• Transform magazine
  • August 18, 2022

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Hidden depth – when big brands undergo subtle identity change

Jesse Swash

Jesse Swash, co-founder of London-based agency Design By Structure, explores how seemingly small changes within established brands, like BMW, can give us clues of the enormous changes which are to come in an industry.

The very best brands are dynamic. They respond to the changes around them, the changes in their market, changes in customer demand and changes driven by macro-economic pressures.

The biggest brands and the most successful companies are examples of this. There are reasons why McKinsey rules consultancy or why VW is the world's largest carmaker or why Adyen dominates payments. They listen to their customers; they listen to the market, and they respond. New product lines. New ways to buy.

But a new brand, a new positioning, a new way of communicating can be a signal of a much bigger change.

If we take a moment to step back and look at the wider landscape, we can see how what might seem like a small change could be understood as an indicator of a much more profound shift in medium to long term strategic goals. A signal that real change is coming.

BMW is a good example. A thin new logo, super simplified so it renders better on a screen. At first view an odd choice for the maker of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’. But take a step back and consider the key point. It works better on screen. The clue is in here.

The company has realised that the future is digital. And they are positioning themselves for their place in that world. They have realised that they know more about their customers than simply the cars they buy – they know their customers' driving habits, their journeys, and their routes. The data they collect is of huge value. It can tell them where to best locate vehicles for rent by the hour, what are the most driven routes and which car types are needed where and when. It tells them everything they need to know to be ready for the new mobility choices that are coming.

BMW has made that leap and they’re positioning themselves to take advantage of it, before someone else does. So, what else does this mean? It also means that there is a disruptor in there too, circling its territory. An Apple car? Probably. A Google car? Maybe. So, a battle is about to be declared and BMW are determined to be relevant and to survive.

And two other companies have followed suit, VW and Volvo just did the same thing.

These kinds of rebrands and repositioning and the codes and meanings within the new identities give clues to the long-term ambitions of these companies, to what the leaders of these businesses see.

So next time you see an unexpected rebrand or a new logo that looks a little unusual or out of place, look beyond the obvious and ask yourself, ‘what do they know about what’s coming that I don’t?’.

The best rebrands are indicators of profound change. They set up those businesses for the next wave of their success. And the great brands always get it right. Again, and again and again. Think of BlackBerry, Xerox or Kodak, the business landscape is littered with those that didn’t change, that didn’t invest and didn't keep up.

So as a brand, look around you, not just at the immediate competition but at the landscape of change that could disrupt your success. And make the right kind of change to be on the right of side of success.