As initial reactions to Airbnb and Uber’s new logos have shown, rebranding is a tricky business. It may sometimes feel that brands can’t put a foot right with the public when they introduce change. But Expedia’s new brand reveal this week has managed to avoid significant backlash.
We reviewed the Expedia Group reveal with Devin Liddell, principle brand strategist at TEAGUE, and Chris Nurko, chief growth and innovation officer, at C Space, to learn why the design works and how other brands can avoid (or perhaps encourage) controversy.
Liddell tells us that, in many ways, the stated purpose of the new brand is responsible for its positive reception. The objective was not to replace the familiar family of brands but rather to give the group a public face. The host of brands in the group keep their familiar customer-facing separate identities. Liddell says:
This was fundamentally a brand architecture solution. The emergence of the Expedia Group brand creates an extra layer…Expedia is one of them, and it also gets its own brand latitude, and Expedia Group gets to be the portfolio manager.
Liddell points out that this is similar to what Google did by creating Alphabet with a separate brand identity, and what consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble and Nestlé have done for years. Each owned brand maintains its own brand character and the identity of the holding company gets its own treatment, designed to appeal mainly to stockholders and industry watchers.
But building brand portfolios along these lines has both advantages and disadvantages.
The pro is that these individual brands get to have their own sandbox and work in a way that works best for them. That includes branding image, tone of voice, and their place in the marketplace. The only cog is that, when you have a lot of brands, there is an expense. Those brands are not free. They have to be maintained and sustained as individual brands and that does cost money. You can’t have one brand tzar for that one brand. You need to have a separate structure.
There is an insulating benefit to brand catalogues. Consumers may turn to sister brands within the same portfolio when they become unhappy with one; in some cases not even associating the two as part of the same group.
Nurko doesn’t believe that is the aim of the new Expedia brand, and agrees with Liddell that the aim is brand architecture.
Transparency is a threshold hygiene factor today, especially as it relates to cybersecurity and data protection. If Expedia has a policy for protective security then endorsement and transparency is an advantage. Consumers find out in the end so why not make it a benefit?
Inc to Group reflects a larger future portfolio play and expansion, plus more advantages for potential commercial diversification and registration jurisdictions than just Inc. legal liability. It’s most likely an administrative and legal commercial affairs catalyst. Still, it works.”
Liddell also believes the Expedia Group brand accomplishes what the company set out to accomplish. As he says, the new logo speaks to the Group’s magnitude.
We’re big. We’re global. There are some interesting touches that are aligned to where branding has gone over the last decade. You have the lower case ‘e’ and lowercase ‘g’. This is in keeping with a trend that is playing with a lot of brands—particularly digital brands—which makes them more approachable. It’s a balance between the bigness and approachability.
The effectiveness is hard to gauge, but my guess its hat it has already done what they wanted to accomplish—just the structural change to Expedia Group immediately accomplishes what they set out to do.
Time for a Change?
So if the new Expedia Group logo works, what causes other brand updates to fail—or at least to earn the powerful wrath of brand fans?
The business model and experience matters more than an icon. As long as it is recognized and is legally differentiated and registered—there is no confusion with any other brand, it’s positive. It’s probably also a signature moment to use as a platform for communications both internally and externally.
Liddell says that, in many cases, brands should actually embrace the backlash.
The public can have a really visceral reaction to brand. That’s typically a reflection of a good thing. It reveals that they felt a sense of ownership. ‘Don’t change it, I love it.’ It’s usually good.
Nurko tells us that brands should consider brand updates to accompany key milestones and company changes. Specifically:
- when your business model changes
- when you need to reenergize the workforce behind a new vision or purpose
- when you suffer a PR crisis or destabilized period of growth and as a result the organization has changed and you need to signal it to multiple stakeholders
- when the transformation in market dynamics repositions your brand and you need to recapture attention and refocus the narrative of your business—combined with customer-facing changes that are positive
Liddell believes that brands could do a better job of managing their brands by preserving what works or by making iterative, subtle, changes more often, rather than making dramatic changes because internal stakeholders are bored.
One of the things that does hold true—and it’s a lesson from retail—is that around the time that the marketplace is finally getting what the branding means, is when internal forces want to change it—because they are bored with it. It’s better to give it time for the marketplace to be fully familiar with the brand.
On the other hand, brand changes could be sandboxed to great effect.
Companies are comfortable with a future-focused prototyping on the product all day long, but not enough with being creative with brand marks and brand colors or typography.
We don’t do enough on a rolling basis prototyping the brand of the future, developing what the brand will look like five years from now. Consumers are completely comfortable with brand coherence between the old and the new. It doesn’t have to be entirely consistent. There can be gaps on an ongoing basis between where a brand exists and where it is headed.
The key would be to make these sandbox brand trials without the grand dramatic declaration of a permanent brand change—and with good advisors behind it. Liddell points out that many consumer goods categories “tinker” a lot more with their brands and gauge consumer reaction on limited trials. Some of that playing can be more effective than holding to a fixed, strict branding across the catalogue for decades. Then, making any change can strike consumers like a slap in the face.