Like most young, small businesses, we often ask ourselves if the branding and look of our logo, social media and website is in line with the audiences we are trying to attract.
Even though this is a question we literally ask of our clients day in and day out, the question becomes more difficult when you are asking it of yourself and your brand.
First of all, there’s the emotion attached to the original – the original ideas, the original colours, the absolute moment when that first burst of entrepreneurial inspiration hit you like a meteor and you ran with it. That adrenaline hit of potential future success.
In time though, as we begin to see how our companies interact with the public, with the targeted audiences, and on social media in general, we see room for improvement. We discover things we didn’t know before. Small businesses often don’t have the luxury of hiring brand specialists when they’re just starting out. Many businesses don’t ever do it. So, for this reason, small businesses need to be open to allowing their branding to evolve over time.
Star Mountain Design is no different. But we’ll come back to that in a minute.
When and Why Brands Evolve
One of my personal favourite brand evolutions is that of Taco Bell (and not simply because it’s occupied its own space on my Food Pyramid since childhood).
Taco Bell first opened as a small restaurant in California, USA in the early 1960s. The colours and style of their first logo are reflective of what you would expect from Mexican-style (yes, I know it’s a bit of a stretch) food, as well as popular colours of the time period.
The lettering and font-style also are reflective of what was available as far as print design was concerned.
It wasn’t until 1985 – 23 years after that first Taco Bell opened – that their logo began evolving more into the logo style we see today – the bell on top and the company name on the bottom.
There was a huge shift in styles generally between the mid-1980s and the early-mid 1990s. Seismic, really. Taco Bell was no exception to the change as evidenced in the changes made from their 1985 to 1992 logo. One thing that will have contributed to this was the mainstream (and affordable) usage of graphic design software, such as Adobe Illustrator (1987) and Adobe Photoshop (1990) that gave far more options than pen and paper when it came to logo design.
When I was in (American) high school in the mid-1990’s, I took a class called “Graphic Imaging” that taught us Photoshop and possibilities I could never imagine appeared before me. Photoshop has a very different interface now, but the way it, and other programmes like it revolutionised an industry cannot be understated.
If you look at Taco Bell’s logo from 1992 and their most recent iteration from 2016, the changes aren’t any that would blow your mind. To be honest, if I was driving down the highway and I saw the 1992 logo on one of their restaurants, it probably wouldn’t even register. Taco Bell’s logo changes across the last 30+ years have been more subtle.
The lettering is now a simple sans-serif, which is becoming increasingly popular for modern brands in many Western countries. The current colours are simple and clean, and feature a gradient in the purple, which is another trend that’s been on the rise.
Another interesting development that happened with Taco Bell is that in 2016, it returned to the UK after a failed attempt at wooing the British public in the 1980s. Besides choosing to open in lower rent areas to get their metaphorical foot in the Kingdom door, their branding and marketing strategy also have changed, which – this time around – the British public has been more receptive to.
There is no doubt that logo styles and branding preferences vary from country to country and I wonder if the British public of the 1980s/1990s just felt this wild taco-loving company from America was just too outrageous for their tastes – in look and in cuisine.
However, things have changed a lot in the past couple of decades for the company on the US end too. Taco Bell’s newest logo gives a nod to the clean lines and simplicity valued in British branding. The restaurant interiors of American Taco Bells now are unrecognisable from the ones of the 1980s and 1990s and the British Taco Bells have a different look to the American ones (yes, my friends, I have done field research strictly for this article… “research”)
Taco Bell UK is doing really well this time around too, with more locations cropping up regularly in city centres as well now. Coincidence? You can be the judge. The world is becoming smaller no doubt, but you still have to win over a new culture of people when you expand internationally.
So if a big company like Taco Bell feels the need to reinvent itself to fit a changing landscape and a global appetite (no pun intended!), why shouldn’t a small company too?
Star Mountain in the Beginning
That small company was us. When I built the very first Star Mountain site in 2017, I spent days on end obsessing about colours. I managed to get something online that looked more like a portfolio site rather than a business site because back then, I wasn’t even sure what direction things were headed in. I knew the colours were temporary, because I wasn’t a fan but I just needed something on the interwebs.
I played around with multiple colour palettes. I searched for inspiration in pretty objects or product packaging I liked. I asked my mother, who is an interior designer, to give me some guidance. I asked friends for their opinions. Yet nothing seemed right. Nothing hit me like a lightning bolt.
Every time I thought I was really close to something amazing, I put it into play and hated it.
After what felt like several weeks had gone by where I couldn’t settle on a palette I liked, I was shopping in the Canary Wharf mall in London, and wandered into one of my favourite UK chains, Oliver Bonas. As I was browsing, I finally had my lightning bolt moment.
The soft whites, muted colors and gold accents were everything. And right away (or well, as soon as I bought something I didn’t need) I went home and got to work incorporating those colours into the site.
The very first Star Mountain site had incorporated those colors as well as some orange, pink and purple tones.
If Oliver Bonas and a California sunset had a baby and that baby was on acid, you would have had the colour scheme of the first Star Mountain site.
