Make it Familiar: Good Advice for Brand Updates

Kelly Knopp

Have you ever heard a new song for the first time and thought “This song sucks. How did it even make it to the radio?” Then you hear the same song 20 times over the next week and all of the sudden you and all of your friends love it?

This is because the song has become familiar to you. No longer are you walking down a sparsely lit forest trail of musical randomness. You know the forks, turns, and summits; and you know there are no surprise wild animals lurking near. You are safe.

Similarly, when a brand or business that you love and use rolls out new branding or packaging, it might make you feel a bit offended or uneasy. After a while, however, the new look merges into your everyday life with no harm done.

Often, when a company reaches out to us for a re-brand or a brand refresh, they ask for a complete overhaul. They want something new and exciting—out with the old, in with the new.

The updated brand may feel “new and exciting,” but after it arrives total panic sets in because everything now seems unfamiliar. Companies often feel like their existing customers or fan base will not recognize or adopt the new identity, and they fear the business will take a hit.

Like Follows Like

This concern is valid. According to Psychology Today, familiar things are just more likeable.

“Familiar things—food, music, activities, surroundings, etc.—make us feel comfortable. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that familiarity breeds liking. Generally speaking, things that are familiar are likely to be safer than things that are not. If something is familiar, we have clearly survived exposure to it, and our brain, recognizing this, steers us towards it. Thus, one could say that we are hardwired to feel that the “known devil is better than the unknown angel.”

So, we often caution our clients when they come to us asking for a total brand overhaul. We know that many people struggle with change. And, if there is already strong affinity to the brand, a drastic change can definitely impact business.

Our recommendation (and execution) is to carefully craft the new branding with respect to the old brand and the market in which it lives. This can be accomplished by dropping subtle notes of similar colors, typefaces, or just a hint of mood borrowed from the original. If done correctly, the existing brand audience will more easily accept the changes and the upgrades will invite a new and broader demo to the party.

Get the Right Mix

Take Puff Daddy’s (aka Diddy, aka Sean Love Combs) 1997 hit “I’ll Be Missing You” for example. It’s likely Sean Combs would not have had the breakout success he did without borrowing familiarities from The Police classic “Every Breath You Take.” It’s a perfect way to connect with people that already loved something and mixing it with something you’d like them to consider loving. The bridge is basically half built.

There are several examples in the world of branding that follow this notion. As time goes on, brands begin to age and fall off the design-trend-wagon. Smart brands adapt with new, refreshed branding that keeps their existing audience loyal while attracting new followers or users.

If you’re thinking your company needs an updated brand, consider this blog before you completely ditch your old branding. Think about how you can save some of the good stuff about your branding for the next iteration. Need help figuring out what to save and what to trash? We can help you with that.


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