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Branding Refresh vs Branding Redesign: What's the Difference and How to Know Which You Need

You've probably heard the terms "brand refresh" and "brand redesign" thrown around interchangeably, but they're actually two distinct approaches to updating your brand. I once heard lettering artist Jessica Hische speak at a creative conference where she perfectly summed up the difference with this analogy:

"A rebrand is like sending your brand to a plastic surgeon, while a refresh is like sending your brand to a day spa."

In other words, a redesign involves dramatic changes to your brand's core identity and visuals, while a refresh is more about enhancing and rejuvenating what's already there. One results in a whole new look, the other in a brighter, more polished version of your existing brand.

So which approach is right for your business? The answer depends on a variety of factors, from your brand equity and business goals to your long-term vision and selling channels. In this post, we'll dive into the key differences between a refresh and redesign, the implications and impact of each, and how to weigh your options to make the right call for your brand.

What is a Branding Refresh?

Imagine your brand is like a house. You've lived in it for a while. It's comfortable, familiar, and though it's weathered its fair share of storms over the years it's served as the backdrop for countless memories. But as time goes on, you start to notice a few things that could use an update. Maybe the paint is fading, the fixtures are looking a bit dated, or the yard could use some sprucing up.

So, you decide to give your beloved abode a little refresh. A fresh coat of paint in a new color, a fun, modern light fixture, maybe a few bright plants blooming in the flower beds. Suddenly, your home looks and feels brand new again, even though it's still the same house underneath.

That's essentially what a brand refresh is like.

A brand refresh is all about enhancing and elevating your existing brand identity.

It's a way to fine-tune your visuals, messaging, and overall brand experience without completely overhauling who you are at your core.

Think of it like a spa day for your brand—you're not changing your fundamental features, just polishing them up to look your best. The goal of a refresh is to be unmistakably recognized as you, just a fresh version.

Some common elements of a brand refresh might include:

  • Updating your color palette to feel more modern while maintaining the recognition of your key brand colors
  • Retooling your logo to be cleaner, simpler, or more versatile but keeping the same look, overall
  • Refining your brand voice and messaging to better connect with your audience
  • Refreshing your packaging or website with new design elements or user experience improvements that still feel like you but showcase your product better

For example: Starbucks

Starbucks is the perfect example of a brand that has mastered the art of the successful brand refresh. Over the years, they've made subtle tweaks to their logo, color palette, and packaging to stay modern and relevant, all while maintaining the core elements that make them instantly recognizable.

In 2011, Starbucks famously dropped the words "Starbucks Coffee" from their logo, leaving just the iconic siren. This minimalist evolution signaled a new era for the brand as they expanded beyond just coffee into a wider range of food and beverage offerings. But despite this significant change, the logo still felt distinctly Starbucks—a testament to the power of a well-executed refresh.

Should you refresh your brand?

A refresh is about addressing pain points, staying relevant, and putting your best foot forward—all while maintaining the core brand equity you've worked so hard to build. When you've spent years building brand equity and recognition with your customers, you want to be very careful not to throw that all away without reason.

However, it's very rare that a logo or brand that a business launches with is the same logo or brand they're using twenty years later. As you grow and evolve, your brand may need a little zhuzh to appeal to new audiences or stand out in new contexts.

The best logos are timeless, so if your logo is starting to feel dated or if it's been a minute since you've updated your look, a refresh can help you stay current, competitive, and get back on that timeless track. Or if you've made some changes to your product, a refresh can help signal to customers that you have newness to share without confusing or alienating your existing loyal customer base.

For example: Flamingo Razors

Flamingo Razors is a women's shaving brand from Harry's that launched in 2018 with bright colors and eye-catching design, created specifically to look good enough to display (both on shelves and in bathrooms.) But just a few years later, they quietly rolled out a new logo and an overall elevated vibe that landed somewhere between a branding refresh and a redesign.

I reached out to the company when I noticed the change back in 2022, and this was their response:

"Hey Brittany! I am fairly new to the team so cannot speak to the specifics, but we definitely are still a brand on the newer side and trying to iterate to see what works! We did have a refresh of our packaging to coincide with some sustainability efforts, and decided to give ourselves a fresh look for the shelves at the same time. We also made new blades to address customer needs, and wanted to be clear that they are new and improved!"

There you have it. Refreshed product. Refreshed brand.

What is a Brand Redesign?

Now, if a refresh is a day at the spa, a brand redesign is more like a visit to the plastic surgeon. We're talking foundation-level changes to your brand's core identity, visuals, and messaging.

To go back to our house analogy—instead of simply painting your kitchen cabinets, you bring in a crew for a complete renovation. You expand the island, change the countertops, get all new appliances, swap some cabinets for open shelving, and when you're done you have a brand new kitchen that looks like it belongs on the pages of Architectural Digest.

That's like a brand redesign. Big changes and big impact.

A redesign is a complete overhaul of your brand, usually from the ground up. Sometimes a redesign can tackle a single aspect of your brand, like visual design or voice and messaging. But often it involves rethinking your brand strategy, repositioning yourself in the market, and developing a whole new visual identity and messaging platform.

A redesign is a big undertaking with far-reaching implications for your business. It's not a decision to be made lightly, as it requires significant time, resources, and buy-in from your entire organization. But when done well, a redesign can be a powerful tool for driving growth, attracting new customers, and setting yourself up for long-term success.

For example: Burger King

In 2021, Burger King unveiled a top-to-bottom redesign of their brand - their first in over 20 years. The new look featured a simplified, flat logo (that actually harkened back to their original logo, pre 1999), a bold new color palette, playful illustrations, and a cheeky, irreverent tone.

