Brand Evolution: Case Study of When and How a Company’s Branding Should Change
Companies change. People change. The trends and sentiments of the market change. And with them, branding should change. But when is it time for a change? And what, specifically, should change?
When a company first opens its “doors,” with its meticulously-designed logo and branding strategy, the idea that these things will one day be insufficient or even irrelevant seems absurd. And yet, for most brands that endure the test of time, change will be necessary. Why is that?
First, the world is constantly changing and many logos that seemed modern and progressive at one point may now feel dated. This could be an issue of the color, typography, the image(s) used, or all of the above.
Second, the company’s identity may have shifted over time. Whether it’s an issue of a changing product base, a shift, or growth in its market presence, or a new view of the company’s position relative to its competitors, the story that a company wants to tell about its identity may be dramatically different from what was true fifty, twenty, or even five years ago.
Notice in the case of AT&T (above), the company’s logo has shifted over time to reflect the change in the nature of the product, its global presence and the uninterrupted fluidity of its service (represented by the bands of blue and white encircling the globe).
Third, today’s consumers often respond more favorably to a company whose values and initiatives are in line with their own. We see this most often with respect to corporate charitable giving (of both time and money), and the entity’s involvement in issues such as environmentalism and social justice. Any one of these things can impact a company’s branding.
Fourth, as a company’s market presence grows, so does consumer recognition of its brand. As such, logos often will not need as much information as it did when it first launched. We discussed this recently in my article, Smart Logos: Part 1: How to Create the Best First Impression for Your Business. Logos that are more simplistic - pictorial and abstract logos - are often second (or fifth) generation logos. Once the brand is widely recognized, a symbol alone may be more than adequate to represent the company, such as the AT&T globe icon.
Before we move onto a quick case study, it’s important to note that there are some companies whose logos may never change (or need to). These companies are most likely in very stable service industries - such as law or banking - particularly those that rely upon a sense of history and longevity as part of their image. However, even those companies occasionally need to reflect some of the above factors in updated branding.
And for most of the market, branding evolution will be the modus operandi.
Case Study: Apple
Let’s take a quick look at how many of the factors above are represented in the historical evolution of Apple’s brand.
The company’s first logo - used only for a year or so - reflected a complex, metaphorical idea of the company. In it, Isaac Newton, who developed the law of gravitation, sits under a tree, with a lone apple dangling over his head. Around the borders of the picture frame is a quote from William Wordsworth:
“Newton…a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought…alone.”
Wordsworth was a supporter of Rational Philosophy - the belief that through reason and logic man can make order out of chaos. Thus, it is likely that Steve Jobs and co-founder, Ronald Wayne, meant for the logo to represent the computer’s ability to organize data into practical meaning. Although the symbolism is relevant, Jobs believed that this logo was too complex and confusing for consumers.
Within a year, the profile of the bitten apple - the current profile - emerged, albeit in rainbow colors and often accompanied by the company name.
There have been a number of theories about the intentions behind this one. The simplest though comes from Jobs himself who said that the bitten apple is a play on the technology of bytes, which was new vocabulary for the average consumer. This, along with its slogan, “Byte into an Apple,” and its friendly, rainbow colors, were meant to make an otherwise overwhelming and novel industry (at the time) more approachable.
It was also meant to reflect the fact that the Apple computer was the first one with a color display. Thus, notice that the company is reflecting both its product base and its identity - as a user-friendly product, particularly relative to its dominant competitor at the time (IBM) - in one simple logo.
When analyzing why a company’s branding has shifted, it is imperative that we note what was happening in the company at that point in time. If you recall, Steve Jobs had left Apple in 1985 and had returned in 1997. In 1998, the company unveiled the iMac.
Originally offered in the “Bondi Blue” shown here, it was subsequently offered in a number of colors and patterns. It makes sense then, that with the extensive changes in the company’s leadership, coupled with a dramatic change in the styling of its products, the company branding would also change. The “Bondi Blue” iMac was accompanied by a similarly-colored bitten apple logo. Subsequent logos mirrored the richly chromatic products (see below).
We should also note that the shift in both the colorful nature of the products and logos paralleled the company’s (and market’s) hopefulness that the return of Steve Jobs would usher in a new era of profitability after extensive financial difficulties (which it did!).
2001 - 2003
In the 2001-2003 timeframe, the company again updated its logo - to a glass-like, silver apple. This coincided with a number of extremely significant achievements within the company:
· The first Apple retail stores opened
· The first Mac operating system was
· In 2002, the first flat-panel iMac hit the
Prior to 2001, the company had used translucent colored plastics to manufacture the iMac G3 (see above). After 2001, Apple began to use Titanium, white polycarbonate and, of course, glass in its products. It’s not surprising then that the silver-glass logo reflected the company’s shift towards more modern, futuristic styling.
In recent years, Apple has employed one of three logo colors - flat silver, white or black - all three of which are believed to be most appealing to the Millennial portion of the company’s consumer base.
2018 - The Past with a New Story
This year, Apple renewed the trademark for its original rainbow logo.While the company has stated that the logo may be used only on clothing items, time will tell. Speculations are that the renewed rainbow design, which in recent years is synonymous with LGBTQ pride, reflects CEO Tim Cook’s outspoken support for gay pride.
Thus, whereas the rainbow design originally referred to the product - the color display and user-friendly nature of Apple products - it may in the future represent the company’s interest in and support for various causes.
But What about My Company?
As interesting as this is, all of this information is meant to spur you to consider when it is time to rebrand your company. I would recommend that you consider the following questions to assess the relevancy of your brand:
1. Does your logo feel dated? If so, consider the following elements:
a. Do the colors no longer feel modern?
b. Or, is it the typography?
c. If you employ an image (such as the original bell from AT&T’s logo), is that image still representative of the company’s product base?
2. Has the company’s personality/ identity shifted in ways that are no longer represented in its branding?
3. Is your position in the market - whether that’s an issue of the extent of your market presence or your position relative to your competitors - different from what it once was?
a. For example, does your current branding (esp. your logo) reflect the unique advantages of your brand vis-à-vis those of your competitors?
4. Is consumer recognition of your brand substantial enough to support a simpler logo? If so, would that be ideal and consistent with your company’s identity?
5. Has your customer base shifted? [Consider for example Apple’s desire to reflect the Millennial market through the use of its current logos’ simple colors.] If so, is your branding consistent with what would appeal to this segment of the market?
6. Is your company actively invested in certain causes that are not reflected in the logo (and which you would like to indicate in some way)?
Most companies, at various points in time, will need to update their branding (including their logos) to reflect the inevitable shifts that happen over time. Rather than a source of stress or difficulty, this can be an exciting way to express to the market that your company is in aligned with the consumers. And it can be an excellent way to signal to customers that your products, personality and perceptions are fresh and relevant to their needs.