No one moving into their first home today expects to still be living there when they retire. No one starting their first job today expects to stay there for life. And just like homes and jobs, a logo isn’t made for life any more. It’s made for now.
There are a few historic brands that still use their original logo today – or at least a slightly updated version of it. Twinings’s logo dates back to 1787 and since then, very little about it has changed. The same goes for Coca-Cola (1887) and Ford (1909) – classic brands whose logos have outlived generations and generations of consumers.
But in that time, our attitudes to ownership, property and longevity have changed. Homes, jobs and many more parts of life are temporary or shared, our idea of belonging is much more fluid – and this influences brands both new and old. One of the first to adapt to the new world was BP, which scrapped an almost century-old logo for a new, more environmentally conscious one.
Rather than aiming to withstand the test of time, unchanging, brands now prefer more flexible identity systems that can adapt to the ever-changing needs of the market. When we embark on a branding exercise, we expect to create something with a shelf-life of around five years (at least for the visual component – the company’s purpose and values ought to last longer). That’s shocking when you think of the hundred year-old logos that still exist today.
But it’s not just the longevity of the visual identity that’s changed; it’s also the idea of what a logo should be. When the Tate Gallery rebranded in the early 2000s, instead of a traditional logo, it started using a whole suite of different logotypes, signifying the dynamic and constantly evolving world of art. A few years later, the city of Melbourne rebranded itself with a capital M that could take almost any colour and contain a plethora of different patterns.
Even more recently, a new trend towards simplicity has spread from the world of tech and startups. Google, Uber, Airbnb and most recently BT have chosen simplicity over character. Clean, sans serif type, flat colours, effortless graphics and friendly photography characterise a trend that brings together rather than separates brands.
The trend is now appearing in sectors like fashion (Burberry), finance (Mastercard) and the public sector (see the identity we developed for the PSR for an example of the positive impact simplicity can have on a brand).
These trends towards flexibility and simplicity lend themselves to a more relaxed, conversational personality that today’s consumers respond well to. Brands don’t want to present strength and power any more (for example, we rarely see capital letters in logos now). Instead, they want to be partners, or even to take a secondary/supportive role, with the client or customer as the hero of the story.
The world of strict (and strictly policed) brand guidelines is on the way out. This is a more creative and agile environment where a brand is a flexible, plastic thing, and the logo is only a small part of the overall identity and brand experience. A brand for now is one that responds to the needs and attitudes of the audience – and can change as they do in the future.
From issue 1 of the Brand Report
Business-critical assets and publications are the canaries in the coalmine of brand. When these assets drift off-brand, it’s a sign that your organisation is losing confidence in its brand – and it could be time for an update.
Take the university prospectus as an example. Part marketing brochure, part tourist guide, part course catalogue, the prospectus is the keystone of a university’s annual student recruitment campaign.
And the weight of responsibility placed on prospectuses shows through in their design. It’s clear that most universities take extra special care to make sure these vital publications have a big impact.
But treating important publications (or microsites, or campaigns, or apps) as special cases can damage the overall cohesion of your brand.
We’ve seen behind the scenes of enough branded design projects to imagine the process. Designers lay out the content, following the brand guidelines. Then people start wondering whether the on-brand designs will have the necessary impact. They ask for extra colours, typefaces and graphics to make the content stand out more.
The instinct to make sure a business-critical communication really grabs its target audience is a good one. And more often than not, the result is a high quality communication that’s sure to have an impact.
But when that impact isn’t matched by the brand’s other channels, its effect is severely dampened. This lack of cohesion can even be damaging, giving the impression of an organisation that cares about getting people in through the door, but not about giving them a quality experience once they’re inside.
Move with the times
If you’re looking at a draft design that follows your brand guidelines and worrying that it won’t land with your audience, that means it’s time to revisit your brand.
Maybe your audience has changed, maybe design trends have moved on, or maybe the brand has been the same for so long that it’s simply time for a refresh.
Whatever the underlying reason, it’s important to stop tinkering with that one design, get that back on brand, then pull back and consider what changes might be right for the brand as a whole. How would new or updated colours work on your website and in campaigns? How might new styles for impact stats interact with existing visual hierarchies – or enhance your social media posts?
Only once the refresh project is complete, and all changes formally documented with an update to your brand guidelines, should you start incorporating the new brand into your business-critical communications (as part of a full roll-out across all your channels).
Unless everyone’s on the same page, a cohesive brand is impossible. But with efficient communication, your brand can adapt and evolve while remaining cohesive – ensuring you’re always achieving the right impact with the right people.
This time last year I was in a very different place. Somewhere along the way, I had lost some of the things that make me, me. My passion, my consistency, my uniqueness and above all my sense of purpose – basically, all the things that make a great brand.
