How fonts help you rebrand for the future

Modern rebranding initiatives are about more than just updating a brand’s look and feel. Companies today must adapt to rapid shifts in technology and customer expectations, which requires fundamental changes to the way they interact with their customers.

“We’ve never faced such a relentless phase of growth,” says Monotype Senior Director, Creative, James Fooks-Bale. “Brands have to evolve at a rapid and continual rate, whether that’s a technological shift, new audience or way of segmenting, a new market or localisation.”

Brands have always been evolving, of course. We’ve all watched as famous brands changed their logos, tried out (and sometimes failed with) new product offerings, and kept themselves fresh and relevant to their customers.

The difference is that, in the past, brands more or less controlled this evolution. Major inflection points, like the introduction of television, were followed by long periods of sameness that allowed brands to take measured, controlled risks when they rebranded.

They didn’t know how good they had it.

Where do we start?

Fast forward to 2018, and the leisurely pace of yesteryear has spun up into what feels like a week-to-week blitz of emerging trends, new apps, and expanding expectations. 

“Customers are in more places than ever, from geography to the device or surface they’re using,” says Fooks-Bale. “And by the time you think you have things set, a new device, platform, or form of content creation has been added to the pile.”

“It’s probably best to get comfortable with constant change, and curious to solve for what’s to come. Accept that you can’t control it or predict it all and remember that branding is a continual evolution.”

The leisurely pace of yesteryear has spun up into what feels like a week-to-week blitz of emerging trends, new apps, and expanding expectations.

Brands must adapt to major changes in their customer relationships and position themselves to respond to whatever comes next. It’s alarmingly easy to fall behind or feel overwhelmed by the pace of change, and some organizations may struggle to outline the scope or scale of a rebrand. Where do you begin? How do you connect all the dots? 

Use type to kickstart your strategy

Type is one of the most important aspects of a rebrand, whether you’re tied to a set of fonts or looking to start over from scratch. Fonts thread your visual identity though every customer touchpoint, and may be your only brandable asset in use cases where color, imagery, and other elements can’t or won’t work.

For example, Trisha Comerford, of Wieden & Kennedy, told the audience at Monotype’s Brand Day event last month that she launched the rebrand of Formula 1 racing with a focus on type. “We decided to start the identity with type because it’s global. It’s recognizable. It’s distinguishable.” Consistent, branded type relieves the pressure on other brand assets and allows your design language to be flexible.

In the case of a rebrand, fonts are a good starting point for determining how you’ll adapt to your customers’ expectations. Does your brand need to hold up well in VR or a small screen environment? Is your audience global, or likely to be? If these situations don’t apply today, should you be prepared for that to change in the next few years?

Fonts are essential to addressing these needs, so establishing a comprehensive account of your customer touchpoints can help kickstart your visual identity decisions. What do you want the type to say about the brand? Should the brand express itself differently in different situations? Will you need a suite of font families to deal with different demands?

Answering these questions lays the foundation for everything that follows. You can build a font strategy that guarantees legibility and functionality in all environments while layering your visual identity on and around it.

How do we know we’re done?

You aren’t, really. Ever. Sorry!

Today’s rebrands don’t really end. Instead, think of rebranding as a revitalization of your relationship with your customers—a rethinking of the way you interact with your audience.

One primary goal of any rebrand should be to meet your customers where they are today and prepare for where they might be tomorrow. Your font strategy shouldn’t be seen as a fixed, rigid object, but rather a scalable tool that enables you to reshape your brand in real time.

It’s probably best to get comfortable with constant change, and curious to solve for what’s to come.

“Stringent guidelines have been replaced with fluid style guides and philosophies that allow for flexibility, scalability, and more play on the design side,” says Fooks-Bale. No one knows what new trends or technologies will emerge in the next few years, but you can be sure your customers will embrace them. A looser approach to branding enables you to maintain a unified visual identity while leaving space for new ideas and unexpected changes in direction.

“Brands need to be created from the customer’s perspective,” Thomas Mueller of Fjord told the TYPO audience last year. “Think of brands as a system that needs to work from the bottom up, not top-down from the brand police.”

Rebranding is an opportunity to shift into this mindset and build a structure that allows you improvise, experiment, and adapt as your customers demand.