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rebranding and restyling: what's the difference and when are they needed

The only constant in life is change, and brands are no exception. It is unlikely that there is any brand with a long history that has not gone through rebranding or restyling at least once — this is a natural process in a developing company when it becomes difficult to fit within the framework of the design or positioning that has been set.

Therefore, there comes a time when companies decide to update the image of their brand — to order a rebranding or restyling. However, the latter term is rarely even found in the list of services of branding agencies, which is why clients more often come with a request for rebranding. But in most cases, they still need restyling. In this article, our creative director Alexey Molchanov will talk about the difference between these concepts.

Rebranding ≠ Restyling

In fact, rebranding and restyling are fundamentally different concepts. It is one thing to completely change your positioning, message to the audience, and possibly even the mission of the company, and another thing is to change the logo, corporate colors, and possibly even the name. In the first case, we are changing the content, in the second — only the label. From this, the concepts of rebranding and restyling follow:

  • — Rebranding is a change in the ideological and image part of the brand.
  • — Restyling is an update of only the visual component of the brand.

But here's where the "dog is buried": restyling can be part of rebranding or it can be an independent process. This is where the confusion between the concepts comes from.

When is rebranding necessary?

Sberbank was not afraid to call itself Sber and stopped relying on its history, making other accents in its communication. Why do brands do this? Can't you just do branding once and forget about it?

No. Rebranding is the adaptation of a brand to changes in the market and the audience. And these are inevitable and independent processes from the brand. The goal of rebranding is to extend the life of a company or product.

So, rebranding is necessary when:

  • The brand communication is outdated. Let's remember how in 2021 "Beeline" updated its message and now uses "On Your Side" instead of "Live on the Bright Side". The company indicated that 16 years ago "Live on the Bright Side" was an incredibly relevant slogan, but now the race for endless coolness is driving people into depression. You should be who you are, not meet certain requirements. The company is interested in what the subscriber wants, it is ready to solve their problem, not make them "better".
  • The company has updated its product, recipe, or production technologies. After analyzing the needs of its audience, Alpen Gold milk chocolate now produces its product with a new recipe. Alpen Gold has become chocolate for those who want to live brightly every day and feel the real taste of life - they added more grated cocoa to its composition and changed its positioning.
  • The company's principles are unknown or little known to the audience. Initially, "Danissimo" curd snacks were positioned as a quick, nutritious, and convenient snack. But at some point, the brand had too many competitors and simply got lost on the store shelf. The company changed the rationality in its concept to emotionality - now "Danissimo" "helps distract from affairs and give oneself a moment of joy and pleasure".
  • The target audience profile has changed. For a long time, McDonald's was associated with obesity and unhealthy food. However, as the trend towards a healthy lifestyle, sports, and proper nutrition gained momentum, McDonald's changed its positioning to meet market needs: they started providing nutritional information such as the macronutrient composition of their dishes, advertising products with a maximum of 400 calories, and added more salads, yogurts, and fruits to their menu.
  • The company expands into new markets with different geography and culture. Pabst Blue Ribbon, which is an inexpensive and not very sophisticated beer typically bought by American students, completely changed its image when entering the Chinese market. The beer was renamed Blue Ribbon 1844, sold at a higher price point, and gained popularity due to the rise of craft drinks, which became popular among the middle class. To make the product look premium, the brand started bottling it in bottles more suitable for hard liquor.
  • The company expanded its range of products, updated its service or began to provide new services. In 2021, "Sitimobil" stopped being just a taxi service and became a "city mobility platform" that combined taxi, car sharing, and scooter rental. The company updated its application and identity: the checkers characteristic of taxis were removed from the logo, and the brand colors and fonts were changed.
  • The brand's reputation has been damaged. Before 2007, the airline S7 was called "Siberia". As a result of several plane crashes, passengers lost trust in the airline, and the number of consumers of its services decreased by 20%. The company changed almost everything - from the brand color, which became a bright green, to the name. The new name, however, is the code for "Siberia" in the International Air Transport Association, but passengers are unaware of this, so it does not evoke any negative associations.
  • The company has a new owner. The best example here is the much talked-about "departure" of McDonald's from Russia and its transformation into "Vkusno - i tochka" with a new business owner.

Rebranding is a long and complex process. Do not undertake it if you are not sure of its necessity, as the risks are high - you can lose recognition and loyalty of the audience.

When is a restyling needed?

Can new brand values be conveyed through graphics? Yes, but only in cases where the values have not changed. We cannot create an ultra-modern identity for the Hermitage in St. Petersburg without preparing the other elements within the brand for this. However, we can update its style, refreshing the typography or color scheme.

So restyling is necessary when:

  • The company's corporate style is outdated. BMW reduced the number of details in its logo, thus conveying a more modern approach in style. Through this restyling, the viewer understands that the company is developing and always keeping up with the times.
  • The identity distorts the company's positioning. A telling example of when a company clearly needs to replace its logo to match the associations of its brand is the New-York Taxi logo, which now makes you wonder if the city is really one of the world's cultural centers and if the yellow taxi is intended to take you to its most significant places.
  • The brand's visual strategy does not differentiate it well from competitors. Sberbank's rebranding was quite successful, except for one small detail - the green checkmark with a gradient blends the company's logo with dozens of other similar icons of mobile applications, which, although not competitors of the bank in terms of activities, definitely make the icon get lost in the row with the rest of the applications on the smartphone.
  • Corporate identity elements evoke negative associations. Seattle's Best Coffee, a subsidiary of Starbucks, has an extremely ambiguous logo. People see in it a smiley face with a tongue sticking out, bloody coffee, a tongue piercing - associations of users about everything except delicious coffee. This is especially incompatible with the brand, considering that the parent company has one of the brightest and most recognizable logos in the world - a mermaid surrounded by stars.
  • The high competition in the market forces companies to constantly come up with something new to maintain audience interest in their products. For example, the "Picnic" brand changed the packaging and logo of their chocolate bar, selected different colors, and as a result, increased their sales by 77%.

So, let's imagine a bottle with a well-known drink on the market: if you want to change the drink itself, you need a rebranding, if you want to replace the bottle, you need a restyling. Any service related to refreshing a brand starts with an assessment of the situation within the company. By setting a goal to convey new values to the audience, it is important to understand how serious the change in direction will be, as this will determine your choice - rebranding or restyling.

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