Company rebranding takes a lot of work, but what brand elements do consumers notice the most? We surveyed 501 people in the U.S. about rebrands from popular companies to understand which brand elements are the most important in a rebrand.
You've spent months picking the perfect colors and font. The press release is written and ready to go. Your company rebrand is about to launch.
But how can you be sure that consumers will like what you picked out? Or even notice that something has changed?
These are decisions popular companies and their consultants make when they update their image, name, and voice. Fortunately, small businesses can learn from these larger companies' successes - and mistakes.
We surveyed 501 people in the U.S. and showed them images of old brands and new brands. For most rebrands, people noticed the company logo first, but it's not the only important factor in a rebrand. Here are 5 examples of new names, visuals, and slogans to inspire your rebrand.
- Weight Watchers rebranded to WW, and consumers took notice: 27% of people noticed the logo first, and 27% noticed the new slogan, "Wellness that Works" first.
- Dunkin' Donuts shortened its name to Dunkin' in 2019. One-third of people (34%) noticed the name change first, and 32% noticed the logo change.
- In luxury designer Burberry's rebrand, 38% of people noticed the new company logo. Meanwhile, 30% of people noticed the company's new colors.
- IHOP's brief rebrand as IHOb made an impression. More than one-quarter of people (28%) noticed the new logo first, and 27% noticed its new offerings.
- Almost one-third (29%) of people noticed the new font from Microsoft's 2012 rebrand first, and 27% noticed the updated Microsoft logo.
1. Weight Watchers: How NOT to Change a Name
How does a name define a brand? When does it make sense to update the company name for a new generation?
Those were the questions WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, had to consider when it rolled out a new brand in 2018, which yielded mixed responses among customers and design experts.
When asked what brand elements they noticed between the old and new WW brands, 27% of people said they noticed the new logo first and 27% of people said they noticed the company’s new slogan first.
The new logo showcases the new brand name with the slogan in sans serif block letters.
Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 and revolutionized the weight loss and diet industry by providing an alternative to fad diets and unsustainable eating plans.
Since its founding, Weight Watchers has matched its brand to the changing times and its changing audience, expanding its market from primarily targeting women to promoting its products and programs to an audience of adult women and men.
Weight Watchers unveiled a new name, “WW,” and visual identity in 2018. It kept many of the elements from its 2012 update, which included a new font, gradients, and color schemes.
The 2018 rebrand, however, took the new visual identity one step further by formally changing the name to “WW” and including the tagline “Wellness that works,” which prioritized overall wellness instead of weight loss alone.
The new name and tagline reflect an effort to position the brand within the growing wellness space, with the hope that the new message will attract younger and more diverse groups who prioritize mental health, body positivity, and exercise.
Even customers who appreciate the brand’s holistic focus are confused by the rebrand, though.
Sara Borgstede is a WW customer and blogger who documents her weight loss journey on her website, The Holy Mess.
“I appreciate that WW has moved into a focus of overall health and wellness. However, in my experience, most people who use the system use it for one reason and that's to lose weight,” Borgstede said.
Some of the most vocal critics of the rebrand highlight the pronunciation and use of the new name: WW.
"Most members use the acronym 'W-W' while we are writing about the program in emails and on social media,” Borgstede said. “Saying 'W-W' feels weird and awkward. We've known the name "Weight Watchers" for years and it's the program we know and love.”
Saying 'W-W' feels weird and awkward. We've known the name "Weight Watchers" for years and it's the program we know and love.
Laurel Sutton, senior strategist and linguist at Catchword, a top branding and naming agency, believes that most successful rebrands occur when companies rebrand to names that customers already use.
“Rebranding efforts succeed when the new brand is already in use by consumers,” Sutton said. “People already referred to Kentucky Fried Chicken as KFC when the company made the change. Nobody ever called Weight Watchers 'W-W' and no one uses that now. It's too clunky and too many syllables.”
If you’re considering updating your business name, think about how customers already view your brand. What nicknames or other abbreviations do they use? By following customer behavior, businesses are more likely to have a successful rebrand.
2. Dunkin’ Rebranded and Shortened Its Name Successfully
Sometimes, less is more when it comes to a company name.
Popular coffee chain Dunkin’ Donuts rebranded to Dunkin’ in January 2019. While not a complete rebrand of the visual identity, the company used the new name to align with current and future product offerings.
This change was not lost on consumers. One-third of people (34%) noticed the new company name first, and 32% noticed the logo.
As with Weight Watchers’ shift to WW, Dunkin’ is part of a history of brands shortening their brand names.
“The progression from longer to shorter company names is fairly common,'' said Erin Milnes, creative director at Catchword. “Because of expanded offerings, cultural shifts, change of vision or ownership, and established brand recognition, it often makes sense to shift to something ‘slimmer.’”
Many frequent customers already referred to Dunkin’ Donuts simply as “Dunkin’” prior to the official renaming. To many of them, the slimmed-down company name made sense.
According to Business Insider, the name change was part of a larger brand update that included a focus on specialty coffee drinks in stores and online.
If your business has a longer name that references one specific product, it’s worth considering slimming down your name or choosing a new name that better reflects the entirety of your offerings.
3. Burberry’s Rebrand Introduced a Modern Visual Identity
Fashion brands have had to adapt to global changes in demand. Luxury brands in particular face challenges due to fast fashion’s offer of high-end style for less.
