By Emily Erickson
Outside of writing this column, I work with businesses to help establish or rework their outward-facing presence. These collaborations usually center on crafting a new website, reimagining their marketing strategies, and identifying or developing their brand’s identity.
Although it often gets a disingenuous rap, branding can be a helpful tool for businesses to communicate who they are and what they care about. There is psychology and metaphor wrapped inside color and font choices, and voice and tone can help signal the kind of audiences with whom the business prefers to engage.
At the start of every new collaboration, I schedule a meeting to learn about the client’s origin story, their guiding principles and goals for the future. I work to figure out who they are trying to talk to and decipher the best way to reach that audience through their branding choices.
Without fail I explain, “A website or a rebrand is a tool to get you from where you are to where you want to be.” Also, “Every choice you make should be in alignment with your foundational mission and values.”
I say these phrases because moving a business forward is possible through thoughtful choices, but when there is a disconnect between those choices and the values it built its business around, it runs the risk of alienating its existing audiences (imagine a vegan food truck trying to grow its business by selling products, but then testing those products on animals. Their pursuit of growth would alienate their current client base).
Before I start to sound like my own personal marketing pitch, I’m talking about this because these ideas of marketing and branding recently made a big splash in our little town, exploding with something as seemingly benign as a new logo design.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort on April 7 released the spoils of its rebrand on social media. A black-and-gray graphic backsplash featured its new logo: a luminescent green, swooping “S.” The “S” was designed to be situated next to the simplified name “Schweitzer,” in plain, easy-to-read text.
In a statement about the rebrand, mountain officials addressed the question, “Why Change?,” with the answer, “When we examined our logo, which is intended to visually communicate Schweitzer’s unique identity, we realized it wasn’t adequately reflecting who we are today, nor symbolizing the future we aspire to create.”
They explained the symbolism and thoughtfulness packed into the three symmetrical strokes of the “S” — their allusion to the original 1960s black-letter typeface through an intentional 45-degree axis, and the retro ski outfits and multi-season recreation that inspired the new color scheme.
Despite the thoughtfulness and upbeat delivery of its “new look,” Schweitzer’s rebrand met with an incredible amount of attention and backlash. Schweitzer’s posts received more than 1,500 comments and shares, with people comparing it to the Seattle Kraken logo, saying it reminded them of a financial institution, expressing disappointment that didn’t represent skiing or mountain biking, and generally proclaiming that the whole concept behind it panders to rich out-of-town weekend warriors and uppity transplants.
Reading both Schweitzer’s rebrand statements and more community comments than I’d like to admit, I couldn’t help but view the whole situation from the lens of a fellow brander.
The Schweitzer team undeniably did its rebrand due diligence, using the mountain’s past as inspiration for paving a new future. They contemplated what their business means to the community and tried to capture the spirit and experience of Schweitzer inside colors, text and shapes.
I also know that the point of a rebrand is to get from where you are to where you want to be. By changing their logo and their brand, Schweitzer’s managers were orienting themselves to the mountain of tomorrow.
For a business built on the values of accessibility, on being the low-key winter playground for the salt-of-the-earth locals and a constant in the swirling world of change, that pursuit of connecting to the audience of tomorrow — no matter how thoughtful — will inevitably incite feelings of disconnect. By trying to expand its reach, Schweitzer inherently risks alienating the section of its base that exclusively wants to keep the mountain for themselves.
As for the community, I’m not convinced they really care about the logo as much as their comments, likes and shares indicate. I think tucked behind the, “Dumb logo… unless you are selling energy drinks to guys named Kyle,” and the, “I love Schweitzer but not the new logo. It’s too Seattle and not enough mountain,” is really a commentary on a changing town — and a community of people afraid of getting left behind in the change.
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