Does Category Design Require a Rebrand?

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Since category design is such a foundational business strategy, it will impact most areas of your company (if not every nook and cranny). So it’s natural to wonder if category design means you need to go through a rebrand. The answer is… it depends. In this post, I’ll share my approach to figuring out the right path for you.

But first, I want to get clear on what “brand” and “re-branding” actually mean.

Sometimes I Hate the Word “Brand” Because No One Can Agree on What It Means

Ask five marketers what “brand” means and you’ll get five different answers.

So for this discussion, I’ll define brand as “visual identity”. Logo, colors, typography, and visual style. I’m not talking about changing the company name (that’s a re-naming exercise, which would also require a rebrand).

What we are really after is answering, “Do we need to change our visual identity as part of category design? And if so, what changes should we make?”

The answer comes from asking one simple question.

“Does My Brand Support or Detract from My Category POV?”

A category “point of view” (or POV) is a short narrative that demonstrates why your category exists. It describes the problems you are taking customers from, and the new reality your category is going to deliver them to. If crafted well, a good POV will convey emotions, ideas, beliefs, and opinions. Your POV is useful for assessing your brand because it gives you a reference point for the ideas that your visual identity must evoke.

Here’s a great example that my friends at Category Design Advisors worked on with a client of theirs. It’s from a supply-chain software company called noodle.ai, who’s building the “Flow Operations” category. The copy on their homepage (which is inspired by their POV) reads:

Factories, supply chains, and distribution systems are planned to flow perfectly and waste nothing, but everyday “surprises” ripple through these complex systems, wreaking villainous havoc. The result: businesses settle for chronic profit-eating waste-producing operations entropy.

Flow Operations allows companies to master chronic entropy and waste, and pursue perfect operations flow—moving products from raw materials to factory to shelf in elegant synchronization, making waste all but extinct.

Noodle.ai stands against complexity, havoc, waste, and entropy. They stand for flow, elegance, synchronization, and waste reduction.

This is where the POV as a reference for your brand comes into play. If noodle.ai was exploring a rebrand, they should start by asking, “Does our visual identity evoke flow, elegance, synchronization, and waste reduction? Or does it undermine these ideas?”

As a category designer, you must ask these kinds of questions about your brand. But getting clear answers can be difficult. Here’s how my creative director at BombBomb, Sarah Wagle, taught me how to clarify things.

Get Feedback From Your Target Audience

Having your internal team assess your brand can be tough because it will be hard for them to be objective. They’re too close things. Instead, you need an external perspective to show you what attributes your brand actually evokes.

To get that perspective, use a site like usertesting.com to present your homepage to your target customers. Ask them what attributes come to mind, and you’ll be able to see if your brand is on target with your POV, or if it’s missing in some areas. (Consider replacing the homepage copy with lorem ipsum. Otherwise, you run the risk of influencing the responses.)

My design team has found the most success doing this in an interactive, workshop-style format. If you have a skilled creative director on your team, then you can run this exercise yourself. Otherwise, look for some outside help.

At the end of the exercise, you should have a sense of the areas that need improvement. To use the noodle.ai example again, you might find that the idea of waste reduction didn’t come across, and you need to explore a more refined, minimalist look.

What’s helpful about this exercise is that it also tells you how much work might need to get done. My design team likes to describe it as if you were renovating a house, with five degrees of work that you will choose from:

  1. Leave things as they are
  2. Paint a few rooms
  3. Remodel a room
  4. Add an addition to the house
  5. Raze the house and rebuild

Once you’ve assessed the gaps in your current brand, your work isn’t done yet. Next, you have to decide if you’re actually going to fix the problem, and when.

OK, Your Brand is Off. That Doesn’t Mean You Need to Rebrand

Not every problem needs fixing, needs to be fixed right away, or fixed all at once. Just because your contractor tells you that your roof is at its end of life, it doesn’t mean that you’ll replace it that week. There may be other projects that are more pressing, or maybe your budget needs a boost first.

Revising your brand is the same way. You probably have several projects that you could pursue as a business, and working on a rebrand will prevent other work from getting done. Whether we are category designers or not, most of us have brands that are good (or even great) but not perfect. Yet we defer that work because it may not be the best investment at that moment.

However, category designers have a real advantage in assessing the performance of their visual identity. Other companies may pursue rebranding efforts to stand out from the competition (or for plenty of other less important reasons). But a category designer is more likely to have clarity on what it wants its brand to accomplish.

Depending on your budget, how high the stakes are, and how well your current brand is performing, you might decide to do nothing, start from scratch, or make a few modifications. But whatever you decide, following this process will help you land on a decision with greater confidence.

Have questions on this? We are going through branding revisions at BombBomb right now, and I’m happy to share more about our experience. Send them to me at john@flagandfrontier.com.

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About the Author

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John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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