Differences Between Branding, Rebranding & Refreshing

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Although they may seem at first blush to be similar, they couldn’t be more different. For example, they may stem from the same discipline, but the difference between a rebrand and a refresh is the difference between bulldozing a building and simply getting new carpeting.

It’s important to be able to distinguish between the three to not only properly diagnose your needs, but get your mind in the right place to fulfill those needs.


Branding itself breaks down into two categories:

  • Creation
  • Management


Branding as Identity Creation:
Branding is the meticulous process of creating an identity from the ground up that differentiates your brand from the rest of the world. A brand centers itself in a strong copywritten narrative and manifests in the form of a visual identity, which commonly includes a name, logo, slogan, website and marketing materials.

The goal of branding is to give life to something that connects with both your target audience and the public in general.

For creation, here is our formula:

  1. Narrative Cultivation and Copywriting
  2. Font Selection, Color Scheme Development and Logo Design
  3. Style Rule Documentation
  4. Corporate (or product) Identity Build Out

Branding as Integrated Management:
Once a brand is established and running, it’s the job of someone well-versed in the standards of the brand identity to maintain consistency.

Branding is commonly mistaken as a vertical discipline like marketing, advertising, public relations or customer service. What differentiates branding—in its ideal form—is that it acts as an integrated function spanning across all platforms and disciplines.

For example branding is the management function that makes sure the right fonts, brand colors and design standards are used on billboards, social media platforms, corporate communications and videos.

It’s not meant to put obstacles in front of new marketing initiatives—it’s meant to make sure those initiatives are seamlessly tied back to the organization. This is especially important for large organizations with multiple departments and countless team members.

It doesn’t stop there though. It should keep a pulse on customer service and experience to create a consistent, properly represented identity throughout everything.


Rebranding is what needs to happen if a brand:

  • Isn’t connecting with ideal fans
  • Is confusing to the public
  • Has conflicting messages and severe inconsistencies
  • Completely misrepresents the services or mission
  • And, honestly, is just plain broken


Bad Brands Ruin Businesses (or make them more difficult to operate at the very least):
It’s no secret that a bad brand can confuse customers and/or internal team members. The effects of that confusion can be the difference between someone investing in your services or turning to a competitor.

If people don’t understand who you are and what you do then they’re most likely going to look for something that they do understand. Understanding, and clear understanding at that, instills confidence, which is key to getting someone to buy or talk about you.

Rebranding is a Serious Endeavor:
Out of the three, rebranding tends to be the most substantial function. When you’re talking about rebranding, you’re metaphorically talking about tearing down the building, clearing the pieces and rebuilding it from the ground up (with branding).

Rebranding Can Reconnect an Organization with the World:
If your a brand isn’t connecting with the world, a rebrand will first discover where everything went wrong. Is the name not catching? Is the logo too generic, low quality or just plain confusing? Do the name and logo conflict? Is the way you describe what you do and who you are misleading?

Once these discoveries are made, the process will reevaluate the brand’s place in the world, what it offers and where it is going. By gathering this information, an identity can be rebuilt to connect in an effective way.

For rebranding, here is our formula:

  1. Brand Challenge (Identifying where the brand is broken)
  2. Narrative Audit, Evaluation and Rewriting
  3. Visual Identity Audit, Evaluation and Redesign
  4. Style Rule Documentation
  5. New Corporate Identity Build Out
  6. Old Corporate Identity Clean Out and New Brand Integration


Brand refreshing is considerably less commonly recognized than the other two. Unfortunately it is either associated or completely globbed in with rebranding.

Back to our building metaphor—again, rebranding is tearing down the building, cleaning up the pieces and then rebuilding from the ground up. Refreshing is renovating the pre-existing structure, which for the sake of our metaphor, could mean tearing out old carpets and putting in hard wood or installing a new exterior. At the end of the day, people are going to recognize the building, but the buildings features will be upgraded and optimized.


A brand refresh can range anywhere from subtle to extremely noticeable. Common brand refresh outputs include:

  • A tweaked or optimized logo
  • A redesigned logo
  • Rewriting or updating the slogan
  • Updating a brand’s color palette and font library
  • Redesigning corporate identity pieces and marketing materials
  • Revising style guides and brand usage

When a Brand Refresh Is Appropriate:
Most often, brand refreshes are performed for organizations with strong identities that are widely recognized, but would like to make some upgrades without losing that recognized identity.

For example, it could be the bakery that everyone in town knows about and loves, but that needs to streamline its product packaging and digital presence.

A Good Example of a Brand Refresh:
A great example to showcase how a brand refresh plays out is our work with Allegheny Commercial Real Estate Services (ACRES).

ACRES has been in the commercial real estate business since 1995. The company’s identity is strong and widely recognized in the northern Pittsburgh market. They partnered with us to update and optimize that recognized identity.

Logo Consolidation and Optimization

When we started working with ACRES, they had three variations of the same logo floating around on different mediums. The logos themselves were extremely similar and were the following the same concept. There were, however, small subtleties—such as spacing, text decoration and font type—that differentiated each.

Our first order of business was to consolidate the three logos into an optimized version with a centralized file location to be used across all platforms.


Adding a Color Palette Accent

Next, we upgraded the fonts and colors utilized by the brand. In the color palette, ACRES had been utilizing the same gold-creme and royal blue combination for all design materials for 20 years.

We wanted to add an accent color to the color palette to add diversity and vibrance to the brand identity. To do so, we developed an electric blue to add some diversity and a modern twist to marketing materials while also complimenting the classic colors.

ACRES office leasing guide

Corporate Identity Redesign

Last, but not least, we took our new brand usages and applied them to upgrading the corporate identity pieces.

ACRES brand identity

Concluding Result

By optimizing the logo, adding an accent to the color palette and applying those concepts to the corporate identity materials, we successfully maintained the wide recognition of the ACRES brand while refreshing the identity.

Business associates in the market easily recognize ACRES, while delightfully recognizing the visual upgrades.

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