The pressure is mounting on banks and traditional financial players to make up lost ground in the fintech space. The rise of online shopping, followed swiftly by the appearance of digital wallets and the emergence of pay-passes on our phones, has meant that we reach for physical cards and wallets far less often. In short, a whole generation of people will grow up associating purchases with a swipe of your fingers, rather than the swipe of your card.
Mastercard, whose ubiquitous logo most often appears on credit cards and in merchants’ windows, has been doing some corporate soul-searching to try and redefine what their offering should look like in a world where physical payment mechanisms are becoming obsolete. The result is a new suite of products, and an updated visual identity that should better support them. The distinctive conjoined circles have been simplified and streamlined, the grid removed and the "C" turned into a "c," in an attempt to echo exactly the sense of ease and connectivity they want to elicit with their new payment offerings such as Masterpass and Selfie Pay. The result, it has to be said, is sleek, a reassuringly familiar identity with an air of carefree sophistication. You can feel the ease with which the new system will be applied across touchpoints.
An effective rebrand is about far more than maintaining the integrity of a well-loved logo, though. If the products and services that deliver on the brand experience don’t live up to the hype, then all you’ve created is something pretty. And style over substance is a risky game to play.
GE, for instance, has mastered using its brand to reflect evolved ideology in the last few years. An industrial powerhouse whose history dates back over 100 years, the company suffered great losses during the 2008 financial crisis, precipitating an expansive slim-down effort. Renewed focus was placed on establishing a credible portfolio that played to the company's strengths. Taking a fresh approach to innovation and product development, they then maneuvered themselves to the forefront of the industrial sector once again. This transformation was outwardly expressed with an identity that humanized its use of science and technology, using every form of media at its disposal to tell inspirational and compelling stories that had a friendly, accessible aura. It injected a friendliness into the brand that allows GE to start conversations with consumers about wind turbines and jet engines, marrying business and brand in a way that means they can credibly claim to be "the world’s premier digital industrial company."
Airbnb’s recent rebrand was similarly about bringing warmth and simplicity to their identity, and celebrating everything that the company had become. No longer is it a glorified couch-surfing site that people used because it was cheap and easy, people now want to host and stay with Airbnb because it meant they could feel a sense of connection—to a community, a family, a place—anywhere in the world. The Belo logo, in particular, with its conjoined ‘A’ and heart-shape, portrays the uplifting sense of belonging that people feel when interacting with the brand—which means meeting hosts, staying in unique accommodation and exploring new places. The photographic style, with full bleed shots of colorful places, immediately evokes in you the desire to explore, while managing to tap into the exact emotion that you might expect to feel when gazing at the Eiffel Tower with a beloved other as the sun sets over Paris. The experience, in the predominant number of cases, lives up to what is promised.
It’s worth noting that Mastercard CMO Raj Rajamannar has spoken about the launch of the new design with confidence and passion. It’s no wonder he’s emotional—this has been a two-year process, undoubtedly with more stakeholders to placate than many people deal with in a lifetime. As a voice of the brand, he’s doing a good job of convincing both church and state that this is more than skin deep. It’s an "evolution" that has occurred inside and out, with the identity establishing a coherent connection between the physical and virtual brand expressions, and allowing Mastercard the opportunity of visualizing their future aspirations.
The test now, however, is whether they can deliver on the promise being made by the company, by Raj and by the sleek and simplified design they’ve revealed. What’s truly "Priceless" today is being able to create a product that people never knew they needed, but suddenly cannot live without. If Mastercard puts the same passion and effort into understanding the nuance of human behavior—and designing experiences that reframe the way we think about money and finances as it has on maintaining the integrity of its brand to tell this story—then perhaps those iconic circles will take on new meaning in the years to come.