Visual Differentiation: Business Case for Design


Written by Janet Odgis in the NYLMA News Winter Issue: 2015  

On Thursday March 19th the NYLMA is hosting a panel discussion: “Visual Differentiation: The business case for design.” The topic may be especially timely for your firm or organization.  Every so often, it is important to recognize the need to refresh your visual brand. A brand refresh not only acknowledges the evolution of the individual firm; it also pays homage to the nature and necessity of change itself.

IBM is a prominent example of a company that refreshed its brand successfully on multiple occasions. As its core business evolved over the years from census tabulators to room-size mainframes to sophisticated analytics software, the company’s logos, marketing campaigns, and visual language all developed to frame those advances. IBM, by showing the world that it wasn’t a plodding dinosaur hopelessly mired in its old ways, has survived more than a century of fierce competition with other technology firms.

Brand refreshment does come with an investment of money, time and energy. Ask the following questions when considering whether to undergo the process:
  • What will refreshing the brand do for me?
  • How will refreshing the brand help my business?
  • What’s involved in a brand refresh?
  • Why refresh the brand at all? 
Once you’ve satisfactorily answered those questions—and once you’re sure that the process will allow you to better tell the latest chapter of your firm’s story—you can prepare for the refresh on a more tactical level:

Review Where You Are:
What is your point of differentiation? How is your firm perceived? How does your firm look or “speak” about itself in visual terms? Does your appearance match your firm’s current mission, as well as its place within the broader industry? How does your competition do it? What changes will bring the brand up to speed?

Recognize the Need for Consistency:
A brand can change.  But how much?  Will the refresh potentially disperse any recognition and goodwill accumulated through years of careful strategy? Make sure any plan for refreshing the brand acknowledges the need for a “core consistency,” even as it revamps the brand’s key elements. A logo revamp, a rebuilt website, and revisiting your look and feel can all breathe new life into a company.  But an iconic brand may not benefit from too radical a change.

Calculate Costs:
A brand refresh isn’t the same thing as a rebranding, an intense and often painful process that can totally change a firm’s DNA. Nonetheless, a refresh can come with a range of costs from both a time and resources perspective, depending on its depth and thoroughness. Scope out the project and the costs before beginning the refresh.  And build in some flexibility.

Aim for Relevancy:  
You’ve succeeded if the refreshed brand reinforces your firm’s relevancy with people getting excited again about your products and mission.

Be Prepared:
It takes effort to examine where you are, and where you want to go.  There is discomfort in looking at your competition and facing what can be improved within your own firm. We must always address what we do, and how we can keep it relevant in this changing world. Most of all, don’t be intimidated by the prospect of a refresh.  See it as an opportunity to fall in love again with your firm.