Design

Boom or Bust: 5 Rebranding Strategies You Can Learn From Modern Companies

By romario ·  April 28, 2020

In April 2014, Airbnb applied a new rebranding strategy and made a wave around the tech-industry when the hospitality startup launched a new, minimalist logo dubbed as the ‘Belo’ — a chic, memorable logo resembling the fusion of letter ‘A’ and an inverted heart.

The initial reactions were mixed — some ridiculed the suggestive shape resembling a reproductive body part, while others lauded the simplicity and scalability. While the backlash didn’t take away the fact that the rebranded logo became easier on the eye and more versatile than before, it sparked a barrage of conversation and debate online. The change evoked strong, visceral reactions among design aficionados and kept people talking.

Airbnb branding
Courtesy of Airbnb

You can love it, you can despise it, but when a groundbreaking product with solid design culture like Airbnb took the flight and went for a radical facelift, it paid off in the long-run, and ultimately advocated the company as one of the most valuable brands today while still being a strong innovator in the tech industry.

It laid a cohesive foundation of what Airbnb values are, and pushed the brand narrative into the mainstream audience and heightened their digital presence online.

Rebranding strategy can build or break your brand. While giants like Airbnb and Google artfully evolved their visual system and product experience while embracing their values, others, like Welsh football club Cardiff City, saw cataclysmic outcome to the point it outraged their fans.

Cardiff City rebranding

Courtesy of Cardiff City

Acquired by the Malaysian-tycoon Vincent Tan in 2012, Cardiff City underwent a radical rebranding by ditching the historical blue kit & badge adopted since the 1900s, to bright red — a colour symbolising luck and prosperity in Asian culture. Condemned as being vehemently insensitive and compromising the club’s history for money, Tan reverted the kit back to classic blue in 2015.

Ultimately, whether you’re re-establishing a new brand opinion or scaling your product to a new untapped market, do your research, think about your existing audience, ponder about how it’ll affect your brand messaging, marketing strategy, and define a vision of what your rebranding aims to achieve.

It’s okay to explore outside of your comfort zone, be playfully polarising, and be bold in communicating your ideas, yet we shouldn’t abandon our brand ideology in the first place while being creatively relevant. After all, imagination is the most powerful thing human beings are capable of harnessing.

Nevertheless, here are 5 rebranding strategy examples that you can add into the mix when embarking on a journey to rejuvenate your business:

1. Always be authentic.

When Steve Jobs built Apple in the early days — the ideology behind the company vision was clear, until he was fired in 1985 due to a dispute with Apple Board of Directors. History changed course, since Jobs rejoined Apple 12 years later and saved the company from near bankruptcy.

Tailored by LA-based agency TBWA’s & their legendary creative director Lee Clow, the brand philosophy was realigned — moving away from tech-focused campaigns to messaging that revolved around fulfilling the dreams of the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers.

Until today, the seemingly humanist manifesto never changed. Tech jargons & product specs were never the key message in their ad campaigns because technology, at its’ core, are always evolving. Any company can create faster computers, better cameras and bigger screens given the time & budget — an ephemeral, variable competitive edge.

However, human emotion & our cravings to create, to build, to be the architect of this world, are hard-coded in our genetics. It’s undeniably, a constant of a lifetime.

“Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.”

– Steve Jobs

Apple may have undergone substantial changes throughout the years, particularly on their product side, as we see how iOS has evolved becoming more inclusive & accessible, but their beliefs, their principle and core values never changed. After all, when you “think different”, you think of Apple.

Takeaway:

Branding is one of the key reasons why Apple is what it is today – sophisticated, refined & exclusive. Like a person, without strong core values, culture, and business philosophy, no company will thrive in the era where credibility is more important than ever. By staying authentic & true to your values, you’ll attract the right audience, the right employees, the right investors and the right circle. Your brand is more than a logo, it’s the reason why you exist in the first place.

2. Be future-proof.

With over 3,7 billion searches every day and being the number two tech company on the planet,, Google has always been at the forefront of innovation, radical design thinking and engineering culture that values excellence in every single thing they do.

