How Not to Activate your Rebrand

Some may know that I am on the Brand Strategy team for a national nonprofit organization. Part of my role has been supporting the progress of our organizational rebrand after a successful merger. I’ll save the details for when/if they’re relevant, but part of the rebrand process has been a deep exploration of brand activation strategies, both external and internal: best practices, worst practices, how to activate our brand in a way that provides real value to real stakeholders, and how to position our organization for a higher quality symbiotic relationship between us and the communities we serve.

So I’ve been following quite a few brands.

Recently, Evernote launched its rebrand, and as a fan of the popular productivity tool, I was pretty excited about it. I was happily sucked into the hype around its launch, and eagerly opened every new email they sent leading up to and following it.

But then the gap widened between what their marketing team promised and what their actual content provided, eventually settling into a sizable fjord between myself – their user – and the story they wanted me to buy into.

4 Mistakes Evernote Made in Activating their New Brand

1. They assumed I care about their logo.

Here’s the thing: the only people who are excited about a rebrand are the people in your organization who have worked on it, iterated on it, or have some investment in it. If I have worked long hours to create the logo that best represents my company’s message, you bet I will care about how much the ear fold of the elephant has increased.

But as a user who has no other connection to the company than its product, there is only one reason for me to care about a rebrand: if it is useful to me in some way.

Is the ear of the elephant somehow interactive, allowing me to create a new note just by clicking on it? No? Then I probably don’t want to hear about it.

Is Evernote offering branding advice on their blog? I’d absolutely be interested in seeing the details of their logo development if I’ve been learning from them how to develop mine.

But they’re not.

Ironically, the behind-the-scenes approach to their brand strategy is off-brand; as an audience member I’m not looking to Evernote for marketing content. I’m looking for tools, features, and productivity advice. (Hint: if your product capitalizes on productivity first and foremost, make sure your content doesn’t distract your users from being productive.)

2. There is no clear why.

A brand redevelopment only makes sense if there is a clear purpose behind it. This means that internally, an executive team must know exactly why the refurbish is necessary, and knows what goals it hopes to accomplish by executing it. Evernote’s relaunch may have been strategic internally, but if it was, I wouldn’t know it by reading their communications or using the product.

In promoting the launch, they’ve talked about color, layout, and function, but not about how those parts work together, nor why a rebrand was necessary to make those stylistic and functional changes.

Their copywriting is great and they explain at great length what they want us, the users, to get out of their product. But there’s a gap in their narrative, and it’s somewhere between how their latest version accomplishes those aspirations, and how much time they expect me to invest in their backstory.

3. It’s about your users, not you.

I touched on this briefly above. Evernote’s latest blog post reads like a pitch or a press release. They’ve done a fair bit of self-promotion, espousing their company’s values and culture. And don’t get me wrong: conveying your company’s values is important. But they seem to have crossed the line from necessary to excessive, and their marketing reads more like a pat on their own back than a user-centered brief.

Again, the primary reason anyone uses Evernote is to increase their productivity and efficiency. If the user is at the center of your content (and your rebrand!) you should be contributing, even if indirectly, to their productivity. If you are going to ask your users to read a blog post, it shouldn’t be a lengthy exposé on your brand development process, it should be direct, to the point, and immediately beneficial.

4. So far, it’s all talk, no walk.

Finally, as with any revitalizing campaign, customers expect authenticity. If you have successfully reimagined your company’s mission and realigned your organizational values, your customers will know. Your product will be better, your engagement measurables will improve, and you will bank more sales.

If you are the prettiest girl in school, you don’t write a letter to your classmates describing your best qualities. People will tell you how great you are once they get a glimpse of you, and they will line up to ask you out.

Similarly, Evernote could have listed a handful of its best and newest features, given us a case study in how their latest software cut one executive’s workflow in half, and let its users interact with and be wowed by the new brand organically. We would have wasted a lot less time.


Evernote is an amazing product. I use it every day of my life and their success means that I will hopefully get to keep using it forever.

But when we talk about brand, we’re talking about maintaining alignment with our organizational values, solidifying or improving upon our reputation. If your marketing efforts distract from those values, if they fail to keep your customer’s goals front and center, it is only harming your brand, that hard-won reputation.

Keep your strategies human-centered. Do your research. Stop talking about yourself. And always make sure your initiatives, no matter how big or small, can be directly aligned to your organization’s objectives. When you do that, your brand activation strategy will work, and your audience will be eager to get behind it.

One thought on “How Not to Activate your Rebrand

  1. Pingback: How Mailchimp Got it Right: Visual Identity vs. Brand – Glimmers & Impressions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s