Like Weight Watchers, Burberry also rebranded in 2018 in response to shifting consumer sentiments.
The updated Burberry logo was the top change people noticed out of the different brand elements: 38% of people noticed the new logo first, and 30% noticed the new brand colors.
Burberry is a legacy high-end fashion brand established in 1856. The company’s 2018 rebrand was its first major brand change in two decades.
The old visual identity embodied British style and sophistication. The wide, serifed font and the knight design, along with the famous tan tartan pattern, indicated the brand’s roots in British fashion.
The Burberry rebrand dispensed with the image of the classic Burberry knight and serifed font in favor of a bolder, sans serif typeface. The new brand also included a new signature pattern incorporating the founder, Thomas Burberry's initials.
Peter Saville, the designer behind the Burberry rebrand, indicated the rebrand is part of the larger business goal of maintaining the brand’s growth in the online age.
Fitting in during the digital age comes at a cost, though. Many critics and designers have commented on the sameness of luxury fashion brands that have updated their typefaces in recent years.
The shift to sans serif fonts shows that even established fashion brands must keep up with the times.
“Each one of these brands run the risk of looking homogeneous, but it appeals to a changing market,” said Miles Beckler, an entrepreneur and digital marketer. “The sans-serif font indicates a more casual brand, which correlates with the influx of casual wear. It sends a message to the consumer that these clothes are still exclusive, but more accessible.”
Despite the risk of looking the same as other brands, businesses shouldn’t be afraid to update their typeface to keep up with digital trends.
4. Microsoft’s Rebrand Aligned Its Logo With a New Product
Digital and internet companies are challenged to create a look and feel for products that exist primarily behind a screen.
That’s the challenge Microsoft faces each time it undergoes a brand update, as in 2012.
More than one-quarter of consumers (29%) noticed Microsoft’s updated font first compared to the old image, and 27% noticed the new logo first.
The 2012 update to the company brand, which accompanied the release of a new Surface tablet, saw a streamlining of the company’s iconic, four-paned “window” design and a slimmer typeface in a lighter gray tone.
This new look and feel also accompanied the launch of Windows 8, a software system that was criticized for being difficult to use.
Flat design is a type of in which elements look two-dimensional, or flat, on a users’ screen.
Flat design is a common user experience (UX) strategy that makes elements look two-dimensional, or flat, on a user’s screen.
Microsoft’s 2012 logo update mirrored the flat design of the new software, and consumers were not enthused.
Consider your customers’ expectations when deciding whether to move to flat design. How will the new designs affect their interactions with your website and digital products? If a rebrand is tied to a new product, the product better be successful.
5. IHOP’s Promotional Rebrand Fooled Consumers
IHOP, or The International House of Pancakes, shocked the world when it announced a rebrand and shift to a new primary product: burgers.
The International House of Burgers scandal of 2018 was the great rebrand that never was. Just a few weeks after the “IHOb” announcement on Twitter, the company admitted it had all been part of a temporary public relations push for a new collection of burgers on the menu.
Still, we asked what people noticed about the IHOb rebrand and found 28% of people noticed the new logo first, while 27% noticed the new product offerings.
Changing the logo to read IHOb instead of IHOP attracted more online attention to the rebrand.
When the official corporate account Tweeted the image along with the announcement, a flurry of internet criticism followed.
The faux rebrand and marketing campaign may not have been worth the time and effort, according to Sutton.
“Nobody seriously thought that IHOP was rebranding as IHOb,” Sutton said. “It was a short-term promotional stunt that, apparently, didn't work: sales of burgers didn't substantially increase.”
Luckily, businesses planning a rebrand around a new set of products don’t have to pretend to change their name or subject their brand to Twitter ridicule.
Incorporating a new product into your company brand can be as easy as updating your suite of graphics or icons on your website and in your formal communications.
Remember, many consumers will likely notice your logo first. If you want to make an impact on a product launch, updating your logo is a good place to start.
Businesses Should Learn from Past Rebranding Examples
A rebrand is a risky and costly undertaking for small businesses. Fortunately, smaller enterprises can look at updates of popular brands for inspiration.
Weight Watchers, for example, introduced a confusing new name, WW. The new logo featuring the name was among the first brand elements people noticed.
Dunkin' Donuts, however, made a better impression on consumers with its rebrand to Dunkin'. Creating a new name is an option for a company looking for a way to convey a widening range of product offerings.
Burberry updated its brand, creating a sleek and modern visual identity. Companies interested in adopting a sans serif typeface should ensure their brand isn't confused with a similar company.
Microsoft's rebrand also modernized its logo with a new, flat design. Businesses considering a flat design should be aware of user expectations.
IHOP fooled consumers when it pretended to rebrand to IHOB or the International House of Burgers. A full rebrand might be an expensive option for promoting a product, but businesses can still coordinate product launches with their rebrands.
A rebrand is a risky endeavor. Businesses should partner with experts to make sure it has the desired impact on consumers.
About the Survey
Visual Objects surveyed 501 people in November 2020.
45% of respondents were female; 44% were male, and 11% didn’t specify their gender.
Baby boomers and older make up 28% of respondents; Generation Xers make up 36%; millennials make up 17%, and Generation Z makes up 7%. 12% of respondents didn’t reveal their age.
Respondents are from the Midwest (30%), South (29%), West (24%), and Northeast (16%).