If you look closely, you’ll see that successful ones have found a way to adapt to the modern world—whether that be digital applications of identities, adapting to changing consumer lifestyles and needs or finding better ways to build the mousetrap. What follows are some steps and advice for those considering a brand update:

It starts with the logo. Most of us will naturally gravitate to a review of the logos that surround us. Historic identities that are still viable today will have invariably found a way to integrate the equity earned from their original logos with the visuals that dominate our lives today. In some cases, this has been a thoughtful, well-crafted evolution. For some, it has been in response to the current communications landscape that requires our brand identities to live in a variety of digital (and smaller) mediums. And sometimes, modernization of a logo has been a direct result of simple design tools that have allowed designers to create logos with true stopping power.

Regardless of the love you have for your logo, its life will always be informed by the norms, trends and standards of the day. 

When it comes to the logo, consider a makeover instead of plastic surgery.In some cases, your logo might be ready for just a tiny bit of help… a refresh, so to speak. A logo refresh is like a personal makeover that transforms how a person, or brand, is perceived. The foundation (much like your bone structure) doesn’t change, but the new clothes and makeup are updated and designed for today. The truth is no logo can stay relevant forever if it doesn’t keep up with changing customer sensibilities.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • When was the last time your logos were refreshed? Are they showing signs of aging? Hello italics! Hello bubble letters!
  • Is your logo too complex for today’s digital channels?
  • Is your company evolving? Are your customers evolving?

If any of your answers have you looking at your logos with a new eye, there are a few basic approaches to modernizing your logo which can be relatively pain- and committee-free:

  • Keep the logo but update the tone to match a strategy.
  • Add messages (such as tagline) and/or re-evaluate a hierarchy of graphic elements
  • Freshen or expand the color palette
  • Simplify or remove complex elements (particularly those that can’t translate on digital platforms).

When Waste Management updated their identity with the color green it was because they were focusing on becoming a green, responsible company and started communicating the proof of their environmental efforts.

The Miami Dolphins have updated their logo over the years while still honoring the legacy and equities of the brand. There’s still a dolphin (though admittedly a less “goofy” version), and the warm Miami sun. 

Modernizing your brand is more than a logo discussion. Earlier this summer, Dunkin’ Donuts announced they were taking their brand in a fresher, new direction. They were not announcing a rebrand, but more of a modernization of the brand. While they recognized the overall feel of the brand needed a bit of a jolt, they left the iconic logo untouched. Instead they looked to physical assets—signs, cups and packaging—as canvases to create playful expressions of the brand. 

If you look at the history of the brand’s iconography, you’ll see that it has not changed much over many years. The font was introduced in the 1970s, followed by the pink and orange colors in the 1980s. A coffee cup was added in 2002, and its famous tagline has been in use since 2006. Additional modernization of the brand touches the experience—updating the look of the stores and emphasizing digital ordering.

Plan beyond the initial splash. As marketers, we often look on with desire as other brands introduce splashy new approaches; but like most change, we must look internally to understand the root of the challenge. Believe me, it is not a logo problem. First, we need to examine what we’re doing forthe brand rather than what the brand is doing for our company. Smart marketers realize that logos are only the tip of the iceberg. The most successful brand updates are those that have real changes. The best signalof the change is a refreshed logo, but those changes—logo and experience—have to happen together.

Instead of asking the easy questions (Are our brands lagging because of ineffective marketing tactics? Are we not advertising enough?), ask the questions that address the brand’s equity rather than awareness. The fact is that customers already know about you… the tougher, but more strategic questions are about demand.

  • Is the message you’re sending out speaking to customer’s priorities?
  • Is your product satisfying the needs and desires of your target customers?

Your resources are much better spent on understanding what the customer wants. It is only when you understand this that you can make the necessary operational changes and then proceed to more effective communications tactics.

For example, around the year 2000, Special K disrupted the cereal market. Originally introduced in the 1950s, Special K had benefited from a strong association with weight loss since the 1980s. Unfortunately, the cereal was described as bland and there was no real innovation. Towards the late 1990s, Special K began understanding consumer priorities asking consumer-focused questions: 

  • Does our consumer believe what we say about weight loss?
  • How should we deliver our promise to our consumers?
  • What makes consumers think about our brand?
  • What benefit are our consumer’s seeking?

The result was a powerful connection with their specific target market of women, 25-45. Asking demand-oriented questions allowed them to understand that consumers were looking for easy solutions to their dieting needs. The framing of their “2-week Challenge” and innovation in flavors and product extensions has led to increased market share and a modernization of their brand that was not focused on the logo.

That same year, Harrah’s underwent a major shift in how it approached marketing communications. With over 20 properties carrying the Harrah’s banner, the company had a national image campaign mixed with countless advertising themes running in the various local markets. There wasn’t a clear message.

Starting with input from focus groups around the country, the brand team developed positioning and concepts. Then, they went back and tested again, further identifying executional elements such as voiceover styles, age of talent and music. The new brand leveraged the emotions associated with playing slots at Harrah’s, which was why visits to Harrah’s mattered to customers. 

Vision is a double-edged sword.Brand vision is at the beginning of any brand project. It is the heritage and foundation on which you build. Mature brands, however, can often become so rooted in vision that it becomes difficult to adapt and change with the market. Fortunately, you don’t need to choose between tradition and change… the key is balancing the two. You must align your brand vision with consumer shifts so that you can remain relevant to your customer.