There are many reasons companies move to change their brand name or graphic identity. These changes range from the subtle like a modification in logo color to something more draconian like an entirely new company name. Invariably the decision to tinker with a brand identity rests on how the brand is perceived in the marketplace, and whether a refresh will enhance esteem and business.
Occasionally, companies re-brand for legal or PR reasons, as was the case when my former clients Anderson Consulting became Accenture and Philip Morris Companies morphed into Altria. In the last several weeks, three digital pioneers felt it necessary to futz with their brand identities. Google, Inc. was re-named Alphabet while Spotify and Twitter suddenly decided to deepen the colors of their iconic company logos.
Invariably, sudden brand changes, (i.e., those without advance warning) prompt a public response, and not always a positive one. In Spotify’s case, this Daily Mail piece, “It isn’t easy being green! Spotify’s change of hue provoked outrage on Twitter,” captured the public backlash.
— SpotifyCares (@SpotifyCares) August 25, 2015
From the Spotify design team:
“As much as we got used to the old “broccoli” green we felt that the dreary brand palette was desperate for an upgrade. It was time to give it a little refresh and make sure it goes well with our vibrant new color palette.”
As for Twitter, the company maintains a comprehensive brand assets page on its website, but doesn’t appear to have made a formal announcement around its logo color change. (Could it be because the company’s PR department is in flux?)
Not only did Twitter’s logo (for iOS devices) morph into a deeper blue, but its retweet button appears to have adopted the Spotify green color. I had a chance over the weekend to catch up with my old friend and colleague Allen Adamson, the North American chairman of the WPP-owned branding agency Landor Associates, which “creates some of the world’s strongest and most agile brands — brands that thrive on change.”
Here is how he viewed the changes at these three seminal Internet brands.
PH) Both Twitter and Spotify recently darkened the colors of their logos to a deeper blue and deeper green, respectively. Why?
AA) Deeper colors typically communicate strength/confidence. On a crowded smartphone screen, brighter colors work better. Also, given Twitter’s weak financial performance, going from baby blue to a more robust blue is subtle way to communicate strength and confidence.
PH) What kind of consumer research do you think was done prior to the changes being made?
AA) It’s unlikely either firm did much research on this change. Maybe they looked at several treatments in a before and after comparison.
PH) Does a deeper color typically imply a more established brand (versus the carefree nature of a startup)?
AA) Yes more established and traditional and well as bolder and more confident.
PH) Does a branding/graphic identity consultancy like Landor advise on the potential for consumer backlash (as was the case of Spotify and as yet TBD for Twitter)?
AA) Consumers never like change. Any change will get a negative reaction from some current users. The trick is to understand how “ upset “ current users will be and how many are really upset. Next is to understand if they don’t like it, what action will they take, e.g., a comment on social media or more. For any change, one needs to understand how current users will react to the change and try to also gauge the upside.
PH Does a change in brand ID more often than not indicate the brand has hit troubled waters?
AA) More often than not an ID change is linked to the need to tell the market something new about the brand. The exception being that strong brands often make deliberate identity evolutionary changes over time to keep their brand fresh and relevant rather wait so long that a more revolutionary change is required.
As for Google, Inc. to Alphabet, apparently, BMW owns the alphabet.com domain, so Google went with https://abc.xyz for its new web address. More significantly, building awareness for a newly named company can be costly, especially for a corporate parent with no previous name recognition.
Do you remember the new name of ING, that orange-paletted financial institution that sponsored the NYC Marathon for several years? (I thought not.) It has spent a pretty penny on TV advertising since making the change. At least Alphabet is an actual English word.
Landor’s Mr. Adamson is not optimistic that Google’s new parent Alphabet will rise to the level of ubiquitous awareness that its predecessor enjoys:
“I don’t think the Alphabet brand will ever get anywhere near the recognition of Google. Most corporate brands, especially holding company brands, are virtually invisible. Think Textron or United Technologies .”
It reminded me of something Allen’s ultimate boss WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said during a U.S. meeting of the company’s “tribe,” i.e., those responsible for communications at for WPP’s myriad “brands,” e.g. Y&R, Landor, JWT, Burson-Marsteller… He said something to the effect that the brands of WPP will always be front and center in terms of public awareness, and they rightfully ought to be.
Of course, being the New Yorker that I am, I piped in by suggesting that the WPP brand (Nasdaq: WPPGY) should in fact take precedence over the individual holding company brands for one, not unimportant constituency: investors. If my memory serves me well, Sir Martin shot me a look, but ultimately acquiesced on that point.
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