What do Ikea, Brown Harris Stevens and Lego have in common? Instead of seeing brand positioning as static, they understand their stories as fluid and participatory. Three brands that have crossed the 100-year mark demonstrate how companies can stay relevant for a new generation, employing three different approaches that are well suited to the unique challenges they faced as a business. There are lessons every business can learn from their triumphs and missteps.

Ikea’s logo evolution through the years, Image via: IKEA

Brand Refresh: How Ikea Tweaked Its Logo for the Digital Age

Why Refresh? Moving from Big Box Store to Savvy Digital Innovators

As the world’s most iconic furniture retailer, Ikea needed to ensure it kept pace with digital ecommerce brands that were reshaping furniture buying habits. Their own customers were moving online — 936 million people visited Ikea stores, compared to over 2.3 billion online visitors. The company was already experimenting with AR and VR, reinventing the online shopping experience and strengthening its digital identity through a range of experimental apps, the logo refresh was shaped by practical concerns — to deliver an optimal visual experience across all formats (including social), while still maintaining Ikea’s original iconic design.

What they Did: How Ikea’s Fönster System is Designed for Digital

Ikea’s first logo was created in 1951, a round red seal bearing the Ikea name. Red was selected by IKEA’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, to represent low prices. 

Ikea has tweaked its logo in recent years and the changes are almost imperceptible to the average shopper. Two recent changes have moved the registered trademark symbol from outside the blue box into the yellow oval itself. You’ll be able to spot this difference between the 1983 and 2018 logos. By changing the proportions of the box and oval, the design team were able to increase the letter size by 15%, creating a bigger brand presence within the same amount of media space.

The Ikea palette has seen a subtle change to a more muted blue and yellow to minimise eye strain. And the most recent all white branding scheme allows the Ikea logo to sit comfortably on top of any image or video, making it easy to use the logo on digital touchpoints.

This new logo system, called Fönster, Swedish for “window,” maintains the lettering and iconic oval inside a rectangle form of the Ikea logo but switches from the blue and yellow colour scheme to an all-white version of the logo.

The Fönster system’s ability to adapt to many digital situations is useful as Ikea looks to evolve from its traditional big-box footprint to embrace website, app, and smaller urban stores.

Rebrand: A Younger Face for 150-Year Old Property Giants Brown Harris Stevens

Why Rebrand? Moving Past Heritage

With origins in the late 1800s, Brown Harris Stevens markets high-end properties in New York City, the Hamptons and south Florida. As a hundred and fifty year old property giant, the firm needed to rebrand to compete in a tech-driven age, and were looking to grow beyond their heritage-driven story. “We’re very proud of being nearly 150 years in business, but it cannot be what defines us,” summed up the rationale behind their rebrand.

What They Did: Journeying from Brown Harris Stevens to BHS

When researching the brand’s most recognisable qualities, they noticed that customers associated the brokerage with the high-quality work of its agents. Bold, honest and smart were the three of the most commonly used adjective to describe the firm’s employees, and coincidentally aligned with the company’s three initials ‘BHS.’

Post rebrand, BHS adopted a new tagline and palette, ‘Bold Honest Smart’, Image via: Pentagram

The firm adopted a new tagline, ‘Bold Honest Smart,’ and stacked the Brown Harris Stevens name vertically, in an architectural three-line arrangement. The identity sports a fresh colour palette that includes deep orange, white and shades of grey. The rebrand stripped the company of its ‘established in 1873’ tagline.

The redesigned website is easier to navigate. The rebrand for BHS highlights this culture of excellence and helps position the company for the future. The strong, modern and distinctive identity pairs clean typography with three words that capture the spirit of the firm and its agents: bold, honest and smart.

The brand builds on what the firm was already doing well, and brings it to the foreground. Recognising that they had the best and most knowledgeable brokers in the business and celebrating these attributes ensured that the rebrand stayed true to, and cherished, the company’s most prized assets — its employees.

The rebrand highlights BHS’s culture of excellence and positions the company for the future. Image via: Pentagram

Rebuild: Reinventing from the Edge of Extinction with Lego

Why Rebuild? Rescuing Lego from the Brink of Collapse

For the first 66 years in business until 1998, Lego had never posted a loss. But in 2003 it was in big trouble. Sales were crashing and the company was US$800m in debt. An internal report revealed it hadn’t added anything of value to its portfolio for a decade. Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp pulled off one of the most daring plans for company reinvention and innovation since Steve Jobs.

An expanding portfolio in the 1990s meant that Lego was running out of cash, Image via: Lego

The Lego Brand Reinvention: Going Back to What They Do Best

Consultants advised Lego to diversify following the model favoured by Mattel, whose large portfolio was broad and varied. However the advice proved disastrous. Lego jewellery, clothing and theme parks and video games cost the firm serious money. The company was running out of cash and it looked unlikely to survive.

CEO Knudstorp implemented aggressive cost-cutting measures and shed underperforming businesses, most notably selling control of the company’s four LEGOLAND theme parks for nearly $460 million. He reduced the development time for new products and — in a visionary move — invited LEGO’s many devoted adult fans to help steer the company’s innovation agenda through co-creative workshops in which new designs were discussed.

LEGO’s expansion into feature films also proved lucrative, with The LEGO Movie (2014) grossing some $470 million worldwide. The movie’s success helped LEGO surpass Mattel, Inc., as the largest toy maker in the world, though the two companies subsequently competed for the distinction.

Lego’s manifesto stays true to its founding ethos, Image via: Lego

Since then Lego has turned its fortunes around, sticking to doing what it does best, and partnering with others to make the most of its franchise. In 2010 the company exceeded US$ 1 billion in US sales, and in January 2014 ‘The Lego Movie’ made US$ 69 million in its opening weekend, ultimately grossing over $460 million worldwide. The toymaker has a current market value exceeding US$ 9 billion and now, over 100 years since its Danish Founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, opened his first woodworking shop, Lego has demonstrated how an ageing brand can reinvent itself to stay relevant for a new generation.

The lessons of Ikea, BHS and Lego offer insights for businesses at every stage of their journey. Refresh, rebrand or rebuild? What’s your next move?

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