14th January 2022

Rebranding vs brand refresh?

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Nikki Taylor

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It's time to take a long hard look at your brand, but what does this mean for your business and its customers? There are several ways to approach branding projects and many outputs that can succeed. Let’s take a look at two options that might suit your business and the challenges it faces.

When considering undertaking a branding project, it is key that the stakeholders and agency team understand the current brand. That involves analysing how it is perceived in the market, ensuring that any work undertaken will support achieving the business objectives and ensuring the brand is perceived as planned as it performs for its target audience. A brand strategy session is a great place to start, and this takes place long before any language or visual identity. It helps form your brand values that will support a complete rebrand or a brand refresh.

What’s the difference between a rebrand and a brand refresh?

These terms have become like marketing buzzwords in recent years, thrown around with no clear definition between them. The differences can be lost and not communicated clearly to those outside the design and marketing world. Businesses are ever-changing and evolving to fit into the current market and trends, but is this evolution a rebrand or a refresh?

The two terms may sound similar, but under the hood, they are two very different projects that come with different goals, require different efforts, timescales and budgets. A brand refresh is like giving your brand a makeover, that lick of paint or the long-overdue haircut. Whereas rebranding is a more profound change, where you need to get under the skin, strip back to the company’s DNA, pull apart what was and rebuild anew. In other words, rebranding is a much bigger undertaking and needs a lot of planning, energy and time.

What does rebranding mean?

To rebrand, you need to be ready for a complete overhaul of your company and its positioning. A rebranding exercise occurs typically when a company wants to shift its model, approach or aim for substantial growth. If your current brand is no longer suitable, then it's time to take on a rebrand.

A brand refresh is undertaken without much time, research or strategy; a rebrand requires a greater level of investment. With the proper research folding in both internal and external parties, understanding your broader brand strategy also delivers outputs that lead to a true definition of the brand positioning elements, such as your mission, vision, and values.

It's key to remember that a rebrand isn’t just what you see on paper; it’s not simply a new shiny logo or brand name either. It's everything that flows alongside the visual output - it lives in language, the way the brand speaks, the types of individuals it employs and the partnerships it makes.

“For the many business owners and marketers, a rebrand is a once-in-a-career project. It’s exciting, thought-provoking, and done correctly. It can truly reinvigorate a business. It’s also time-consuming and investment heavy, and it needs careful consideration.”

Lauren Swarbrick - Managing Director - Abstrakt

Rebrands tend to shout louder than brand refreshes. They are performed to make a statement and make partners, customers, and stakeholders take notice.

Why do companies rebrand?

There are two key areas to explore when looking into why taking on a rebranding project. For some, it is considered a “reactive rebrand.”

A reactive rebrand is where the business reacts to an immediate need to rebrand, and this might come in the form of needing to combat bad press or negative brand perception. Your company may be going through a buyout or merger and need to reposition itself to suit legal or market requirements. You may be reacting to a competitor's shift in the market: are they gaining traction, which you wish to combat? Or sadly, you could be violating trademark laws and need to shift position quickly.

The other rebranding strategy is seen as “proactive rebranding.”

Proactive rebranding is when a company is planning for the future. That may be planning for changes in the market or internal factors within the company itself. Taking a proactive approach enables companies to anticipate changes on the horizon and act to cater for these changes. It's a clear decision to take the business in a new direction. Several factors can contribute to a proactive rebrand. Perhaps the current strategy isn’t working or suitable for your target audience. The company may need to reach a new or completely different audience. Or it may be a historical factor deeming your current brand ineffective where the original branding exercises never included a brand philosophy or mission.

To support further, we’ve curated a handy list of the best examples of rebrands that have taken place over the last few years.

Rebrand examples

Burger King Rebrand

Just last year Burger King, in partnership with agency Jones Knowles Ritchie unveiled their revamped logo, packaging and uniform.

Burger king new

On the surface, looking simply at the creative output, it's difficult to understand why this falls under a rebrand. The name hasn’t changed; the brand is still recognisable. However, there is a significant shift in the positioning of the brand. It’s clear that behind the scenes, a great many hours of work have been poured into producing such a repositioning, not only visually but strategically too.

Uber Rebrand

Uber is a strong example of “reactive rebranding.” After being caught up in several media scandals, Uber launched a rebrand and visual identity designed by Wolff Olins. The aim was to shift the perception and focus to Accessibility and Safety of their transport.

Uber 2018 app icon before after

Wolff Olins states that with a new leadership team on the horizon at Uber, they supported the brand’s shift from a rideshare company to “a platform for global mobility.”

Rebranding vs brand refresh?

Airbnb Rebrand

In 2014, Airbnb unveiled a new brand identity as designed by DesignStudio, featuring a new colour palette, bespoke typography, and a fresh brand mark, named the 'bélo' - "belong anywhere."

Airbnb belong anywhere

The foundation behind the rebrand aimed to foster a greater sense of belonging. The brand seeks not to be bound by language, culture or location.

"The idea we finally settled on was creating a brand that anyone can draw, something that went beyond language and becomes a universal mark,"

James Greenfield - DesignStudio

What does it mean to do a brand refresh?

A brand refresh is that much-needed makeover or haircut. It’s that lick of paint needed to reinvigorate a brand rather than repositioning it all together. Usually, the focus lies within visual changes rather than the strategy piece that creates a complete rebranding project. While the core foundations of the brand remain the same, the visual output is given a modernisation. Unlike a full rebrand, a brand refresh sees the project move quicker, delivering the visual updates based on an already existing set of rules and requirements. A brand refresh is perfect for a company with an already solid strategy, story and vision.

The outputs of this brand refresh could be a slightly altered logo, the introduction of a new font, colour palette and supporting graphics and icons.

To support further, we’ve curated a handy list of the best examples of brand refresh projects that have taken place over the last few years.

Brand refresh examples

McDonald’s Brand Refresh

Hot on the heels of Burger King's rebrand, McDonald’s launched new packaging just a month later. Just a refresh here, though, no new logo because why would you mess with those golden arches? However, just like their fast-food rivals, they introduced bold illustration-led styling. They led with bright graphics and strong typography.

Mc Donalds rebrand

Heinz Brand Refresh

Heinz is a brand steeped in history with a strong personality known around the globe. For this reason, stepping away from what's comfortable and recognisable would not suit the brand or its audience. However, a bold and distinctive brand like Heinz can’t sit still; it must flex and move with the times. The brand refresh by Jones Knowles Ritchie explored ways of updating and modernising the brand without affecting its overall historical standing. The design was layered up and added to and created new and exciting elements that support the current brand and make a statement without a complete rebrand.

JKR Heinz

Google Brand Refresh

Back in 2015, Google announced a reorganisation of their company. This restructuring was a big move calling, of course, for a refresh of the design. This brand refresh ensured the logo was designed to align with the company’s broader product portfolio.

The rebrand introduced a more vibrant palette, new typography, new graphics, icons, and a brand new logo.

Google 2015 logo

What’s best for your business?

When it comes to taking on rebranding or brand refresh projects, many decisions and factors need to be considered. Ask yourself a few questions that might help define where your company is headed and what challenges it may face. That, coupled with the financial and time investment you are willing to put into the project, will support the initial focus.


Here at Abstrakt, we support you and your business along the way. Whether a complete rebrand or a refresh, get in touch with our team, who can get you started on this exciting journey today.

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