Visual Brand Identity belongs to the Employees

As the sadly departed professor Joan Costa used to say, the intellectual property of a brand belongs to its company, but the emotional property belongs to the customers. The world of social media allowed him to confirm this statement. Whenever a popular brand makes a visual identity change, users debate in the digital media about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the move. What is not often talked about, however, is that the brand is really a representation of what its proposition is and the people behind it.. The emotional ownership Costa spoke of belongs to employees rather than customers, and your transformation processes should take the former into account first and foremost. Re-branding, in my view, should be integrated into internal communication.

Rebranding and its Rationale

For a brand to be transformed, as in the case of rebranding, there are often many reasons for this:

  • Because it identifies the need to generate attention that has been lost.
  • Because it has been tainted in a reputational crisis and the negative association with the old representation needs to be put behind it.
  • Because the new media require an adaptive evolution (shapes, more suitable colours, etc.).
  • Because what it stands for is no longer in line with what the organisation wants to convey or because what it stands for is no longer identified with what the organisation is.

The last of these points is fundamental, as even in the first three cases, it is key to a successful rebranding.

Audiences as decision-makers

In recent years we have seen numerous cases in which some companies, especially those targeting the end consumer (B2C), submitted the proposed transformation to the judgement of their customers. In these situations, the consumer already had a previous process and had to validate or vote between the proposed alternatives (naming, visual identity, colours…). In others, we have seen how external pressure either pushed for change or prevented it.

A significant case was, following the controversial evolution of the Atlético de Madrid crest, the process carried out in 2023 to put it to a vote. More than 60,000 fans decided that it should revert to the previous design. Does this mean that my initial approach is wrong? Quite the contrary; here the members of the club took the floor, who are, in a way, more than customers: they are co-owners of the club’s values and representation.

In the same way, if a company considers that the time has come to transform its graphic identification elements, it is important to take into account the people who make up the company. We are often tempted to follow only what others expect of us, but it is the professionals working in the organisation who must live with that identity every day, be comfortable with it and wear it as ambassadors.

“The professionals working in the organisation are the ones who have to live with that identity every day, feel comfortable with it and wear it as ambassadors”.

Integrating employees in rebranding processes

It is therefore advisable to listen before transforming:

  • How do employees view the brand?
  • How would you like me to represent you?
  • Are they uncomfortable with any particular aspect of it?
  • Does it contain the values that everyone has taken on board as company values?

Subsequently, the design and de-design process can be carried out in a centralised manner to achieve a good result that is not weighed down by endless co-creation or co-decision processes. Remember that we will never be able to get everyone to agree, but involving everyone helps to make the end result as cross-cutting as possible.

A significant example of this was the vote taken by American Airways a decade ago among its staff, giving them a choice of two livery options after the merger with US Airways.

The importance of internal communication

This is why the role of internal communication is important in such processes. It channels opinions, conveys needs and brings cohesion around results. It is possible that, for reasons of commercial strategy, it is not advisable to make the creative process visible and reserve the surprise of the final result, but we should not leave listening beforehand to one side. Subsequently, it will be important to develop specific procedures and programmes to ensure that the coexistence and adaptation to the new brand is successful. Again, internal communication will be crucial.

The end result of a rebranding may not be to the satisfaction of the majority of people in the organisation. It is true that we tend to recognise what we like when we see what we don’t like. The mistake in such cases often lies in the briefing and the transformation process. And not to brag, but we’re pretty good at Incognito at working on it so that the result is perfect. Don’t you think?

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