On September 1, 2015, over 1 billion Google users started seeing their favorite search engine's new logo. Gone was the familiar serif font, replaced by a more child-like one that looks like refrigerator magnets.
According to Ad Age's survey, 30% of respondents loved it, but 70% said, "I hate it--Fisher Price wants its look back." The change would have gone more smoothly if Google had remembered to do one thing: include the audience in the narrative of its logo change.
How Not To Involve Your Audience In Your Rebranding Story: Google Version
It was the company's biggest logo change since 1999 and it came out of left field. Because it happened without warning, the logo change was a jarring experience. Many of us have been using Google for years, and to be confronted with something so radical--without preparation--was a shock.
Google did publish a blog post announcing the new logo as well as the rationale behind it, but most of us only saw the homepage, with a Google Doodle erasing the old and drawing the new. For some, the page just looked wrong. Others even completely missed the point and didn't realize the old logo was no more.
This happened because we didn't have a story or narrative to make sense of the change.
Compare this to moviegoers' reactions when Anakin Skywalker donned a new suit and took on a new name: Darth Vader. The change didn't come as a shock; it felt completely natural. The person had changed, in both character and appearance, and so a name change felt organic and logical. It made sense to viewers of Star Wars, because they had been in on the story all along.
In redesigning its logo, Google missed an opportunity to let us in on their evolution. Millions of people see Google's home page every single day. Google could have used that to prepare us for the change and explain the reason for it, instead of burying it all in a blog post that very few would read.
How Not To Involve Your Audience In Your Rebranding Story: Yahoo! Version
When Yahoo! redesigned its logo in 2013, it first appeared to be giving its audience a big role in the narrative. In the 30 days leading up to the change, Yahoo! ran a daily image poll asking people which logo they preferred, the old Yahoo! logo or that day's new one.
It seemed like the ultimate way to involve your audience-except that it wasn't. People's votes didn't actually count in deciding what the final new logo would be. In fact, none of the "new" logos were even contenders. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and her logo design team banged out the new logo over one weekend.
Not surprisingly, the audience felt cheated. Skift CEO Rafat Ali spoke for many when he tweeted, "Yahoo you made a mockery out of all of us."
Weaving the Narrative of Change
Rebranding creates a narrative of change, and it's important to keep your audience in mind as you weave that narrative. This means having a plan to communicate what's changing and why.
Let your audience know that change is afoot. A simple heads up is all they need to brace for the change. And then announce the change when it happens, explaining the rationale behind it. Why are you making the change now, and what do the new logo, colors, or name mean?
When I rebranded my company recently from Firepole Marketing to Mirasee, we worked hard to communicate the change-before, during, and after it happened. We used emails, public relations, our podcast, and the new website to explain why "Firepole Marketing" was no longer the right container for us. We also reassured our readers and students that Mirasee is still the same great company they've always loved, just with a more meaningful name.
Rebranding is never easy, but by keeping your audience in the loop, you can minimize the backlash and turn it into an opportunity to articulate and reaffirm what your company stands for.