What’s In a Brand?
By: Andrea Trapani
Identity Has Redefined and Relaunched Our Brand. Here’s Why, and How…
Is there ever a good time to overhaul your brand? Identity revamps are a part of branding life. Even the most consistent corporate icons, such as the famed McDonald’s arches, or Coca-Cola’s script logo, evolve over time. The decision to reboot one’s corporate image should be carefully measured — it is an undertaking and a commitment…one that will demand resolve, thought and strategy. This decision can have a number of motivators: passage of time, a new corporate mission, a new market position, a new product launch, a redefinition of audience.
For us, it was the occasion of our tenth anniversary last year that presented a moment of reflection. Symbolic in many ways, it was the marking of our first decade in business that compelled us to take a closer look at the brand we crafted 10 years prior, to examine where we are today as a firm, and to see if there were possible disconnects between the two.
Our brand revolution is more aptly described as an evolution. From the time we first pondered a change to the day that we launched our new image, almost a year had passed. (It can be done more quickly, of course, if you don’t have other clients to serve first.) During that time, we guided ourselves through the same strategic and rewarding process that we use to navigate our clients through similar brand overhauls:
STEP 1: THE AUDIT
It begins with an honest evaluation of the current brand. You must first realistically analyze what you currently have to risk in terms of brand equity. And does the reward outweigh the risk? For many business-to-business companies, this risk is minimal, as few are household names like Nike or Apple. But every company is different, so be sure to at least ask the question. If you’ve been in business for 100 years and are extremely well known in your industry, a rebrand may be worth reconsidering. But if you’ve gotten to this point, where you’re actually considering it, you likely already have the sense that there’s more to gain than there is to lose.
Our process involves close scrutiny of the corporate identity, asking the following:
- What do we have?
- What does it say?
- What do want it to say?
What do we have is a question to which the answer seems self-evident. “Show them our current logo.” What many companies soon discover, however, is that there are several well-intended versions of the company logo, yet each is working independently to the detriment of the other. Colors may vary, fonts may be inconsistent, even the name of the company can vary from usage to usage. The first step is to collect every usage of the company name and identity, and determine what exactly is the existing brand.
What does it say? Logos have meaning. They convey a brand and persona whether we intend them to or not. Fonts project image, colors communicate emotion, logo icons represent ideas. A crucial component to the audit phase is comparing the brand against the company itself — its culture, its mission, its market position, its message. Many times, there is no match, which is why a company intuitively decides that something needs to change…and that something is the company’s brand.
You must then clearly communicate the answer to the question: What do we want to say? How do you define your company? How do you wish others to perceive it? What are your strengths? Your differentiators? True, a logo cannot in and of itself accomplish all of your positioning and messaging, but it must be reflective of that messaging and positioning. Inconsistency is branding suicide. Ask yourself how you want to perceived by your clients, prospects and competitors. Only then can you develop the brand that is truly a reflection of the company.
In auditing our brand, we made a few determinations:
- The chief color, which had evolved into a charcoal gray, lacked energy and appeal.
- The font treatment seemed thin and, by extension, not as bold as we perceive our company to be.
- The line underneath the name, while it had meaning at one time, had faded in importance and relevance to our company in 2009.
- The descriptor text “Marketing & Public Relations,” while still accurate, was not a complete enough description of what we have evolved into over time. While our focus remains on the core disciplines of marketing and public relations, we are better known as a full-service branding, marketing communications and PR firm, with capabilities in new media and graphic design. (There was no way all of that — and more — was going under that line!)
- There was no correlation between the logo and the tagline we have been employing for years (leave a mark); nor our secondary icon (the thumbprint), which had become very closely identified with our brand’s image.
STEP 2: DEVELOPMENT
Once the above has been examined and defined, it is time to build the brand. In our case, nothing was out of bounds, and everything was scrutinized. We began the process of developing our new identity by constructing a logo that would personify our culture, approach, mission and identity (forgive the pun).