When Google decided to refresh their 16 years old logo and design system in 2015, the result was a cohesive visual evolution that complemented the design language, seamlessly complementing the pre-existing Material Design and consistent communication style that blended along with the product family. The sans-serif, geometric G retains the iconic playfulness across the applications.

Google is anything but conservative. It’s not a secret that Google has invested in their research and highlighted the importance of AI in their latest products – as reflected in Google Assistant, on how it will cater towards more complex, contextual human interaction, and how it’ll potentially change the way we interact with digital media.

https://design.google/library/evolving-google-identity/

The renewed brand system is more than just a visual revival – it was structured to prepare Google to enhance accessibility across different platforms, accommodate more mobile, conversational interactions while still being useful for their users. Google cultivated new behaviour and ways for users to interact with their brand experience, while paving innovative approaches on how brands can be treated as an instrument of change and fun.

Takeaway:

Think of how your design system and brand language will translate across different devices and touch points. Be coherent, not consistent. Stay relevant to your users by evolving your identity beyond design while still staying functional and helpful. As Darwin says, it is the one that is most adaptable to change that will survive.

3. Be Conversational.

Let’s face it — with the increasing number of independent content creators out there, the internet is becoming a much more competitive space for businesses, while also providing opportunities for anyone with the right tools and skills to excel. Gary Vaynerchuk once said that attention is the most valuable currency on the web, not impressions.

People, at its core, are social beings. We want to be heard, to have our opinions considered, and to stay connected in the most genuine ways possible. Gone are the days of pure traditional marketing where companies see customers as purely consumers, disregarding the fact that they could be their greatest asset and vehicle of growth.

Any modern brand will see the opportunity to be more intimate, personal and to create engaging experiences with customers to stay relevant and be universally inclusive across various channels. The proliferation of social media platforms in 2020 like TikTok and Instagram have as well opened up more opportunities for more creative messaging to attract millennials and Gen Z.

Spotify is one of the prime examples of conversational, quirky, yet most exciting brands for younger generations. Rebranded in 2015, Spotify introduced a polished brand mark, flashy marketing visuals and a major UI overhaul, alongside a strong product-market fit. They connected with the right audience and tailored their engagements across social media, user-generated content such as the Spotify Wrapped campaign, live concert at SXSW, cross-promotion with artists, and many more.

Spotify branding
Courtesy of Spotify.

“Our answer emerged directly from our strategic platform — when an individual makes a personal connection with a song, their reaction is to cry, cheer, scream, sing, jump, or get chills — or, as we phrased it, “burst” with emotion. Our identity graphically captured that moment.”

COLLINS

Having millennial founders undoubtedly helped – besides, who else understands us better than our own generation does? Simple, clear messaging allowed the brand to interact, listen and communicate what the millennial audience craved for. They wanted more control. They wanted music to beat to their own drum, not the other way around. The new Spotify resonated at the same wavelength and energy on both sides, and no other music streaming service managed to capture that vibe.

Takeaway:

Branding is a two-way street. If you want to be heard, you need to be authentic and listen to your audience. If you can tap into their potential, harness the audience by giving them what they want, and live the promise, paired with a strong product, your brand will be a darling of the media and the masses.

4. Know yourself & your competitors. 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As we’re facing a rapidly changing digital environment, there are stronger needs to truly understand what your core business is about and what kind of audience you are appealing to, and as everything around us changes, your business model needs to evolve too. Brand isn’t a religion where principles and rules are set in stone. If things don’t work out, change it. Be bold and embrace the new reality.

Let alone businesses that failed to understand their own strength; the unwillingness to change when your competitors are reshaping their marketing approach as time flies will indubitably impact your state of business in the future. History has repeatedly shown that companies that are inflexible and unwilling to embrace new tech, sooner or later, will cease to exist.

Blockbuster was a major player in entertainment rental during the 1990s — with over 9,000 brick-and-mortar stores spanned across North America and valued at over $3b at its peak. Interestingly, a lion share of their income came from charging late fees to customers. In fact, Blockbuster earned over $800m from late fees alone in 2000.

