I can’t believe five years have passed since we created a new brand logo, strategy, website, collateral, etc. I do remember that it was a painstaking process. I recall all the sordid details, angst, exhilaration, euphoria and, finally, the sense of accomplishment.
Well, here we are again: wrestling with matching our brand to our current stature, position in the marketplace and expertise. Our considerable growth in the agency space calls for a reevaluation of how we present ourselves to the market.
Birthing the brand before was our first real attempt after changing our business model and retiring preexisting identities. In retrospect, it was a true success. Not only did the logo exclaim our upscale look with brightness; it also visually proclaimed ours being a communication agency by interlocking two (L+G) thought bubbles. Since then, our name and logo have become known and enjoyed by friends, colleagues, clients and prospects alike. But all good things must come to an end.
The conversation started to bubble up a couple of months ago. It started with the business development director saying we needed to evolve the brand — not only visually but in our messaging as well. You see, we have been building this agency from the ground up, and today we are so much more than when we started. This time around we determined that we had vested cache in our name that it was not necessary to change it.
Initially, there was resistance. Why change what is not broken? But the team as a whole pushed back. The creatives asked for permission to create some evolutionary concepts. They were given some leeway and charged with the task. Focus on where we were going was put in place. At the top of their whiteboard, I wrote: “Elegant — Sophisticated — Substantial.” Those marching orders, as general as they were, were still boundaries. My trust level was pretty high, but I would be untruthful if I said I didn’t hover over them from time to time.
Researching new fonts, colors and designs is what creatives live for. The ability to convert an idea into an image got their juices flowing. When management gives a team elbow room, I find the work is truly top-shelf.
Capturing the culture, capabilities and self-esteem of an agency eliminates any off-the-shelf thinking. Boiling down the essence of your company requires a certain amount of soul-searching to translate the atmosphere into a cohesive message. You need to identify your “why.” Why do you do what you do the way you do? Why are you different — not on the surface, but more organically? A company has to be seen as having a soul.
For us, during this process, Post-it notes were everywhere. Each question and answer led to others. Some of our core values were pressed to the walls: proud, smart, “legacy,” “top-tier,” “leaders,” “experts.” If we were going to coalesce around what we believed to be the heart of our agency, we had to dig deep. This was not a time for fluff or bending the reality of our house. There is no reason to go through this process without being relentlessly honest.
Some pitched “fun” since we do that. Others suggested “outside-the-box thinking” because we do that too. Some even pushed for more gilded elegance, saying we are a pretty classy bunch and so is our work. Consensus jelled around an image of luxury and top-tier quality. The thinking was that we had an upper-middle market focus and needed to match the substance, creating a look, feel and message that looked a lot like our top clients and fit the model of our prospects.
Brand logo and message have to come together in a brand’s tone of voice and word use, as well as not being afraid to narrow the brand’s appeal. For us, that was kind of like saying that from now on we would behave with a post-graduate mindset and forward-facing corporate persona. We needed to leave the immature behind. We began viewing the changes as a company graduation ceremony. We had made it.
Those of us in the industry have all seen and probably created brand books that act as bibles and guides going forward. Without locking in all the particulars of this arduous process over time, little changes creep. New and existing staff members need to operate within the guide, lest differences in look and feel invade the brand. A brand only lives when it’s held together at every level. If you’re not going to be true to your new brand, don’t waste your time. But if you are, rest assured that your outward-facing company persona is one the entire company can support, believe in and champion.
The harder part of the process was establishing new vision and mission statements. We had what we thought were solid pieces of text that communicated who and what we were all about. Rebranding is not necessarily blowing up everything about the existing brand.
Having done rebranding for clients, we understood which components needed to be in place and in what order. We talked to clients and contemporaries and asked pointed questions about their view of us. We asked what we needed to do to project our core being as an organization and business. It was eye-opening and extremely valuable to apply to ourselves.
There are a couple of comments I can make to any agency undertaking a rebrand, either for themselves or clients. First, appoint a secretary to memorialize the process. This is invaluable for a debriefing after the fact, which should be a biography of the process: the why, when, who and what. Second, no rebrand can be cookie-cutter. Each and every company is unique. The goal is to ferret out the bedrock, the heartbeat and the raison d’exister of the company. Third, don’t be afraid to challenge your team at each stage. The more they own their piece, the better the work product and the overall results. I know some of these points are pretty basic and well known by agencies, but they bear repeating.