- We felt the font more aptly represented our youthful enthusiasm for the marketing profession and our approach to familial and lasting client partnerships. (We feel the font looks “younger” and “more friendly,” if one can make that claim.) We liked the bolder typeface, as a company who prides itself on bold ideas.
- The main color is an electric blue, capturing our energy and creativity — two characteristics of us as individuals and collectively as an agency.
- The tagline is featured prominently and permanently as a part of our logo, calling attention to our mission of partnering with companies to leave a mark.
- The thumbprint icon is a permanent fixture accompanying our word mark, tying in to both our name (your fingerprint is your identity) and our tagline (your fingerprints leave a distinguishing mark).
- Though the name of our company is still Identity Marketing & Public Relations, we (as many others do) refer to the company simply as Identity, which is now our moniker, and which becomes less limiting through the omission of the specific descriptor used previously.
The final result, we believe, is a compelling and accurate representation of the Identity personality, our culture, our mission, our market position and our brand.
But we were not yet even halfway through the process…
STEP 3: EXECUTION AND DEPLOYMENT
The development of the new logo demanded that our new brand be implemented into every facet of our company’s communications strategy, including everything from business cards, letterhead, envelopes and signage to our corporate brochure, website, blog, social media outposts, advertising, newsletter, external communications…literally every possible exposure to our brand.
You begin to see now why this was a year in the making…and why this is a commitment in time, resources, resolve and sweat equity.
STEP 4: COMMUNICATION
Once all of this is in place — and only when it is all in place — are you ready to launch the new brand. The last thing you want to do is scream to the world news of your new look, then confuse people when the website doesn’t match the business card doesn’t match the brochure doesn’t match the letterhead…
Carefully communicating the new brand identity is paramount, and will present not only a valuable opportunity to reinforce your company’s mission and strengths to your various constituents, but can head off any possible questions, concerns or damaging disconnects with your audiences.
We did the following:
- Distribution of new corporate brochure
- E-blast to our entire mailing list, communicating the change and the strategy behind it
- A press release, announcing news of our new identity and why we made the change
- This blog post
- Launched an advertising campaign, raising exposure for our new identity
- Social media strategy, including announcements on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
- Social media press release, with content-rich multimedia and links (sharable downloads of our new logo)
- Update of avatars and profile presentation on all social media outposts, including YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, Slideshare, and more.
You may also consider:
- Direct mail (traditional)
- Conventional letter to vendors, clients, partners, associates, referral sources, etc., if you can reasonably determine that such a change will cause confusion or raise questions you want to address preemptively (Are you being acquired? Is the company changing? How does this affect me? …and so on).
STEP 5: CONSISTENCY
When you are done, you are not done. Consider how you got here in the first place. Many times it’s because your brand identity slowly devolved or lost consistency. Now is the time to avoid identity mission creep and put it all in writing. We highly recommend a standards manual, which clearly displays the logo in all possible usages (and only the accepted usages), defines the color values in both print and electronic formats, identifies fonts and type sizes, and provides guidelines for deployment. You may have a logo you use in black and white, and another in full color; one for T-shirts, another for mugs. Just make sure it is clearly spelled out, and exactly as you have defined it. Eliminate margin for error and leave nothing to “creative interpretation.”
We won’t lie, it’s never easy. But many times, it’s simply necessary. If your brand is ineffectual, lacking, uninspired, meaningless, tired or dated, inaction is not an option. The reward is what comes out the other end of this strategic meat grinder.
We’re extremely proud of our new identity, and we feel it quite accurately captures who we are, how others perceive us, and how we wish to be perceived. (Please let us know what you think in the comments section.) We anticipate that we will not have to do this again, as we think we got it right. The logo may evolve or get tweaked, as most do, but this is who we are for the foreseeable future.
The process, though arduous, was rewarding, fun, self-exploratory, cathartic and, most importantly…necessary. The time had come. When you know, you know.