Rebranding Lessons from Yahoo

A significant portion of my Facebook feed was in an uproar over Yahoo’s new logo when it was unveiled last week. The deluge of complaints and criticisms included a very blunt comment from a professional designer, who said something along the lines of: “That moment when a logo goes against everything the company is about.” As much as I respect and understand Yahoo’s decision to redesign their logo, I have to say the final redesign really is a disappointment.

Despite the mostly negative outcome, what Yahoo did offers us a lot of lessons about rebranding, especially when redesigning a highly recognizable logo.

Let People Know that You’re Rebranding

For a brand as recognizable as Yahoo, it’s usually better to inform people about the rebrand beforehand to make the transition easier. Yahoo went beyond a simple announcement, and effectively built up a lot of buzz about their plans to redesign their logo with their “30 Days of Change” campaign. Many people talked about the redesigns, posted designs of their own, and kept a close eye on the possible logos as they were revealed. They showed off the different design options they had over the span of 29 days, and revealed the final choice on Day 30.

Keep Up with the Trends

One of the major complaints I’ve seen about Yahoo’s new logo is how it uses bevels that Web Designer Depot’s Ben Moss describes as “reminiscent of stone carving; a skeuomorphic ornament best left in the 1990’s.” Today’ aesthetics are all about simplicity and flat designs. Creating something different is always a good way to make your brand stand out, but going with an outdated style is hardly a good idea when redesigning a “fun” logo to suit a new generation of users.

Learn to Trust Your Eyes

According to Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, they “wanted there to be a mathematical consistency to the logo, really pulling it together into one coherent mark.” While kerning (adjusting the spaces between letters) can significantly improve a typographic logo’s look, it doesn’t take a mathematician or a trained designer to see that there’s something off about Yahoo’s new logo. Most people don’t use formulas or measurements to determine what looks good – they just use their eyes. Learning to trust your eyes and instincts to a certain degree can give you a better idea of what will work for your target audience, and this brings me to another important point:

Listen to the Audience

Yahoo may have been showing everyone their logo designs, but they didn’t seem to be paying attention to which ones their audience preferred. The logo they unveiled on Day 10 is said to be their most popular one, and I think I can see why.

Even though it uses a different sans-serif font, the simple redesign (on the left) is more reminiscent of the brand’s original logo. A few kerning adjustments could have made this the best among the redesign options.

Don’t Copy (or Be Too Pressured by) Your Competitors

Yahoo’s 30 Day Change campaign, which involved having their brand’s logo change across all their websites and services each day, is quite similar to something Google has been doing since 1998. Google is a tough rival to beat, but that doesn’t mean Yahoo had to mimic them or change their branding just to keep up. If you must draw inspiration from something your competition already did, make sure you do it better.

Leave It to the Experts

It’s great when CEOs take the time to talk to their teams and provide guidance on a project, but sometimes it’s best to trust them and let them do their job. Mayer admitted she’s no pro at design, so perhaps it would have been better to let step back and someone else take the wheel.

At the end of the day, rebranding is always about what works best for your company’s identity. When Kathy Savitt, Yahoo’s CMO, announced their plans to rebrand, she said they “want to preserve the character that is unique to Yahoo! — fun, vibrant, and welcoming — so we’ll be keeping the color purple, our iconic exclamation point and of course the famous yodel. After all some things never go out of style.” Yahoo’s new “mathematical” and slightly outdated logo seems to go against this statement, and their old logo will be sorely missed.

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