To Refresh or Relaunch…That Is the Question

If you work in marketing, you know what a “brand refresh” is, and how it differs from a “brand relaunch.” Both can be equal parts perilously challenging and thrilling. And both can serve useful purposes, both in reminding customers about a product’s continued existence, and in introducing a product to a new audience as a way of increasing market share.

Legally, most trademark lawyers will face brand refreshes and rebrands with some skepticism. Our traditional view, predicated on legal principles, is that trademarks are easier to enforce and maintain if nothing changes and the branding remains utterly consistent. Making changes that undermine consistency of use can result (albeit rarely) in a loss of rights, or at least a loss in priority. But a skillful refresh is marvelous, not just because it can manage to maintain the tradition (and enforceability) of the original brand, but because seemingly subtle changes to branding can result in profound and novel messages to consumers.

Depending on scope and goals, the result of a refresh can be akin to renovating your house. You might add a new kitchen or a fresh coat of paint, and suddenly something that seemed tired is reborn and reinvigorated. Below are some examples of brand refreshes (and you can see a bunch more here and here, if you are interested).

To my eyes, Walmart’s image is “friendlier,” and more inviting. Delta’s new branding, with more spacing and without the serifs in its font, looks more lithe, nimble, and light (capable of flight). And Starbucks has decided you no longer need to read its name to know whose coffee you are buying. If I had to guess, the most important message that each of these refreshed brands is sending is, “I’m renewed and up to date with your generation and culture. I’m not outdated…so, buy me.” Without losing the original (and very powerful) brand, consumers are meant to think, “Oh, what’s new here?” These refreshes were clearly successful, both in maintaining the commercial value of the original brand, while sending some new invitations to consumers.

Rebranding or a brand relaunch (as opposed to a refresh) is a more comprehensive exercise, whereby the enterprise might engage in a deeper analysis of the brand, the internal cultural forces, and the mission of the brand holder, as well how these elements meet in outward messaging to customers. According to marketing firm Top Hat, “branding is the management function that makes sure the right fonts, brand colors, and design standards are used on billboards, social media platforms, corporate communications, and videos. It’s not meant to put obstacles in front of new marketing initiatives—it’s meant to make sure those initiatives are seamlessly tied back to the organization.” One result of a rebrand is often a “refresh” of the visual branding, of course. Or sometimes, it’s the adoption of entirely new message and trademark architecture.

Some might be surprised to learn that even law firms have branding quandaries. But in recent years, law firms have come to appreciate the communicative value of “branding” in their overall goals of increasing client satisfaction and success. According to design firm Greenfield Belser, “branding and positioning theory [have] emerge[d] as an effective route to understanding the complex psychology that results in name recognition, visual memory, and loyalty between clients and their lawyers.”

Last March, with Greenfield Belser’s guidance, Burns & Levinson completed its own comprehensive rebranding process, through which we reacquainted ourselves with our mission, goals, and guiding principles for client service. In parallel, we reviewed our messaging for content and consistency. As a result of that process, we went from the branding on the left below, to the refreshed branding on the right.

Like other brands that undergo refreshes, we simplified, moving from a complicated and traditional font and logo that included an ampersand and our designation as an LLP, to a simpler, more elegant, distinctive color and design combination. In this way, using the tradition of our name, but shedding the irrelevant elements, we have created a new and updated, more simplified message. One firm, practical approaches, client-focused, with a 360-degree integrated approach to legal service. Still, of course, we kept our heritage, the names of our founding partners—a tribute to success and longevity.

As the firm re-launched, so did its blogs, including this one. We look forward to sharing with you, here at Lex Indicium, ideas and developments in the law of information, trademarks, copyrights, privacy and related disciplines…including legal issues around branding.