Also known as the ‘Redbox’s business model’, the notion of charging your customers as a result of negative feedback was never a sound business plan from the get-go. As more and more people started associating Blockbuster with late penalties, such relationships were severely impacted by strong negative emotions, or what we usually call ‘brand ambivalence’, which led to…

…the birth of Netflix in 1997. Reed Hastings started Netflix out of frustration over the fee for returning the movie Apollo 13 late, and the rest is history. Netflix took the initiative to waive late fees, initiated DVD-by-mail, and became one of the earliest entertainment SaaS through on-demand streaming, while Blockbuster barely kicked off Blockbuster By Mail.

While Netflix wasn’t profitable until the early 2010s, Netflix was ‘proactive’ in everything their rival wouldn’t do and couldn’t do. The reluctance of Blockbuster to take risk repositioned them as the ‘reactive’ party, and was one of the recipes of imminent disaster – among other reasons.

In 2015, Netflix rebranded into a simple, instantly recognizable capital ‘N’ that seamlessly scaled from iPhone icon to marketing materials and positioned their brand as the go-to content streaming service. The slogan ‘See What’s Next’, encapsulated their business model in a nutshell – perpetually giving the audience something to be excited about.

Courtesy of DDB Canada / Netflix

Takeaway:

Don’t be afraid to be the early adopter if your business model and USP are ahead of time. If you could reimagine what your competitors could’ve done better, and how your product could tackle their customers’ pain point, paired with the proper brand attitude that puts users first, just do it.

5. Think Brand Experience.

Welcome to the new age, where brands no longer sit behind the scenes and pump out advertisements to persuade consumers that they’re the solution to your problem like in the 1960s. It’s important to define your go-to-market strategy, your brand architecture and conduct research to gain crucial insights – but what difference does your brand make if it doesn’t walk the talk?

For that, let’s take a look at Nike – arguably one of the most effective advertiser & master of the craft when it comes to bringing storytelling to push the narrative & designing the whole brand experience. So what makes Nike different?

Nike’s marketing strategy has never revolved around their shoes, or products. We’re familiar with the Jordans, Presto and Air Max, but physical products were never really the core USP of Nike manifesto. Similar to Apple, Nike sells dreams. They honor athletes, utilise emotional branding to tell the triumph of the heroes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar to LeBron, overcoming their struggles.

Courtesy of W+K, Nike.

By connecting the stories of these superstars to the customers through their products, they adapt to the needs, empower them with motivational messaging, and nurture an ethos of sportsmanship inside out.

“We’re focused. We’re investing in our brand in key markets and we’re accelerating in the high growth dimensions of our business. And that’s especially important in the volatile macroeconomic and geopolitical environment that we see today.”

– Mark Parker, Nike Ex-CEO

Nike leveraged the market on three fronts – physical, digital and emotional touch points to deliver exemplary customer journeys. By actively engaging with customers through top-notch retail experiences, they promote customer loyalty through social events and initiatives, such as city marathon (Nike Run Club) among others, including Training Club, SNKRS app, as well as Apple Watch collaboration.

Takeaway:

Think of how your brand manifesto can translate into tangible user experience both online and offline. Design a brand experience strategy that covers end-to-end journey by giving your users believable purpose that they can embody to bring your vision to life.


Rebranding is a risky, meticulous task. It will take you months to years of research, a comprehensive SWOT analysis, refining your core product design, guidelines, you name it. Nevertheless, truly knowing what your company does, what kind of impact you’d like your brand to have on the world, and how it will help your users – are part of branding fundamentals.

Your business model might change. Your marketing channels might need to adapt to the ever-changing social media. Your competitors might innovate differently and scale faster than you. Your company culture might become more corporate and rigid as you grow bigger. But one thing will stay constant – the intrinsic purpose of why you started this. It’s the spark and the reason why you wake up in the morning. It’s the reason why you stay up late. 

Brand visuals and jargons, like season, will change, but core values, never will.

Best,
Romario

About the author

Romario Suwandy Romario is a visual designer with expertise ranging from art direction, brand development, to interaction design. Formerly involved in building cryptocurrency platform, and having worked at advertising agencies like Leo Burnett & Fred&Farid, he's now working as a creative at Pipedrive. Human-computer interaction, history and travelling excites him, among other things.