10/25/2013 03:55 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2013

Make New Friends But Keep the Old: Five Golden Rules for Refreshing Your Brand

In a culture dominated by social technologies, brands have to be responsive to keep up with the light-speed pace of consumer preferences. Every business, from an independent operator to a Fortune 500 company, must evolve to continually recapture their audience's interest.

When your brand is starting to tow the line between "classic" and "dated," a brand refresh can take the foundation of what people love most and give you an opportunity to provide customers with a new experience that will not only maintain existing loyalty, but attract a fresh new following as well. Whether your business is "main street" or a major corporation, today's brand refreshes depend on the same basic guidelines: thorough research, knowing who you are, and embracing digital strategies. There is no one proven strategy for a refresh, but these five guidelines to evolving your brand will get you started--and help keep your budget intact along the way.

Research is your foundation, so make it solid.
As the saying goes, "fail to plan, plan to fail". Smart planning begins with research. If your brand isn't continually resonating with new audiences, you still have a number of choices in determining who you can become, so before you engaged in the implementation of a refresh, spend time on research. Survey your customers to see what works and what doesn't, but also survey new customers to see what they're looking for. A successful refresh will unite what new customers crave with what your current audience values about your brand. As an alternative to employing a research firm, focus groups and online surveys can give you the information you need at a lower cost.

Don't try to be everything to everyone.
You can't please everybody. Ask yourself what elements are the foundation of your business and instead of trying to expand your expertise outside of that, focused even deeper on what you do best. This will keep your loyalists happy, but the refreshed perspective will entices an aspirational audience. You can't be everything to everybody, but you can take what you know best and elevate it. As you begin to introduce your refreshed brand, engage and monitor feedback from key stakeholders, such as your guests/customers, operating partners and internal team members. There will no doubt be some potential opportunities to fine-tune your strategy or tactics, based on that feedback, which you may want to evaluate today, or for future decisions.

Know your strengths, and seek help for weaknesses.
Using in-house resources, rather than using an agency is certainly possible if there are budgetary restraints. However, there may be certain aspects of the refresh that would benefit from an objective perspective. It's fine to play it safe and accomplish what you can internally, but if you want the refresh to be worth the overall cost, turn to reliable resources when it's clear you need support.

Don't be afraid to go all in.
No matter how major or minor your refresh is, roll it out all at once. Dragging out changes in increments can confuse and frustrate your audience and make it appear like you're simply losing your footing or brand identity. Know your new brand inside and out, get all staff and employees on board with your attitude and story and expose your audience to as many elements of your refreshed brand as possible in the initial roll-out phase.

Never neglect to leverage the power of digital.
Most customers today research stores and restaurants before they even set foot in the door, so enhancing your website and social channels to be consistent with the new look is vital to a successful brand refresh. Your digital presence is no longer an add-on; it's a necessary, living extension of your brick and mortar identity. Moreover, social channels give you a huge bang for your marketing dollar, as metrics can offer major insight into how people relate to your business. Audiences have come to expect social presence, and you can be sure your competitors are active online, so it's wise to leverage the power of technology for your benefit.

A brand refresh requires a lot of time, hard work, and financial investment, but a successful overhaul will bring the best of what you have to offer into a brighter future. If you do extensive research, invest your resources wisely, and commit to a strong, swift rollout, you will maintain relationships with longtime customers while enticing a whole new group of brand loyalists.

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