Listen, I’m not gonna lie to you. We all learn from our mistakes.
It was only when I started to feel a bit cringe giving our website address or business card to anyone with a y-chromosome that I knew we needed a new colour palette and maybe, just maybe, a rebrand. I know there’s plenty of people out there who don’t believe colour and gender should go hand-in-hand and that’s fair – but at the end of the day, you have to know your audience. And our clientele is diverse in industry, gender, location and age. It’s not about what I like or the beliefs I have – it’s about what’s best for my business.
In 2020, we altered the color scheme to a grape purple and white palette, but knew this would be temporary as we had bigger ideas for a full-on rebrand. It was, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that our rebrand got put on a back burner, however, as we worked to support businesses that needed to spruce up or create an online presence, because one thing people will always say about 2020 – life was forced to become digital, whether we liked it or not.
In early 2021 when life seemed to start returning to normal, we started working on a new logo that was thicker and cleaner – which by the way, showed up much better on promotional merchandise we ordered, such as mugs, postcards and stickers.
We also were taking on graphic design and print work more regularly with the addition of a freelance graphic designer, so we decided to change our trading (not registered) name to “Star Mountain Design.” It was less of a mouthful and still encompassed all the work we do. This was a big rebrand for such a young business, but it was absolutely a crucial one – and I have zero regrets about doing it.
Colours that don’t test your gag reflex
We still liked the captivating colours that make up a sunset, but not in the pastel way that they had been incorporated in the first colour scheme of Star Mountain. Purple and orange had been making more of an appearance in popular tech logos, and we thought we could work with that as a gradient, using a salmon pink as the buffer between the two.
We may have changed the hue and saturation of the colors no less than a zillion times, but creating the right colour palette is no easy task. There’s a whole aspect of psychology devoted to colour choices used in marketing. It’s not easy to get it right.
A New Website
There was also the task of creating a new website that fit an aesthetic pleasing to our primary audiences, which are in the USA and UK – which in and of themselves, have different styles in design. But finding that happy medium of providing enough on the screen to appeal to the content-hungry Yanks while still having a clean look for the minimalist-loving Brits, was a challenge that Aisha (a Brit) and me (a Yank) went back and forth on.
In the end, we just made it work somehow. I don’t remember how we met in the middle, but somehow we did. We created a site that did what we needed it to do, and had a much more attractive blog and portfolio as features as a major upgrade from our first iteration of Star Mountain’s website.
Two years later, we’ve not altered this site a great deal because we’re finding, at the moment, its design is standing the test of time in our industry. This was the goal all along and should be the goal for all businesses.
Rebranding can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be!
I truly believe one of the biggest mistakes a business can make when it comes to their branding is feeling overly-sentimental about your first launch and worrying about items you have already produced with your logo or colours on them. Listen guys, I’m guilty too – I wasn’t completely on board with a new logo for us for exactly those reasons – at least to start.
Eventually I utilised some rational thinking (for a change) and came to the conclusion that Star Mountain was not that established yet (we were about 3 years old by that point) and not only was there no point in delaying the inevitable- but if we ever wanted anyone beyond our cosy network (which to be fair, provided the lion’s share of our early business) to take us seriously, we needed a big-ass rebrand.
When we rebranded, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve been growing ever since. Our new logo and brand colours look so much better on products we create, as well as on our social media profiles and other websites we contribute to.
I say this a lot to clients and I’ve said this in previous blogs – the branding you’re creating should reflect you and your business on some level, but should be created with your target audience in mind. Let’s not beat around the bush here – you probably are looking to make money. To make money you have to sell your stuff or your services. To get the people in the door, you have to look professional and appealing. We all have had experiences where we didn’t give a store or a website a chance because they looked uninviting, unappealing or dated.
Subtle rebrands are cool too!
You know who does a lot of subtle rebrands? Google. I never notice them until someone points them out to me. When it happens I think, ah yeah, that looks pretty fresh. Google has been playing the game all along (well… at least since 1998, when they phased out what can only be described as an early MS Word Art disaster).
But seriously, have any of us paid much attention to the way the Google logo has evolved in 25 years? If I sit and look at this chart now, yes I can see it, especially when it went from serif to sans-serif in 2015. But I didn’t notice on my own accord along the way.
Why? Well, it was subtle. The fonts changed, the colour hues altered slightly… but that was it. It was still the Google we always knew on some level. Just like when a person slightly changes their haircolour or starts wearing a new shade of lipstick.
So if you’re not ready to go guns-blazing into a full rebrand, maybe consider doing it slowly and subtly. There is nothing wrong with that either.
Look at a rebrand as growth
Here’s what I’ll say in close. You shouldn’t look at a rebrand as trying to fix a problem, though you may be doing exactly that if you’re working with very dated logos and colours. Overall, one should look at a rebrand as a positive step in the right direction. Your business is growing and evolving – it has already stood the test of time. Do you think when Apple releases a new iPhone design they do it because the previous iPhones were failures? Of course not. They’re growing and taking notice of industry changes and demands. Your business should do the same to ensure long-term success.