A refresh is when you…

  • You update your logo or design
  • Change your colour palette
  • Modify your tagline
  • Change the font
  • Give a fresh look to your marketing collateral

A rebrand is when you…

  • Rethink your entire brand personality and identity
  • Transform your image
  • Change everything – from your values up

If you’re thinking refresh…

Think this is the way forward? You might be pleased to hear that the brand refresh process doesn’t have to be too complicated.

Do your research

As with any marketing project, you need to base your strategy on reliable data. How is your business viewed by the market? Why is it different? How can you change to stay relevant? At this point, a full brand audit may help. Work out what the refresh needs to achieve and how to achieve your goals. Don’t go any further until you’ve got this nailed down.

Check out the competition

Take a look at the marketplace and see what everyone’s doing. Which styles and trends are popular? What tone of voice resonates with the target audience? Check out fonts, logos, colours and design considerations too. Once you know the landscape, you can see how best to stand out.

Get a makeover

The visual identity is often at heart of a brand refresh. Make sure your new one is up to date, relevant to your market and in tune with your brand positioning. There’s a delicate balance between standing out and appearing a credible industry player. Don’t be afraid to play around until you find the right combination of visual elements: colours, fonts, photography, style and logo.

Look the part – and sound it

It’s no good updating your look if your tone of voice is stuck in the past. Make sure your brand voice changes too, so it fits with your new image. It needs to express your personality and tell your brand story. “Speak that I may see thee,” as Ben Johnson, 17th century brand guru, playwright, so wisely said.

If you’re thinking rebrand…

Beginning to think that the best course of action is to knock everything down and start again? If so, be aware that everything – and we mean everything – will need to be re-thought. You’ll need to go back to the drawing board and think about elements as fundamental as your name, proposition, logo, website and packaging. The key is to dig right down into your organisation’s reason for being. What are its aspirations? What makes it tick?

In most cases, this is the kicking-off point for the entire branding process. Make sure you’re clear about why a rebrand needed, because there’s a long road ahead.

As with a refresh, you need to start by doing your research. However, this time it needs to be more extensive. Look at your marketplace, your clients, where you want to be and any new segments you’re entering. Consult, crunch data and analyse. Get insights. And insights into the insights. Once you know the facts and figures, you can start to lay the foundations.

Identify your USP

You need to know what makes you *you*. How are you different from the competition? What’s your Unique Selling Point? Find it, refine it and build your brand around it.

Build your brand strategy

With acres of data and your trusty USP, you should be able to develop the architecture for your messaging. The way you communicate with your audience will be the base for your brand strategy, which will shape the perception that customers have of your business. The brand strategy will dovetail with your marketing strategy and inform everything, from your social media posts to your tagline. And that will lead you to…

Create your brand identity

This is the visual interpretation of your brand: the logo, slogan, font, colours and overall look. Once you’ve hammered it out, it needs to be applied consistently, across all assets, including:

  • headed paper
  • email signatures
  • business cards
  • website
  • marketing materials
  • signage
  • social media
  • internal templates

Unveil your new brand

It’s the big moment: your brand is ready to launch. You need to think about how you’ll unveil it to both the public and employees. Consider how you’ll explain the transformation and encourage people to embrace it. How will you reinforce it? How will you ensure it ‘takes’?

Success (and horror) stories

Done well, a rebrand or refresh can modernise, revitalise and attract new interest from consumers. It doesn’t have to be radical. Sometimes, a subtle approach can have the biggest impact.

This lovely example from Burger King is winning fans all round. Here, the agency has drawn on a retro, vintage vibe to create a fun, warm and authentic feel.

Of course, for every Burger King, there’s a Tropicana. In 2009, the world-famous fruit juice launched a new look – and the reaction ranged from puzzlement to hostility. It seems the new design was simply a step too far away from Tropicana’s well-known and much-loved packaging. The emotional bond was broken – and Tropicana sales dipped by 20%, or $30 million dollars. Less than two months later, Tropicana returned to its former packaging. In total, the rebranding cost the company over $50 million dollars.

Two years later, there was another major rebranding fail, this time for the UK Post Office. A new name ‘Consignia’ – the result of £2million corporate makeover – was roundly rejected by… pretty much everyone. The public, employees and even the new Chairman were united in their loathing. Sixteen months after Consignia was unveiled, the name was quietly dropped.

How long should a rebrand or refresh take?

So much depends on how big your organisation is and how thorough you want a rebrand or refresh to be. As we said before, rebranding is a far more complex, far-reaching process, so it will take longer than a refresh.

Having said that, a general rule of thumb is 3 to 4 months for a refresh and 6 to 8 months for a rebrand. The best bet is always is to get an estimate from your agency (and then add plenty of extra time… because the one thing that’s certain is that it ALWAYS take longer than planned.)

How much should a rebrand or refresh cost?

This isn’t what you want to hear… but how long is a piece of string? Your rebrand or refresh can be as thorough (and costly) as you want it to be. Major corporations spend the equivalent of the GDP of small countries getting their look and message just right. In 2000, BP paid £4.6 million to create a new logo and another £132 million to rebrand all their external images.

Unless you’re a similar mega-brand, your rebrand won’t even be in the same ball-park. Or even the same galaxy. But bear in mind it will need to cover everything from logo design to fresh copy to in-depth market research. In other words, it’s not something to be tackled with a grand or two that’s left over from the annual marketing budget. A rebrand or refresh is a commitment that needs to be planned carefully and seen through to the end. Otherwise, you could find yourself in brand limbo, with a half-implemented plan.

As you’ll have seen from some of the examples mentioned earlier, a failed rebranding can have serious consequences. Brands can spend years building up recognition and reputation – and have them destroyed by one ill-considered makeover. If you’re on the path to a refresh or rebrand, you need to take stock of what’s involved and plan carefully. Don’t be tempted to skip steps and get a new logo designed without doing the groundwork first.

The best way to give your brand a revamp is to ask people who’ve done it before. The kind who’ll give you good advice and walk you through the process. As it happens, we’ve got some specialists. Our colleagues at Mavis, our brand-experiential arm, Electric, our advertising unit, or Pulse, the strategy engine of the Maverick Group will be happy to help.