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Instagram evolves. Millennials speak.

Recently, Instagram revealed a new identity. The response from the broader community suggests many of Instagram’s users are uncertain about the change. Regardless of how you feel about the new identity, we’re now living in an age where views are quickly shared and marketers could be forgiven for thinking it’s best to leave everything as is so as not to risk upsetting core users.

Indeed, there is a sense of irony about any social media organisation that is perplexed by the reaction of its users to any change it makes.  Whether you’re Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Snapchat, the primary reason for existence is to encourage social exchanges and different perspectives. So, when it comes to a logo change, the base position must be to expect some grumbling by engaged users.

When you scratch below the surface on reactions to the new Instagram identity, you start to see another factor in play.  Let’s face it, consumer displeasure is to be expected when evolving a brand – Think Airbnb mid-way through 2014 when it revealed a new direction accompanied by a markedly different look.  Incidentally, this is exactly what Instagram has done.

The company was set up in 2010 as a mobile photo–sharing service designed to allow its users to take pictures and share them on its app. The company has now evolved to become a global community of interests where people share content and connect with one another. Instagram has moved ahead in its offer and the new identity reflects this. Why, then, are we hearing so much noise about it? At this point it’s worth remembering that consumers in their 20s and early 30’s have grown up in a world where expressing their views is simple thanks to the multiple social platforms on offer. They’re used to making noise and know how to do it very effectively.

The key factor in play, then, is millennials. Marketers are doing flips and twists to target these consumers, yet the understanding of what makes them tick is something that it open to wide interpretation. Mid-way through last year, Landor undertook a global study to get a better a grasp of this demographic. The findings are interesting – particularly in light of the reaction to a new identity that has replaced a rather dull and flat image of a Polaroid camera!

The base position for companies on millennials is as follows.  This demographic fundamentally expect brands to be accessible and to listen to them. They want brands to stay true to their heritage. They expect brands to be inclusive and – most significant of all – they assume the brands they regularly interact with will be open to new opinions and encourage an appropriate level of co-creation.  Little wonder, then, that when a brand morphs into something else, people don’t hold back in giving their opinion – be it positive or negative.

The dilemma for brand custodians is this: How does a brand keep leading whilst still being true to its heritage?  This is what Landor call the ‘agility paradox’. For a brand like Instagram, it has no option but to lead and to find new ways to engage and delight its users.

But, what if some of its users don’t like the change, instead hanging onto where the company has been in the past, and get quite vocal on the issue?  Users unconsciously lament the shift in direction and struggle to immediately engage with it. Marketers, on the other hand, need to keep an eye on what has made a brand great, but must also have a clear vision for where a brand can stretch and how it can continue to be relevant to new audiences whilst also standing apart from its competitors.

Personally, I welcome the new Instagram identity.  However, I wonder if the company could have done a better job of taking its core users on the journey with them.

Nick Foley is the President of Southeast Asia Pacific & Japan for Landor.

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