Of Sacred Cows and Rebranding Projects

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When it comes to re-design there are few projects I can think of with more sacred cows than
a 1000 year old Catholic Church.
Architect John Pawson recently revealed his stunning restoration of the St Moritz church in Augsburg Germany. I was firstly struck by the stunning simplicity of his design, but was quickly struck by the real success of this project – sensitively transforming a church with one thousand years of baggage, restrictions and rules that could not be broken into a truly remarkable, renewed vision of itself. Ironically this religious re-design project carries more than a passing similarity to the challenges we face when refreshing a brand identity.

So often a re-branding project comes with more restrictions than a choir boy has Sunday roasts, and the presumed sacred cows for a brand are most often what limits the project’s success.

The reasons for a brand to reposition itself are many and varied:
• Significant changes or an Aggressive new player in the market, Loss of market share
• Changes to the business environment through updates to technology or changes to consumer behavior (both of which are occurring with increasingly accelerated regularity)
• New ownership or management
• A new vision for the business
• A merger or an Acquisition
• New product or service development, or
• The maturing of a business to the point where it is ready to (and can afford to) brand itself professionally
But the one thing all businesses have in common when re-branding – it is not a process entered-into without good business reason.

‘The one thing all businesses have in common
when re-branding – it is not a process entered-
into without good business reason.’

Given the importance to a business of it’s re-branding, it should be paramount to limit the compromises imposed on the project at the outset. Yet so many clients weigh down their re-branding project from the start without realizing they are doing-so. Assumptions about which elements of the old brand are critical and must be retained, about the long list of things the brand must continue to stand for, about the target audience – who they are and how they relate to the brand, and about what they are willing to accept by way of change in the way the brand presents itself.

It’s no that these ‘risk points’ for a re-brand should be ignored, but that a professional brand design agency is best positioned to discover and understand which of these issues are critical to the success of the brand and which are imagined to be so through ungrounded assumption.

And this is where the brilliance of the St Moritz church redesign truly shines. This beautifully designed, holy place represents a victory for faith in professional design over fear of doing things in any way other than the way they have always been done. Without doubt the new church is a breath-taking and inspiring space, whilst retaining, if-not enhancing its spiritual impact. Though it looks like no church I’ve ever been inside, it undoubtedly remains a place of worship, simply one that has been re-imagined and re-defined to suit the times – an achievement all the churches and all the ministers within have been struggling with for decades.

I hope you enjoy the pics below as much as I do, and for the managers and owners of brands amongst you, imagine as you wonder at the beauty of this re-design, how differently it may have turned-out if treated with the same restrictive thinking many re-branding projects are saddled with.

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