How to Tune-up Your B2B Brand—A 13-Step Guide

April 3, 2024

Had enough of your company’s brand?

Maybe it was thrown together hastily when the business was first formed and now it’s time to look a bit more grown-up.

Or perhaps it has lived a useful life and is overdue for are fresh—or retirement.

Or maybe it just needs a tune-up, like a motor that’s running but could perform better.

Whichever situation you’re in, a brand refresh (or replacement) can feel like a road to certain doom. People love to hate on a new brand just as much as they hate on the existing one, so there’s no obvious way to win.

Your goal is to develop the best performing brand you can for your business, then let the audience do the talking (irrespective of what insiders have to say about it).

To help make the process as efficient as possible, here’s a 13-step guide to giving your brand a thorough makeover.


Step 1: Set Objectives

Management teams have a habit of launching brand development projects without first getting über-clear on what they expect to achieve.

This can leave the marketing team guessing. Are they supposed to tweak the existing brand, or can they propose something completely different? What’s not to be touched and what’s fair game?

Write a short brief capturing what sort of “tune-up” this is meant to be. Summarize what’s not working with the existing brand and what success will look like.

Discuss the brief at a round-table session with everyone you consider a primary stakeholder in the brand. This will include the leadership team and any direct reports who use the brand on a regular basis, such as marketing (we hope!), sales, customer support, and product.

Be clear who has ownership of the project (my preference is for the most senior marketing leader on your team) and who will get to vote on the output.

Update the brief to reflect any changes agreed at the meeting, then discuss it with the wider marketing team and any third parties that will be involved—such as a marketing agency or graphic designer.

Don’t start work until everyone understands what they’re trying to achieve!


Step 2: Take Stock of What You Have

Before you explore anything new, take a good hard look at what’s already in place.

Break your brand into its component parts and discuss how they were chosen, what they do well, and where they fall short.

In many cases, you will find pieces that you’d like to preserve and reuse—maybe a particular color or a certain set of images.

Create lists of things that you will try to incorporate into the new brand and of things that absolutely must go. These will be handy references later when you are ready to critique new design(s).


Step 3: Define the Brand Attributes You Want to Showcase

The most effective brands are easy for someone to describe—even if they have no background in marketing or design.

They will use words like modern, clean, traditional, ornate, edgy, colorful, dark, bright, playful, and so on—and the descriptions will be similar from person to person.

Now flip that exercise on its head.

When you launch your new brand identity, how do you want people to describe it?

Aim for 5-6 adjectives that capture the overall aesthetic you’re aiming to produce.

If necessary, test this list with the wider stakeholder group to be sure you have their buy-in. This is especially necessary if the new brand will be radically different from the one to which they’re accustomed.


Step 4: Optimize Your Color Palette

The next three steps can be completed in any order, but I like to start with colors because they set the emotional tone for your brand. You might choose differently if your brand will key off a particular image or font that’s being carried forward.

Each color evokes a predictable emotional response in normal-sighted humans. You can find a lengthier discussion on the topic here.

Aim for a palette featuring 1-2 primary colors and 2-4 accent colors, plus black and white.

The more colors you include, the greater the risk of team members going rogue in their combination and application.

However, having a couple of contrasting accent colors is useful when adding pop to web pages and other collateral.


Fonts play a key role in making content more readable (Image Credit: Material Design)

Step 5: Fix Your Fonts

I find many teams indifferent toward typography—until I point out the impact it can have.

Readability is a primary factor in how easily your audience will consume, understand, and recall your content.

And font design, size, and spacing play a major role in achieving superior readability.

Title (or heading) fonts and body (or copy) fonts should be complimentary but contrasting so that they help to break your content into clearly delineated sections.

I recommend picking two font families—one for headings and one for copy—and being very clear about the font sizes and weights that you want the team to use in specific situations.

Like colors, including more fonts isn’t usually helpful. Instead, it leads to inconsistent, messy looking content.


Step 6: Identify the Right Images

A significant fraction of your target audience will be made up of visual learners. That is, their brains will focus on pictures before words when trying to decipher what a piece of content is about.

While less dominant for the rest of the audience, images still play an important role by providing visual signposts for your reader and helping to explain complex topics.

As with all brand elements, consistency is key.

Pick one style of imagery—proprietary photography, stock photography, and illustrations are the most common—and decide which images from your existing content fit the bill and which might need to be replaced.

With smart phones, image processing apps, and artificial intelligence turning everyone into amateur designers, be clear whether any image adjustments will be allowed, such as filters, shadows, embellishments, or AI image creation.

These can add to the brand if applied consistently and well, but they can also become a distraction if used excessively or inconsistently.


Step 7: Perfect Your Logo

The most important image in your portfolio is the company logo.

It’s actually a set of images, because different versions of the logo will be required to accommodate changes in size, background, and available space.

Your logo should clearly convey the brand attributes you established earlier—more than any other brand element.

It’s helpful for the logo to incorporate a motif that can be used on its own as a brand icon—typically a 256x256 pixel square.  This might be a graphical symbol or a particular treatment of one of more letters in the company name (if the name appears in the main logo).

I encourage you to err on the side of simplicity.

Complex logos are difficult to use across a wide range of scales and can be hard to reproduce properly on different media (for example, when stitching onto apparel).

