Editor’s note: Jonathan La Greca is VP strategic growth, and Dan Young is chief behavioral scientist at market research firm Hotspex, Toronto. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “Is it time for you to refresh your brand?” 

Brand identity is an important component of a marketer’s brand strategy. It is the vehicle by which marketers grow distinctive brands by building mental availability to create recall in advertising and physical availability to make it easy for consumers to identify brands in buying situations.

Yet marketers face an important and ongoing tension of evolving their brands to be more relevant to consumers and their changing need, as well as staying familiar enough to trigger and reinforce existing memory structures built over time.

In addition to placating changing consumer needs, brands now must manage the fact that the contexts within which they build physical and mental availability are changing because of the disruption that technology is bringing.

Communicating a brand’s distinctiveness now take place in smaller environments like mobile screens and happen in a shorter duration with some ad exposures only lasting seconds at best.

Marketers are adjusting their strategies and their brand identities to win in these rapidly changing environments.

Mastercard’s brand identity evolution

Mastercard recently modified their brand logo, a cornerstone brand identity element, in order to improve its visibility across digital realms.

When asked about this change by Steve Oleski of the CMO Network, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer, Raja Rajamannar, explained that the changing digital landscape is driving their marketing strategy and consumer engagement.

The new and simplified brand logo dropped the typeface “Mastercard” from the logo. According to Rajamannar, the brief was aimed at delivering against pillars of simplicity, connectivity, seamlessness and modernity.

This is the outcome of this decision:

This poses some interesting questions of marketers and insights professionals that might include:

  • Do they agree with this strategy?
  • Do they believe that Mastercard has executed the strategy well?
  • What are the risks or concerns with implementing this strategy?
  • What could they learn from this and apply it to their brands?

Logos as part of a brand identity evolution

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this brand identity evolution, it is interesting to note that several well-known brands have simplified their logos over time.

Here are just a few examples (keep in mind the brands made several gradual changes over time):

Behavioral science principles

Whether you agree with these changes or not, there are some behavioral science and brand building principles that you should consider ahead of a logo or brand identity redesign.

Here are a few quick considerations for the next time you plan to refresh your brand.

  • Our brains prefer visuals over words. It’s generally true that visuals are processed more fluently than words. This leads to quicker processing with less effort. Less work means more positive associations. It’s also been shown that simpler visuals are processed more easily and positively than complex visuals. Hence, simplifying brand identity or executions of your brand in terms of ads and packaging should make life easier for your consumer. 
  • Our brains enjoy solving simple puzzles. Our brain like to solve simple puzzles and fill in gaps. Research on problem solving shows that consumers get emotional rewards in the form of a dopamine boost when they solve problems. Activation of positive affect related brain areas in the prefrontal cortex have also been observed when consumers solve simple problems. Logos that leave a consumer filling in a few simple gaps may lead to mental rewards that feel good at a non-conscious level. 
  • Our brains are attracted to novelty. If you go back 200,000 years ago, humans needed to find fresh food, water and shelter, so our brains are wired to be attracted to new things. The trick to novelty is not to make so unfamiliar that it triggers fear but new enough that it sparks excitement and interest. This is the tension that brand builders face in creating a distinctive brand that evolves enough to stay relevant to consumers but is familiar enough that it doesn’t require excess processing efforts.
  • Our brains use context to make sense of the world. Context drives perception. Anytime marketers change their brand, the biggest concern is that the new executions of the brand won’t trigger the brand automatically. To support this transition, marketers should take advantage of the fact that the brain always processes information relative to context and past experiences. Identifying other distinctive brand assets and the common contexts within which consumers expect to see the brand will help the activation of the brand.

Evolving your brand

Perhaps you’re trying to renovate your brand, refresh your packaging or even launch a new product. Which elements of your master brand you should incorporate?

Here are a few simple questions you might want to consider as a starting point:

  • Who are your consumers and what drives their behaviors?
  • What makes your brand distinctive?
  • Which elements of your brand identity are distinctive brand assets and must not be touched?
  • Which of your brand identity elements need to be evolved and how do you go about doing it?
  • Which brand identity elements are holding your brand back and should be removed?
  • How do you ensure that you leverage context to improve the transition of these changes?

There are simple ways to leverage behavioral science to answer these questions and inform your brief. We have seen marketers and their insights teams deploy innovative and agile audits of their packaging on shelf or their communications to uncover the path forward.

Pressure to evolve 

Brands will continue to feel the pressures to evolve their brands over time, especially as the context within which these brands are advertised, purchased and consumed become more digitized. The key is to be very careful in evolving your brand and to do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the memory structures that allow consumers to easily identify their brand.