The redesign was a strategic move to reposition Burger King and “communicate real, delicious, simple, warm food”. By ditching the dated, plastic-y feel of their old branding and embracing a more artisanal, handcrafted aesthetic, Burger King signaled that they were elevating their offerings and experience.

The redesign went beyond just visuals - it extended to every touchpoint, from packaging and uniforms to store design and digital experiences. This holistic approach helped create a cohesive, immersive brand world that felt fresh yet authentic to Burger King's heritage. You can read more about Burger King’s brand update here. (And if you’re a fellow branding and design nerd, I highly recommend you check out the entire project from Jones Knowles Richie. The retro vibes and illustrations are top-notch.)

What kind of results can you expect from a refresh vs. a redesign?

While every brand is different and there are no guarantees, here are some common outcomes:

Brand Refresh:

  • Renewed relevance and resonance with your target audience
  • Increased brand loyalty and affinity among existing customers
  • A subtle but noticeable boost in engagement and sales
  • A sense of excitement and momentum around your brand

Brand Redesign:

  • Dramatic shifts in brand perceptions and associations
  • Attraction of new customer segments and markets
  • Significant bumps in buzz, media attention, and web traffic
  • Repositioning as a leader or disruptor in your industry
  • Long-term gains in market share, revenue, and brand equity

The success of your project and the results you get from it depend a lot on the strength of the strategy, the quality of the execution, and the receptiveness of the audience. The upfront research is the key difference between a successful project and a lackluster one. But when done right, both refreshes and redesigns can be powerful catalysts for growth and transformation.

Which Approach is Right For You?

Now for the million-dollar question: Should you refresh or redesign? As with most things in branding (and life), there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Deciding between a branding refresh or a redesign is not usually a black or white answer. More often than not, it’s a spectrum. You can decide how much or how little to change in any aspect of your brand based on your strategy and research.

(To learn more about the three key aspects of your brand sign up for our free 4-part workshop series: Leveraging Your Brand As Your Primary Moneymaking Tool.)

When is the right time to make a change to your brand?

In the small business space (which is where most of our clients at Happyland Creative® are), we find it’s often right around the time that a business celebrates its fifth birthday that they might start thinking about a brand update. Usually the first few years of business are spent experimenting with your brand, trying to find what fits best, figuring out who you’re selling to and what makes you stand out in the market. You’re setting yourself up for growth.

Once the five year mark rolls around, you likely feel like you have a better understanding of the business you’re building, the audience you’re selling to, and where you want to go with it all. You’re ready to capitalize on that growth.

This is the perfect time to tackle a brand update.

Now, to be clear, five isn’t always the magic number. Some businesses are ready to go all in at three years, for others it might be seven, or even more.

The takeaway is that there comes a point for every business owner when they feel that little nudge from within that says, “I’m ready.”

If you’re feeling the nudge to make a pivot in your business, whether it’s big or small, you should do it. It’s the only way you’ll find out what’s working and not working.

Just be sure that any changes you make in your business or to your brand are intentional. Making changes on a whim can lead you down some slippery, twisty paths and you may quickly find yourself lost. But strategic changes made with intention are what move your business forward.

Here are some key factors to consider when deciding if you need a branding refresh or a rebrand:

Brand Equity: How well-established and recognizable is your current brand? If you've built up a lot of equity over time, a redesign may be riskier than a refresh.

Business Goals: What are you trying to achieve with this brand update? Are you looking to maintain your current course, or make a bold shift? Your goals should dictate your approach.

Selling Channels: Where and how are you selling your products or services? If you're expanding into new channels (like moving from DTC to retail), your brand may need to adapt accordingly.

Long-Term Vision: Where do you see your brand in 5, 10, 20 years? Your brand update should align with your long-term strategic direction, not just your short-term needs.

Customer Perceptions: How do your customers currently perceive your brand? If you have a strong, positive reputation, a refresh may be all you need. If you're fighting negative associations or struggling to stand out, a redesign may be in order.

Competitive Landscape: What are your competitors doing with their brands? You want to differentiate yourself, but not so much that you become unrecognizable or irrelevant in your industry.

If you want some more advice on knowing if it’s the right time to tackle an update, check out our post: 6 Signs It’s Time To Refresh Your Brand

What should you do next?

If your head is spinning with all this talk of refreshes and redesigns, you’re in good company. Deciding when and how to update your brand is a challenge every business faces at some point.

My best advice? Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is your brand's core purpose?
  2. What are your brand’s values and long-term vision?

Then, assess your current brand against those north stars and evaluate:

  • Is it telling the right story?
  • Is it connecting with the right people?
  • Is it setting you up for the future you want to build?

If not, it may be time for a change, whether that's a subtle refresh or a full-scale redesign.

If you need a little help figuring out which path is right for you, that's where Happyland Creative® comes in. We specialize in helping brands find their sweet spot between timeless and trendy, strategic and stylish, refreshed and redesigned. Book a free info call with us today and let's chat about how we can help your brand put its best face forward.

Because when you look good, you feel good—and when you feel good, there's no stopping your business from becoming a viral sensation and household name..

(If you like a deep dive into the evolution of iconic brands, check out our video about the evolution of the Barbie logo on instagram.)

We help our clients make more money with their brand and website by designing engaging visual identities and strategic websites.

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About the Author

Brittany Wong

Brittany Wong is the Founder and Creative Director of Happyland Creative®, a design studio helping small business owners make more money with their branding.