PUBLIC RELATIONS: Defining the Essence of Your Company
Over the last several months, we have been working in partnership with a client on a complete rebranding project. It’s been a great exercise in creating and implementing a well-conceived brand, and demonstrating how a thoughtful, thorough process can make all the difference.
The young organization (four years old), had been so focused on the tactical concerns of a start-up that it had not spent a significant amount of energy on the strategic aspects of branding. That’s OK – there are many things to address when getting an organization up and running that can divert attention from developing an internal and external graphic identity. But branding - as it relates to reputation management both inside and outside a company - can ultimately prove to be every bit as important as the bricks and mortar.
I’ve outlined a brief case-study-like analysis of our process, highlighting a few key points. You may find it instructive if you’re developing a new brand. And it’s also a way to make sure your existing brand is firing on all cylinders, in terms of reflecting your company’s true identity.
First, find your voiceOn the conceptual side, we were fortunate to be able to start at square one. As a first step, it was imperative to hear the members of the organization articulate its voice – not just as a design, creative or communications exercise, but as the foundation upon which to build the brand.
How did we do this? We listened. To a lot of people. From the CEO, to department heads, to faculty, staff and students. Both in small focus groups with individual departments and in an institution-wide survey. Questions revolved around the identity of the place, what it stands for, its attributes, what makes it tick, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
Ordinarily, we would also have listening posts outside the organization, but because this particular group was so new and relatively unknown to the marketplace, we made a conscious decision to limit the research to internal stakeholders.
DistillFrom a vast amount of data, we distilled down a few simply stated concepts to define the essence of the brand. Adjectives we heard over and over again included “pioneering,” “growing,” “innovative,” “caring,” “community focused.” From what we had observed; however, the existing brand imagery seemed to convey anything but these attributes. “Stodgy” and “old school” were more like it. So there was a clear gap between the institution’s identity as articulated by its people and the one expressed by its existing graphic communication.
Develop visual representationWith this clear direction to build upon, we turned to creative execution to bring the brand to life. Every element of the new identity - logo, color selection, style, typography - was conceived to be in synch with the basic tenets of the organization. Every element had to make sense as it related to the brand promise we had distilled from the focus groups.
Listen againFrom here, we presented new brand concepts to the executive team. The inclusive approach from the beginning meant that everyone had been part of the process, and so it was relatively easy to feed back the findings without any surprises. Actually, the biggest “ah ha moment” came in the recognition that the various groups – which had tended to be splintered over the existing logo and graphic representation of the organization – all agreed on the overall direction and the specific graphic execution.
Continuing with the inclusive approach, we did an organization-wide unveiling of the new look, including creative rationale and next steps, which was to …
Build on foundationOnce the basic logo design was approved, the next step was to begin to build out the identity system, starting with business cards and letterhead, other print collateral, ads, building signage, PowerPoint presentation templates, retail items, the website, and more. Even the visitors badges got a new look. We captured specific design details in a style guide so that others involved in production could adhere to the new brand standards.
Partner with a strong brand advocatePerhaps most important to the success of the project, we worked with a great partner within the organization who managed - and is still managing - the brand ferociously. Call it being the “brand police” if you like, but without someone who is willing to say a polite but firm “no” to requests to slap the new logo on any old piece of collateral, even the best new branding can fail miserably.
While the project is still in the early stages of implementation, it’s been gratifying to see the results to date, including an organization that is rallying around a holistic new brand that truly reflects its identity.
Renowned branding expert Alan Siegel says it best: “The vast majority of corporations, not-for-profits and government agencies present muddled communications to their employees, customers and other constituents. Corporations simply haven’t developed a distinctive, powerful language to define what they do and what they stand for - a distinctive corporate voice. With a unified voice, every facet of an organization’s communications can build on its identity, leveraging communications opportunities across all media with consistent, focused messages. Finding this voice, designing and managing it, is one of the most critical and complex issues facing management. From On Branding and Clear Communications, by Louis Slovinsky, 2006.