Insights

On Brand.

How we tackled one of our hardest briefs - rebranding ourselves.

It’s the brief that every creative simultaneously craves and dreads: the re-design of our own brand. The opportunity for complete creative freedom, coupled with the increased scrutiny and subjectivity. We’ve been designing brands for our clients since 2013, but this was to be the first major overhaul of not just our brand, but our business, clients and focus. As with most rebrands, there was much at stake.

Why?

The landscape of digital marketing has changed since we launched 7 years ago. Techniques are different, strategies have changed, the space has become more competitive and it’s harder than ever to stand out. This was as true of our own brand, as it was for our clients. What’s more, we’ve matured as a team. Our value system has changed, we’ve added experience to our ranks and what we enjoy doing has changed over time. Our old brand, British Software, no longer encompassed what we stood for, and we felt a dissociation to it.

When clients talk to us about rebrands, we’re pretty rigid on asking the right questions, the predominant one being – Why? Why change the brand? Why lose the equity you’ve built up? It has to be more than a change of name or a logo refresh. It has to mean something. We asked the same question of ourselves: why rebrand? And in answering, we built our rebrand mission statement: we needed a brand that was aligned to our values, that we were proud of, and that allowed us to experiment and be bold.

With an understanding that we were doing this for the right reasons, we decided to eat our own dog food and rebrand our own business using the exact process we use to rebrand our clients – the five D’s: Discover, Define, Develop, Deploy and Ditto. We’d set ourselves the same roadmap, asked the same questions and probed the same details as as we would our clients. In May 2019, we sat our rebrand project off in earnest.

Discovery.

Our goal is to always to capture the very essence of a brand, the fabric, the DNA. After all, a brand is simply a reflection of its ingredients – the team behind it, the quality of the work they do, the care they put in, the way they express themselves. The discovery process is used to flesh this out, to get as quickly as possible to the very core of the brand and understand what makes it tick.

During the Discovery phase, we use individual and group workshops to find out what makes those people tick. It can take hours, days, even weeks to conduct these, but they inevitably prove incredibly valuable throughout the entire process. They provide a boiled-down set of guiding principals upon which to base the brand, distinct from any look, feel or aesthetics. It’s often during these workshops that teams come to find our new things: similarities and bonds between team members, aligned visions, interests they didn’t know they had. The opposite is also common: differences of opinion, wants and needs and expectations that are wildly different between people.

And herein lies the challenge of a rebrand. The new persona for the team must encompass both the commonalities amongst the group as well as allow the differences and mavericks to be express themselves equally. Indeed, to us, this is the very meaning of a brand.

During the Discovery phase for our new brand, we found that our team had a keen interest in shaping the future of the business. Collectively we understood that we had a strong value system:

  • A sincere and honest love for the brands we work with – we’ll choose to work only with brands that we feel aligned with.
  • An activist mindset towards sustainability – we must make every available effort to drive sustainability within our own business and our clients.
  • Uncompromisingly outspoken – we’ll be honest and upfront about every part of the work we do, even to our own detriment.
  • Brave and experimental – if we want to stay at the top of our game, we must experiment and accept risk, even if the results prove terrible.

Taking this a step further, we also spoke to our clients and got their feedback. When running the Discovery phase for our clients, this is often our favourite part, where we get to hear the honest feedback and critique. We’ll process this and feed it back to our Clients. In at least half of these sessions, we’ll discover that a brands perception of its own consumers and the consumers themselves have wildly differing views. With trepidation, we organised a third party to interview our clients and heard some of the areas they liked and disliked:

  • Communications – our ability to respond to disruption within our business and communicate this to our clients could be sporadic and needed improvement.
  • Depth of knowledge – our clients felt deeply confident in our understanding and being able to discuss high level campaign and delving into the micro-detail specifics was a virtue that resonated well with them.
  • Logical to the extreme – the world of digital marketing rarely runs smoothly, and in times of difficulty or uncertainty, we always apply a logic-based approach to decision making. Our clients applauded this and wanted to ensure this remained throughout.

Definition.

Capturing the essence of a brand is one thing. Defining it is another. Our definition process works to turn our knowledge on the brand into actionable insights, to plan and prepare the delivery of the project and ensure that such a sweeping change to a business captures any and all aspects and facets that the business needs in order to survive and thrive.

Starting with a brand audit, it was clear that as our business has grown over the years, we were missing some vital assets. A culture deck that demonstrates how we operate as a team with values and how to effectively contribute to that company culture. An operating manual that allowed new starters to join the fold as well as to define our standard operating procedure to our more seasoned members.

Before we could begin on the creative process, we needed to get these fleshed out, so work began on probing our culture and operations. During this collaborative process, we gleaned some fascinating insights: we were using twelve different methods of communicating with our clients and our project management was spread across four different systems. Whilst this was manageable now, in order to scale, we needed to plan how to unify these channels so that we could improve our communications and response times.

