People have an aversion to change. It can prevent growth, feed risk aversion and hold people back. This puts businesses in a precarious situation when it's time to rebrand and embrace a more modern version of the company – customers have already developed an emotional connection to your brand and will likely take issue with any change.
In 2010, Gap unveiled a new logo in an effort to refresh its brand. The public outcry over the decision was so great, the company switched back to its old logo just a few days after the announcement. The way Gap handled its rebrand was disastrous and shows that rebrands gone wrong can have a major impact on business.Credit: Gap
Rebecca Horan, a brand strategist who's worked for Penguin Random House, Unilever and NYU Stern, said rebranding your business is a good idea so long as it's done right. Slack, the popular workplace communication platform, recently unveiled its new logo and brand strategy, prompting a big discussion among users.
"There have been studies on this, and people generally dislike rebrands," Horan said. "I think they did a lot of things right, actually. I'm generally in favor of it – they had to simplify a bit."
Slack didn't do everything right, but there are some major takeaways for businesses considering an overhaul to brand identity.
Slack: Longevity, consistency, identity
Slack's original logo, the octothorpe (or hashtag/pound sign), was created before the company launched. It involved 11 different colors and had to be angled at a perfect 18 degrees. As the company grew from a small communication platform to a global force in workplace productivity, it needed a brand refresh that would differentiate it from competitors and set the tone for the company's future. Horan said Slack's rebrand focused on building longevity, establishing brand consistency and maintaining its original brand identity.
"They're growing up – they got this IPO coming up," she said. "They've definitely gone through a lot of growth and they're not in their infancy anymore; this reflects that."Credit: Slack
By focusing on longevity, Horan said Slack successfully moved away from the hashtag, which is synonymous with so many other technology platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and built a logo that can last for decades. Part of Slack's redesign also considered consistency – it created three new logos to be used throughout its marketing and branding efforts. In the past, Slack fell victim to several logos, branding messages and visuals across its marketing efforts. The final element that Slack got right, according to Horan, is it carried over design elements from its former logo to preserve company identity. The eggplant purple backdrop, the square logo construction and the bold font all pull from its former identity and push its new one forward.
"I don't think it's a complete departure; there's still hints of the previous logo in there," she said.
There are several elements to the actual rebrand that Slack did well, and they tie into how it decided to announce its rebrand and how that message was received by customers. There are some key takeaways from Slack's efforts that any small business can emulate.
Takeaway No. 1: Have a good reason to redesign.
The most important aspect of rebranding is actually having a good reason to do so. Slack had a complicated logo that was not consistent across its messaging and showcased a symbol that was not exclusive to the brand. That gray area, from a branding standpoint, combined with the company's future goals for an IPO, market presence and staying competitive meant that it was time for the company to refresh its brand.
If you're considering a rebrand, make sure you have good reasons to do so. It can be a risky endeavor, and your company may only be able to do one or two rebrands in its lifetime. Being bored with your current branding or trying to latch onto a current design fad is not a good strategy.
Takeaway No. 2: When it's time to transition, voice your reasons.
Slack did a good job of being transparent with its users regarding why its rebrand needed to happen. It outlined the process in a detailed blog post and linked back to its design partner's site for more explanation on design thinking. By communicating why the brand needed to rebrand in a direct, engaging way, Slack was able to educate its users on why it felt it needed this refresh. The key here, however, is being direct and not using marketing speak to try and explain things.
Takeaway No. 3: Have some design elements carry over.
By including design elements from its former logo, Slack was able to create a strong brand identity without sacrificing its former value. When it comes time to refresh your own business's brand, if you partner with a design or branding agency, make sure you maintain elements from your former identity.
What Slack got wrong
For everything Slack did correctly, it still had its shortcomings. Horan said it wasn't a good idea to show examples of the other potential logos in the announcement blog post. While not a major strike against the company's efforts, there's no purpose in providing this information. It's better to stay strong with your new brand and focus on the future.
Horan also said Slack could have done a better job of alerting its user base before the changes went live. Instead of a blog post, the company should have considered telling users earlier too so they were prepared for the official announcement.
"Give users a heads up, maybe, and maybe involve them in the process," Horan said. "If you're building a strong brand, your people are going to care, and they'll appreciate you looping them into the process."
The final thing Slack could have done better, according to Horan, is it didn't prioritize differentiation in its mobile app. Despite Slack's eggplant purple, the company opted for a white background for its mobile app. This makes the Slack app look way too much like other iPhone applications, especially Google Photos.
"A brand should never aspire to blend in," Horan said. "It's good to be on trend, but I know they've made it hard for their users to actually find the logo on iPhone."
Don't worry if people freak out
The world was in outrage when Slack announced its changes, and the company did a great job. Users and customers are resistant to change, so don't be surprised if there's initial pushback after your release. Horan said it's important to stick to your guns and weather the storm.
"If they made the change and no one cared, I think that'd be worse," she said. "It's good people are passionate about it, people noticed and actually cared about it."