Huh, so that's a thing?
I love words: old ones, fancy ones, new ones, British-sounding ones like firmament and whilst. I hate only a handful of words: resiliency, o'er, optics and some more I won't mention. Good, bad or fugly—I always enjoy learning a new word.
Recently, while visiting a Denver-area location of our favorite local burrito joint, a curious new word caught my eye: debranding. Assuming the burrito shop just made it up, I typed a sarcastic Facebook post about this new industry trend. Before posting, I checked with Google, and I'm glad I did. No one loves new words more than branding people, so imagine my surprise when debranding proved to be an actual thing. Sort of.
I blew the rest of my afternoon diving down the internet rabbit hole that is the wide world of debranding. Here's what I learned:
There seem to be three types of debranding
1. Removing a logo altogether
2. Removing the words from a logo, keeping the bug
Marketing genius? Certainly. Debranding? Not so much. A debranded hijab would just look like a hijab.
3. Going generic
Debranding vs. rebranding
Debranding should not be confused with its spell-check-sanctioned cousin, rebranding.
While debranding is removing your brand identity altogether (or pretending to), rebranding is the much more common practice of completely overhauling your brand identity.
There are plenty of reasons why a company would seek to overhaul their brand identity. You might seek to distance your brand from bad PR or terrible performance, another company could make a legal claim to your name, or you may simply outgrow your current brand identity.
Rebranding happens most commonly when a company does not look as good as they truly are—their company name could be unmemorable, misleading or limited, or their homemade logo could be showing its age.
Debranding happens when marketing people try too hard to market to people who don't like marketing.
Debranding vs. unbranding
Debranding should not be confused with unbranding, which I seriously thought I just made up. But nope, it's also a thing.
As the name suggests, debranding requires some existing brand identity to be removed or downplayed. Unbranding is when a company either exists without a brand identity or exists with a brand identity that suggests they have no brand identity. While the two might look similar to the naked eye, they're distinctly different.
1. The no-look look
The no-look look is when a company, either intentionally or for lack of effort, exists with no discernible brand identity.
At Toolbox, we see this most often in first-stage innovative tech companies. It's the unkempt hair of the corporate identity world. They show up, do their thing and don't care how they look doing it. These companies typically have reached some level of success without branding, and it's a well-earned source of pride.
In the early days of craft brewing, there was such a pendulum swing against slick corporate beer brands that the more terrible, homemade and inappropriate your beer identity was, the more craft cred you earned. This mindset remains in some corners of the tech world. If you look too polished, you're suspect. There can be perceived credibility in a company that does not look as good as it really is. In large part, engineers hate marketing, so the no-look look can be especially appealing.
The challenge here is: your brand identity exists whether you pay attention to it or not.
A brand identity is like a look or a smell—even if you don't think you have one, you have one.
2. The unbranded brand
Deliberately and consciously conceived, the unbranded brand simply looks like it's not trying too hard. Maybe your logo is set in Helvetica, maybe your logo is a green rectangle, maybe you run black and white ads in color magazines—when done well, the result is a strong, simple, quiet brand identity that makes a powerful statement.
Savvy consumers think they don't want to be marketed to, and unbrands answer the call. PBR sold a metric shit-ton of beer to cool people simply by not trying to sell beer to cool people—frustrating the hell out of brands who were trying really hard to sell beer to cool people.
The irony is, it's really hard to make your efforts look effortless, and it's just as much work as looking like you care. Unbranding is more of a different approach to branding than it is anti-branding. The only truly unbranded brand is a brand you've never heard of.
The unbrand appears more genuine, more approachable, less corporate. It's a brand that's distinctly in the hands of the consumer—it's flexible and customizable. But at the end of the day, branding is branding is branding.
Your brand is your brand—with or without youBranding is like global warming— it's happening whether you want to think about it or not. Its how you speak to your customers, it's how your team really feels about your product. It's what your customers say to their colleagues about you. It permeates every aspect of your business.
About Toolbox Creative:
If you want to talk about debranding, rebranding or MomMom Campbell's generic candy drawer, give Tom a jingle.
Toolbox Creative is a B2B technology branding firm. We speak Engineer, translating complex technologies and bridging the gap between the science of science and the art of selling it — converting tech talk into brand love and connecting tech companies with their customers.
We are on a mission to help technologists, innovators and engineers prove how their big ideas and innovative technology can change the world.
Our Brand Engineering process empowers technology brands to take on the dominant players in the field. We help innovative technology companies look and sound as good as they truly are, increase brand equity and grab market share.