Rebrand vs. Refresh: What's the difference? (And why it matters.)
We were discussing a rebrand with a brewery recently and near the end of our call, their COO asked if we felt like their project would be a rebrand or a refresh.
This seems like a straight forward question, but after 5+ years of handling several dozen brewery rebrands (and writing an entire book on the subject), we've found that the answer is rarely black and white.
Sometimes, a brewery will reach out with a clear idea of what they want to accomplish in mind. "We're viewing this as more of an update, and would like to tackle our identity, packaging and website.” Or conversely, “Our business has grown so much that we don’t feel like we even know what our story is today. We’d like help with defining this so we can set ourselves up for future growth. And we'd like to make some major changes to reflect all that.”
But more often than not, people aren't sure which approach is correct. And even more (more?) often than not, when we get into the project and begin the work, the direction we end up going doesn't fit neatly into one of these boxes anyway.
So this brings up that question again: What's the difference between a rebrand and a brand refresh?
Let’s discuss these two approaches and explore how they’re similar, where they differ and why this matters if your brewery is considering an update.
Evolution vs. Revolution
We framed the difference between Rebrands and Brand Refreshes in our Craft Beer, Rebranded book as “Evolution vs. Revolution.” From the book:
Are you completely reshaping your brewery’s culture and positioning? Are we throwing your logo out with the bathwater and creating wholesale visual change across the board? Or, are we building on decades of work and hard-earned goodwill to make subtle updates in a natural progression? Would it be a misstep to jettison the visual signifiers and concepts behind your company as it stands? Or, does it make more sense to build upon, hone and enhance what already exists?
Let’s start with some quick definitions and then dive firmly into the weeds.
A rebrand represents a shift in your core messaging. This starts with upstream business and brand strategy considerations, including your long term vision—deciding what spaces you want to compete in, how your brewery is positioned, how you wish to be perceived, and defining your most compelling and ownable differentiator(s), brand values and key messaging pillars.
All of this brand strategy, once developed, drives the look and feel of your brand identity.
This includes all the tangible things that help you tell this story to the world, including an updated brand identity system, packaging, website, merch, interior design and extending to all of your other touch points. In some cases, this can even include developing a new name.
A brand refresh is more of a visual, surface-level update—call it a fresh coat of paint. In this scenario, your brand values and positioning (most of that strategy stuff we're focusing on during a rebrand) still holds true, but your brand identity and packaging may just need some level of updating.
The work (identity, packaging, etc.) will generally build on, or evolve, your existing identity. So it’s not a sweeping change, but an evolution.
I'll use this opportunity to mention something Cody said a few months ago during a presentation. I’d never heard it put this way and it’s been rattling around in my head ever since. (Just don't tell him I quoted him here.)
“All rebrands are refreshes. But not all refreshes are rebrands.”
(Top) Our work with Left Field Brewery is a clear brand refresh. Their previous identity and packaging had good bones, but they needed some help resetting everything to accommodate an aggressive annual release schedule.
Fun fact: one of Left Field's goals for this project was for the refresh to be so subtle that most people might not even know it happened.
(Bottom) Our work with Prost Brewing was 100% a rebrand. It's actually astounding how big the disconnect between their previous identity and packaging was compared to their beer quality.
This called for an entirely new identity, packaging, website, interior design and a variety of other important touch points.
Visual and Brand Equity
You can't decide whether a project is a rebrand or a refresh without understanding what, if any, equity your current brand may have.
Your visual and/or brand equity will matter more during a refresh. Whereas you may jettison more of that equity during a rebrand.
But even then, this framing isn't always 100% black and white.
We've written about the difference between visual and brand equity before. Revisit that here.
Okay, so there is a difference. Why does this matter?
The idea of "Evolution vs. Revolution" is a valuable heuristic to help breweries think about how they want to address their update.
But I'm not sure that it's necessary for you to make this decision before embarking on a project.
In a perfect world, your team would go into this process with an open mind and let the brand strategy and due diligence dictate which is the best path.
Still, it is valuable to think about which approach you want to take because it can help you define your goals and overall intent.
This brings us to why you're wanting to make an update in the first place, and how this can help you understand whether a rebrand or a refresh is the appropriate solution.
(Top) Our work with KettleHouse is a great example where the line between a refresh and a rebrand blur. There was a heavy strategy component (positioning, value definition and messaging pillars), but then there was also so much visual equity after 20+ years of business, that the final result (the identity and packaging) was more of a sweeping refresh.
(Bottom) Our work with Mission Brewing is another example of this gray area. There was a fair amount of equity in Mission's icon and a few specific beer brands. But then we also had to completely build their brand strategy from the ground up. Here's a podcast where we interviewed Mission's CEO about this process.
What are you trying to fix / accomplish?
If you can’t decide which of these approaches makes the most sense (and you'd like to do so), you may find some clarity by examining the reason(s) you're considering an update in the first place.
What issues and pain points are leading you to want to update your branding and packaging? Or, what opportunities do you see?
Here are some of the recurring reasons we've heard over the last 6+ years of helping breweries rebrand. How many of these apply to your brewery?
– “Our packaging is all over the place visually. And with 25+ new releases per year, it's always getting worse.”
– "We've got multiple locations now and want to develop a consistent look and experience that spans the entire company."
– “We’re not really sure what our story is. Sure, we’ve grown a lot and people love our beer, but I feel like we could be so much further along if we actually spent time dialing in our marketing and branding."
– “We’re shifting to a new format (moving to 16oz cans, from bottles to cans, introducing new secondary packaging, moving to pressure sensitive labels to be more nimble, etc.) and want to make everything hang together on shelf.”
– "We're buying a brewery and, other than the name, think everything about the existing branding and packaging needs to change."
– "We've completely rebuilt our portfolio. Now that we're confident in our products themselves, we'd like to address our packaging so we can sell more beer."
– "We're going to start distributing in a new market next year, but worry that our name will limit our success. No one knows what our name means, or even how to pronounce it."
– “We’re planning to launch a new XYZ (beyond beer product) and want to get our flagship packaging in a better place before deciding how much, if any, of our brewery's brand comes through on those new releases.”
– “It’s just time. We haven’t made any changes to our packaging in more than 10 years and it feels like we’re getting lost on shelf.”
A bit of homework for you: Reread this list and think about which situations call for a refresh vs. where more of a full rebrand is in order. Or, which prompts could fall in that gray area?
Also, the 17th person that made their way through this entire issue and emails me with the subject line, "Dunkel" wins a free copy of our Craft Beer Branding Guide.
(Top) Our work with Southern Brewing is a clear rebrand.
(Bottom) Our work with BitterRoot Brewing is another example that doesn't fit neatly into one of these categories. Their identity was a clean refresh while their merch and packaging leaned more towards an outright rebrand.
Ultimately, whether you consider your update a rebrand or a refresh doesn't really matter. It's the process that gets you where you want to be, or perhaps more importantly, how you emerge from that process in a better position to scale your business, that matters.
Think about your brand equity and why you want to make an update in the first place. And move forward in confidence.
And then you and I can grab a beer here in a year or two and argue about which box your project ended up fitting in.
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