Rebrand. Brand Refinement. Brand Refresh. Wait…what’s the difference?

Scott Rippe| Branding | February 2, 2024
2 minutes

Rebrand. Brand Refinement. Brand Refresh. Wait…what’s the difference?

Let’s start with the most work-intensive of these: the rebrand. A rebrand is a starting-from-scratch approach to your entire business model, and it should be considered only if you have negative brand equity.

What does that mean? It means you’ve communicated an experiential promise that you cannot consistently deliver – so the consumer expectation and the actual experience do not align. If you drove through Culver’s 10 times, and 7 of those times, you were handed a big bag of food without parking, you’d grow suspicious of that “made to order” promise. As you should. And then let’s multiply that experience by hundreds of transactions per store per day, and in no time at all, that central component of the Culver’s brand would collapse, creating negative equity.

Over-promising is a key symptom of negative equity. Brands love trotting out superlatives that set lofty expectations – “best” this, “#1” at that, “100% satisfaction guaranteed.” These are great ways to set yourself up for failure in a way that eventually will require a rebrand.

And so, rebrands are, by necessity, inside-out endeavors. You start by assessing the business model, operations, experiential delivery, competitive differentiation and your brand promises – and then you decide what name and logo to throw on all that.

By contrast, a brand refinement should be considered when you are losing competitive ground. Your name and logo and core messaging still have positive equity, but perhaps you’re losing in key areas that consumers or clients value – product innovation, relationship development, voice of the customer strategies, speed, payment methods, customer service. All of these (and more) create an opportunity to build on existing brand value by making new promises – and backfilling the operations required to deliver on them. Consider brand refinement a good-to-great endeavor that has much more to do with meeting expectations and crafting authentic messaging than it does with your company name or your logo or your slogan.

Finally, a brand refresh is the smallest of lifts, but will require you to stand in front of the mirror naked and assess what you see. A brand refresh is appropriate when you’re simply stale, outdated, old and musty. Your website is in Times New Roman and your color palette is forest green – like, that kind of outdated. A solid brand refresh requires a little consumer research and a cosmetic contemporizing of your overall look and feel – much like Buick has been trying to do for decades on end.

So, which of these is right for your company?

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