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Rebuild vs. Refine

Rebuild vs. Refine

As Bob Villa (or perhaps Tim Taylor) teaches us, there are a thousand-and-one ways to update a house, from painting a room, to knocking it to the foundation and starting from scratch. If the floors are sagging and water damaged, that might be the only way to go. But if everything is structurally sound and a few areas just need love, you should not have to take it that far.

The same is true in rebranding. Some identities need to be torn down and built from the ground up. If that’s the case, you need to have the courage to let go of something that’s lived beyond it’s intended lifespan, function or use. But many identities still have valuable features that just need thoughtful tending. “Rebranding” doesn’t necessarily mean throwing everything out. If you begin an identity refresh, make sure your design firm does a full assessment (a “State of the Brand”) to gauge which things are working for and against your company. There are almost always bits of brand that still align with the personality and message you intend to project, and those are the elements worth saving.

For example, our client and 37-location franchise Carbone’s Pizzeria had some wonderful ingredients to work with. Thin-crust-loving, square-cut enthusiasts were well aware of their neighborhood restaurant. Our research and experience showed that people thought fondly of their local pizza joint as an institution. Carbone’s had always been there and always would be—it’s a classic! So ‘tradition’ was a very valuable asset for the Carbone’s perception and we couldn’t lose sight of that. The solution was to smooth the rough edges of key items such as the logo, then introduce a consistent, complementary graphic system built with familiar and new elements, while refining the way the franchise spoke to the intended customers with an updated tagline.

Clearly this level of refresh isn’t jarring—we can refer to it as a “Refinement” rather than a full-on “Rebuild.” Casual observers may notice that the website or store-front look more welcoming than they remember, but they won’t think “Hey! Carbone’s got a new logo.” And sometimes that should be the goal: to improve the perception without changing it drastically. To acheive “ahhhh” instead of “WHOA”. Your design firm should be working to keep the customers who are already loyal, while making improvements to bring in new fans at the same time.

Many large brands you know well have gone through similar incremental refinements. It’s a popular and proven move with big names that keeps things fresh without scaring anyone away. Here are some familiar examples of identity refreshes that show varying degrees of Refinement, without veering too sharply into a Rebuild:


Is it time for your own company to refresh it’s brand identity? And if so, will it take a Rebuild, or simply a Refine?