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The essential guide to rebranding

The essential guide to rebranding Paul Jacobs

A rebranding is disruptive -- both to your consumers and to your internal stakeholders. The disruption can be good or bad, and determining when is the right time or how to pull it off can be tough. Having undergone a major overhaul at StudentUniverse earlier this year, we've learned a lot that's worth sharing.

Have a good reason

Companies should create a consistent identity that is easily recognizable, but should re-evaluate when things get stale or if brand sentiment changes. If your company has recently changed its name, launched a new product or product line, or a developed a new web experience, then these would all be natural events to time a rebrand around. We timed our rebranding to coincide with a new site design and a new mobile app.

Kraft got it right when it launched the MiO liquid water enhancer a few years ago. The brand had a good reason to launch a new category: it had not done so in 25 years and it was time for a new, innovative product. The efforts paid off -- in just over a year, it had reached $100 million in sales.

It shouldn't be overlooked that a rebrand can be an expensive proposition. From the logo on the door, to the business cards, to letterhead, to automated emails, etc., there is a lot to rebrand. With so much collateral on the table to rebrand, you need to make sure it's worth the investment.

Do your due diligence

Before you change anything, you should take a step back and see how your customers, employees, and the general public feel about your current brand. There are a lot of ways to do this: internally through office brainstorms, with external stakeholders through focus groups, surveys, via message boards, and social media. During the course of these conversations, you should also gauge how your brand needs to evolve (if at all) to continue meeting the needs of your stakeholders. If your rebrand includes changes to your logo or tagline, remember to look into trademarking.

Make sure your customer base can relate

Often, brands will completely overhaul their logo and brand identity without considering, or consulting, their users. Brands should be careful not to change an identity that their users feel connected to and relate to. We have found that focus groups are a great way to get a pulse from your users on how they view the proposed transition.

StudentUniverse's new icon is a reflection of our mission to make global experiences possible for young travelers. Dubbed the "crossroads," it represents freedom and choices, movement and travel. It signifies possibilities, beginning journeys, and learning from them. The crossroads was conceived from a reflection of our users (most of whom are college students) who inspire us with their stories every day.

Ultimately, the opinion of your target audience is the only one that really matters. If you love it, but they hate it, then it isn't the right identity for your company.


Consider modern design. Throw away dated styles, but make sure you don't implement something that will quickly become dated again. As you do, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it recognizable at a glance?

  • Does it look good on mobile? (Google's "New Multiscreen World" study indicates that 90 percent of all media consumption happens on a screen -- a full 38 percent of which is on smartphones alone.)

  • Is it quickly understandable what the brand does?

  • Does it look too generic, or like other brands? Be unique when being modern.

This article showcases 40 examples of brand logos in both their classic and modern forms. Some brand identities and logos stay relatively unchanged for a century (like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Ford, some of the world's most recognized brands) while others are nearly unrecognizable in their classic forms. Brands should iterate themselves over time to stay relevant, but should be wary of changing direction too frequently to ensure that they are not constantly trying to build recognition among their consumer base.

Your brand should tell your story

Identify your brand's aspirations. What do you want customers to believe about the brand? The logo is only a single piece of the equation. The brand elements -- logo, fonts, colors, images, layouts, and tone of voice -- should combine to tell a story.

A rebrand is about more than a new design.  It is great time to rethink the way you describe your company (both the message itself and the voice), what you do, and what your mission is. During our rebrand, we also wrote a new manifesto for employees, dressed them in new branded swag, and put up inspirational travel photos and phrases all over our offices to build our culture from the inside out.

Get departments on the same page

Brands are built from within. If all internal teams don't buy in, and have the chance to contribute, it will be an uphill battle to get the new branding accepted. A best practice is to have representatives from every department represented during the design stages.

During our rebrand, we brought full teams into discussions. Nearly everyone in the organization touched on some component of it. At various stages of development, we opened the floor to the entire company to provide feedback on the latest code and designs. It really improved our end product to have cross-functional collaboration on a large project. Once the new branding launches, it should be marketed internally to gain excitement company-wide.

When done the right way, branding exercises are a thorough reexamination of a company's identity. The process has the ability to create a more meaningful connection with the brand's stakeholders, but can also isolate users who connected more deeply with the brand before its evolution. It's a delicate process, but it's also an outward sign to both your stakeholders and your customers that you are invested in growing the company and providing a better service.

Paul Jacobs is vice president of marketing at StudentUniverse.

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Paul Jacobs is the Vice President of Marketing at StudentUniverse, the world’s leading travel booking service for students and youth. Paul is responsible for leading the global marketing strategy for StudentUniverse, which includes driving new...

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