New times equal new challenges for re-branding
Over the last twenty years we’ve been working with business to re-position and refresh their brands the most significant change we’ve witnessed is the internet. Not such a ground breaking thought I know; the net has forever changed the way all businesses operate and connect with their audiences. But much more specifically, the net has changed the relationship between brands and the world – leading to massively increased scrutiny of their brand behavior.
How a business behaves ethically and morally is in the spotlight like never before. From unhappy employees to unfair work practices and environmental credentials, all a brand does captures attention and draws comment. By and large these things make life for business a little more complex, but mostly it’s a good thing. One by-product of the spotlight is the manner in which a brand re-fresh or re-positioning now also gains a huge amount of coverage. The coverage typically includes comments and opinions by everyone from industry experts to passionate brand fans and the general public.
The challenge for brands is to separate popularism from strategic directive. It’s as important as always for brands to be popular. As always brands cannot be all things to all people, they must understand their core audiences and develop their products, services and marketing to position their brands effectively. It is critical for brand change to be driven by strategy directed by a strong and clear vision (think Apple).
A new brand identity for The Met
A brand’s visual identity design plays a critical role in taking this strategy to market and needs to be treated with the according respect and consideration. But even brands that take this approach will be open to mass public criticism. Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art, known as ‘the Met’ unveiled a new brand mark and identity system designed by the international firm Wolff Olins. The response from (relatively informed) critics and the (uninformed) public was swift and fierce.
Was the change strategically driven? Almost certainly.
Did The Met understand their core audience? Absolutely.
Was the brand identity change managed by experienced specialists? Yes indeed.
So what went wrong? Arguably nothing.
As a much loved and highly respected public institution, any change to The Met brand was going to attract alot of attention. In many ways regardless of the identity re-design, they were going to be damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. Had they taken a safer, small evolution approach they would have been criticized for conservatism. On taking a bolder approach to change Wolff Olins was never going to please everyone, and howls of outrage will always drown out the quite applause of appreciation.
So how should The Met respond?
Assuming they are confident in their vision and the strategic direction that underpinned the change, The Met must not heed the calls to revert back to their old brand identity – just because their critics are passionate does not mean they are best positioned to make such an important decision for the future direction of The Met. All organisations – especially public institutions – must tread the delicate path between leadership (owning their brand direction) and sharing (engaging with and listening to their community). In this case the right move is leadership. This is an exercise in responding to criticism by engaging, recognising the level of interest and passion, explaining the vision and strategic context, and then getting on with the business of The Met’s future.