Some might say I was suffering from a minor existential crisis, millennial burnout, Bridget Jones syndrome (yes, this is a thing!) and possibly a range of other 30-year-old related afflictions.
In typical millennial style, I decided it was the perfect time to take a step back, break free from the shackles of the daily grind and go and see some of the world. So for three months, I travelled through India and South East Asia, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Without trying to sound like I’ve stepped off the set of Eat. Pray. Love, removing myself from my routine, friends, family and comfort zone was liberating and over the course of my travels I realised I’d inadvertently gone through my own sort of personal brand workshop.
I went completely back to basics — literally (at one point I waded through a swamp in Vietnam to find my accommodation for the night was a mosquito net and the floor) and figuratively.
At the core of me I knew there were some fundamental values: to always be honest, to be kind to people no matter the circumstance and to remain fiercely independent. But time away developed some new ones: to pursue a growth mindset, to follow my creative passions and to seek adventure in all things.
Fellow travellers, who are now good friends of mine, brought to the surface all the things that I knew to be true about my personality but that I’d almost forgotten — branded “fun Ros” (yes, not the most original of names but the sentiment was appreciated), I remembered I had a similar label at university, but completely lost it en route to my 30s.
Sure, everyone changes — life would be boring otherwise. But if you don’t regularly re-evaluate or at least check in on your basic brand DNA — your values, your vision for the future and how you’re going to get there — the things that make you, you — you’re in danger of losing sight of everything.
Unlike the world of corporate branding, it’s not so easy to discover what your purpose as a human being is (unless you’re Mozart!), but what is true is that brands are constantly evolving, and as long as you’re striving for growth, pursuing your curiosities and checking in on your brand DNA every once in a while, you can’t go far wrong.
A lot of people ask me if I dreaded coming back to reality after such an experience, and I can honestly say… no. Like any re-brand, I was re-invigorated and excited for the future and what I could offer… and on a personal note I was thrilled to be back in my own bed!
Generational labelling has reached the end of the alphabet and is now starting again – from Generation Z to Generation Alpha. But that doesn’t mean brands have to start from scratch as well.
Sociologist Mark McCrindle coined the Generation Alpha label, applying it to people born between 2011 and 2025 – so the oldest Alphas today are nine years old, and the majority haven’t even been born yet.
As a rule, I take predictions and business advice based on generational trends with a healthy pinch of salt. But as the proud dad of two Alphas, I’ve got a vested interest in how brands are going to relate to this age group, both today and as they grow up.
Generation Z were the first to grow up with smartphones as a normal fact of life. For Generation Alpha, replace smartphones with AI voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. Millennials bought into ‘connected home’ devices for their convenience, and for their Generation Alpha children, these devices are just part of the family.
This technology is already influencing the way this generation learns and plays. The growing ‘internet of toys’ uses image and voice recognition to encourage interactive play. Mattel’s Hello Barbie, dubbed the world’s most interactive toy, can interpret and respond to a child’s voice. My favourite, Cozmo, is a robot that communicates huge personality and emotion through simple expressions and movements.
All this could make Generation Alpha the first generation brands and marketers don’t have to speculate about.
Whenever a new generation is minted, there’s a rush to define what their supposed values and behaviour might mean for business, and how brands should change to attract them (or to avoid attracting their wrath). But with so much of their home life and education mediated through connected devices and AI, Generation Alpha’s whole lives could well be mapped in data. And why speculate when you can measure?
The temptation will be huge. But I’ve pointed out before that brands need to be careful how they use marketing data and automation. That’s especially true when we’re talking about children. I’d be put off by any brand trying to insert itself into my kids’ lives just to sell them things, or to sell me things through them.
But I’ve seen some brands taking a smarter approach that I really appreciate. Google Home ran a TV ad showing how its smart speaker fit naturally into a conversation between a dad and his inquisitive child during reading time. And Crest Kids recently unveiled an Alexa skill that helps children brush their teeth – entertaining them with jokes, stories and silly songs that keep them giggling and brushing for the full recommended two minutes.
Fitbit are also getting into the game with the Ace 2, a device targeted at the six-and-ups. This is the first generation with the potential to have their health monitored from birth, so their healthcare can be preventative rather than reactive.
Know your destination
Why are these brands more welcome than the ones advertising products to my kids on YouTube?
They’re delivering something useful and, more importantly, something wholeheartedly connected to their purpose. Google wants to help you find information. Crest wants kids to have healthy teeth. Fitbit wants to help people live healthy lives. They’re all taking advantage of changing attitudes and new technology, but they’re not diverting from their core purpose. It makes the activity feel like a natural part of their journey, and not like a cynical intrusion into our family life.
So learn from these examples: make sure your brand has a strong sense of purpose. With that, there’s no need to chase the shiny new thing, whether that’s a new technology or a newly named generation of consumers. Purpose gives your brand the natural forward momentum it needs to stay ahead of any trend.