If your company has been around for a while and has developed strong brand recognition within your target audience (also known as brand equity), exercise caution when making drastic changes to your logo.

Creating a simple, timeless design will help you to evolve the logo from generation to generation, preserving much of the associated equity rather than losing it completely.

It is important to decide how your brand will behave—what personality it will adopt

Step 8: Capture Your Brand’s Personality

Much attention is paid to the visual elements of a brand; less to the way it speaks.

By this I mean the voice and tone that are used when writing or speaking on behalf of the brand.

Should your content sound like it’s being delivered by a professor or a protestor? A comedian or a clinician? The man-next-door or your friendly uncle?

Whichever voice you choose, it’s important to communicate that choice to everyone who will be tasked with writing or recording on behalf of your company—both in house and on contract.

Some B2B teams take too narrow a view of brand personality, believing that an industrial corporation “must” speak in a certain way. This leads to homogeneity within sectors and a missed opportunity to differentiate.

You can read more about developing the personality of your B2B brand here and here.


Step 9: Testing, Testing

You should now have one or more brand concepts mapped out in sufficient detail to test them with a select audience.

I’m a fan of carrying multiple concepts through to this point, since falling in love with one concept too soon can lead to either disappointment when it gets rejected or difficulty in letting go of a concept that “seems cool” but doesn’t work in practice.

However, don’t allow your team too much rope. Force them to agree on two, max three, concepts for presentation, so that there’s a rigorous debate.

Then, pick you test audience carefully.

You want feedback that’s considered, informed, and constructive.

You don’t want random opinions, impractical suggestions, or pure criticism.

I recommend using one or more small focus groups comprising people from different parts of the organization and, if possible, someone from the outside who is unfamiliar with the process you’ve been running.

This should help to prevent group think and allow the participants to speak their minds freely, without trying to impress others around the table.


Step 10: Fine Tuning (Getting to 90/10)

Occasionally, you’ll absolutely nail one of the concepts and there will be little to perfect.

More often, there will be elements of each concept that your test audience(s) like and don’t like, from which you will derive adjustments.

It’s impossible to please everyone, all the time, as the saying goes. You goal is to produce a brand that’s impactful, practical, and generally well received.

Aim for 90-percent and don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.

If you’re orchestrating a major brand replacement, you might want to iterate steps 9 and 10 a couple of times to allow the new concept to evolve.

This will hopefully avoid any nasty surprises when you reach Step 12.


Step 11: Craft Brand Guidelines

A brand is a collection of ideas and experiences that the marketing team must describe in ways that regular folk using the brand can understand.

This is best accomplished by writing brand guidelines to explain the various elements, how they should be used, and how they should not.

This can be as simple as a few PowerPoint slides or a much more complex document. Once again, I lean towards simple but effective.

Include examples of right and wrong where you can—notably for imagery, how to apply the logo, and how to write in the company’s voice.

Be direct and specific in how you want each of the elements to be used. The less you leave up to individual interpretation, the more consistently your brand will be applied.

Then, think about how the guidelines will be shared and reinforced.

Many wonderful brand guidelines gather dust on (virtual) shelves while the teams who should be applying them remain blissfully unaware of their existence.

Soon after the brand is launched, walk each group in your organization through the guidelines so that they understand what is expected and where to turn for guidance.


Step 12: The Big Reveal

Once the new brand has been approved by leadership, you’ll be ready to introduce it to the world.

First, however, you should introduce it to your company.

Have your CEO kick this off so that it gets an appropriate level of attention. They should also explain why the rebranding was necessary and how important the new brand is to the future of the company.

Then the marketing leader should give a brief explanation of the project objectives, the process that was followed, and finally introduce the new brand itself.

Explain why the elements were chosen and how they work together to trigger a desired response in your target audience.

Steer clear of superlatives and exaltation of the wondrousness of the work you’ve done.

Stick to how straightforward it will be to implement and how great it’s going to make everyone look.

Remember, your team is most interested to hear what’s in it for them, rather than applauding marketing for its crayons-and-scissors creative project.


Step 13: Persuasion and Enforcement

Job done, right?

If only.

The impact of your new brand will only be felt once it is put into operation—quickly and consistently replacing whatever came before.

This is an important phase. Companies that only partially introduce a new brand while continuing to use elements of the old cause confusion within their audience and look a bit half-baked.

The faster you can get everyone using the new look, the better.

This will require distributing new templates and font files, replacing collateral, ensuring team members have any new graphics they need (for example, logo files to apply to products and deliverables), and generally offering help to move the process along.

After a short transition (a few weeks, at most), you will move into enforcement mode.

This is where the marketing leader swaps their warm-and-fuzzy creative persona for that of a miserly high school principal.

Deviations from the new brand should no longer be tolerated—and must be intercepted before publication whenever possible.

Team members who persist in creating or distributing old or off-brand content should be counselled and eventually reprimanded or even disciplined.

Zero tolerance is perhaps a hair too strict, since no brand is perfect for every single instance, but zero-point-one percent tolerance ought to be good enough!

Monitor for any recurring difficulties that the team is having in putting the brand to work and tweak it when needed.

Remember that you aimed to develop a 90-percent brand? Over time, you can nudge that even higher by observing, gathering feedback, and making incremental adjustments.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock


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