You’ve probably been told that people hate change. Recently, music streaming service Spotify proved the axiom by making a minor alteration to their branding. The backlash on social media was surprisingly volatile, taking the organisation by surprise. What is the lesson for emerging businesses?

 

The future looks bright. Specifically, bright green.

It seems to take relatively little to send Twitter into a craze: The colour of a dress worn by a bride’s mother; a British department store’s Christmas advertisement; or recently, an almost imperceptible change in a major company’s logo.

Streaming giant Spotify quietly altered their logo in mid-July. The re-branding was apparently part of the corporation’s shift from tech company to music provider. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to tell anyone until it was too late.

But then, why would you, when the change was a subtle shift in the shade of green? Can you even tell the difference?

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Do you even know which one is the new one?

 

The downward spiral of Twitter discussion

After updating the app on their phones, several users notice the subtly different look, and commented on social media. The progression of “discussion” (to use that word very loosely) mirrored just about every major trend on twitter:

1.  Someone posts an observation.
2.  Others recognise the valid observation and chime in or re-tweet, adding their opinions.
3.  The humorists and trolls enter the picture and stir the pot with their tongue-in-cheek outrage.
4.  The general Twitter population can’t tell the difference between fact and satire, and generally decide to take offence at the matter.

Early tweets in the Spotify Saga were valid expressions of opinion:

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A reasonable reaction

 

But once the trolls entered, things got a little out of hand:

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Stirring the pot (and alarming the media)

 

A lot of people genuinely didn’t like the change. Others, who may never have noticed the difference if it weren’t for the Twitter storm, simply jumped on the bandwagon and decried the change as an atrocity.

 

What went wrong?

Forgetting any notion of colour psychology for a moment, the issue here is quite simply that people don’t like change. Once people have grown comfortable with a certain element of life, they are reluctant to accept anything different. Even when that element is a shade of green.

Customers trust the companies that they buy from. There is a natural desire for consistency to maintain that relationship. Suddenly altering your branding without warning is akin to telling a small child, “By the way, we gave your dad a new face, and he looks like this now”. (Incidentally, here’s a video showing how a small child reacts in exactly that situation)

Spotify themselves believe that the issue blew out of proportion thanks to a psychological phenomenon whereby if someone tells us something is awful, we have a tendency to believe them before we make up our own mind.

The issue wasn’t the colour, it was the change. And more importantly, it was change without warning.

 

Learning from the competition

A week after the Spotify Storm, users of fitness app Runkeeper received this email:

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Runkeeper shows Spotify how it’s done

Is this coincidence, or does Runkeeper’s PR department deserve a raise for spotting Spotify’s mistake and avoiding the same error?

Notice that the logo is introduced, the design is explained, and thanks is given to the customer for their continued support. I spoke with the person who showed me this email and he said, “I don’t really like the new logo, but seeing it as a pair of shoelaces makes sense. I can see they’ve thought about it, and there’s a reason for the change. It’s not just change for the sake of it”.

Hear the wise voice of the customer.

 

What did we learn today?

In today’s consumer-savvy world, your customers like to be kept in the loop – many of them expect to feel like part of your team. That’s what makes Runkeeper’s email so brilliant; it invites the customer to be part of their business renewal, rather than just springing uninvited changes on them.

Getting your branding right is critical. The manner in which you present your business visually says all kinds of things to your customer.

If you’re starting out in business, get a leg up by investing in professional advice for your corporate design. In the past, I’ve quoted the Cuban proverb “Lo barato sale caro”, or “The cheap comes out expensive”. Do it once, and do it right – you’ll save money in the long term.

Your business’ aims and practices may change at some time in the future, and that’s okay. Consider seriously whether your restructure also calls for new design – if so, take ample time to break it to your customer gently. Otherwise, you’ll only break their trust. Explain your reasoning and welcome them into your new and brighter (green) era.