Enter Fifo. A rebrand is always a great opportunity to introduce a new product, service or refinement. To unify communications and planning, our team developed a scope for Fifo, an intelligent studio planning and communications tool, powered by artificial intelligence. She would take control of the schedule and allocate time for jobs, adapting to disruption in real-time and ensuring that communications would flow seamlessly, regardless of channel. Fifo was an embodiment of our commitment to take risk. Building AI is a significant undertaking, even more so when it’s taking charge of the business scheduling. But the reward far outweighed the risk, so now was the time to introduce change. Fifo would understand the business velocity, intelligently group jobs and predict deadlines, creating a chaos-free environment in which our team could thrive.

The end result was a project plan and scope for the rebrand, the first draft of our operating handbook and our culture deck which the team agreed formed the perfect basis upon which to build our identity.

 

Development.

For the first time in our seven year history, we would have a complete identity: designed from the ground up to capture everything that embodied our company. All we needed was a name. We’re often asked where the name “Many” came from, and the answer is often met with some disappointment: it was all rather organic. Our Discovery phase had dictated that our name be:

  • Generic – we had found that having the name ‘British Software’ was rather pigeon-holing whilst trying to branch out
  • Memorable – this is a given, really
  • Available – well, duh

We really didn’t give a huge amount of weight to our name, as we knew that whatever we settled with would be crafted to suit our ethos. But it was important that the name at least represented the team, and after some iteration and searching, we settled on a name that incorporated our mentality: individually, we are creators, enthusiasts, experts and marketeers. Together, we are Many. Some negotiation later, we had our domain name, and our new brand was born.

Our creative experts got to work. Exploring colour theory, we developed a palette that embodied our values – warmth, love and care. We developed deep purples, rich pinks and mixed in bold accents of yellow and green to ensure that wherever our brand was discovered, it would stand out and pack a punch.

We settled on our brand colour, Pantone 213 C, following user testing. During an emotional response experiment, we asked participants to study a series of individual colour tones, whilst monitoring their heart rate and brain activity via an EEG headset. Pantone 213 C won out as the tone that elicited the greatest impact on heart rate combined with brain activity observed. Post-experiment interviews confirmed this tone was linked closest to feelings of both warmth and creativity. We’ll be publishing results of this study soon.

We’re always a fan of simple visual identities over the complex, so we wanted to keep our identity tight and typographically based. To this end, we knew that a bold, modern typeface was in order. After several (well, upwards of 50) iterations of design testing with real users with varying colour works and type pairings, we settled on Hans Kendrick and Whitney for our headline and copy fonts respectively. Using fonts specifically designed for digital allowed us the greatest degree of flexibility in our predominant medium – screen – but didn’t restrict our use in other mediums too.

Tone of voice is an often overlooked component of an identity, but it’s such a key one. A tone of voice statement dictates how the brand should communicate publicly. For example, our tone of voice statement states that when any member of our team if speaking on behalf of the team as many, they should talk positively, knowledgeably and be detail orientated. It outlines how our team should behave when engaging in online debate – we should act thoughtfully, and use logic to make reasoned arguments. It may sound like common sense, but having a guiding principle like this to refer to when sitting on a fireside chat or joining a Twitter discussion means our team and brand is always represented accurately and consistently.

This was all tied together in our final development output: our brand guidelines – an extensive document outlining how the brand should be used, how it should sound, how ambassadors on the brand should behave and what guardians of the brand should look out for on its use. New starters get a copy of this, our creative team adapt it for new and emerging use cases and it will become a living document, one that’s updated constantly, as our brand grows online.

With the identity built and our guidelines in place, it was time for the hard work to begin: the rollout.

Delivery.

Despite the seemingly long and complex steps to get to this point, the delivery phase is almost always the step that takes the longest time to complete. It certainly was in our case. With over 350 documents, legal agreements, pitch decks and proposals to rebrand, as well as our entire online presence, it took our team in total around 3 months to fully rebrand our assets.

A rebrand is a great opportunity to not just update the look and feel, but to completely revisit assets that may not have been touched for a long time, sometimes even the very start. We took full advantage of this, redesigning our business stationery, brochures and packaging that hadn’t been updated or sometimes even used for months or years. With a fresh new look and feel, these assets could now be used frequently and confidently.

At times during the brand rollout, we learnt a harsh lesson we always tell our clients: keep your source files. Some of our assets simply could not be rebranded as the original source files had been misplaced, forgotten or had become out of date. Without these source files, we wouldn’t be able to jump into older assets and switch out the logos or colours schemes without, in the case of videos, cropping or re-editing, or in the case of images, re-shooting them. Thankfully, our creatives were able to remedy the majority of these issues with the clever and thorough use of Photoshop and After Effects, but this took far longer than anticipated. I’ll say it again: keep. your. source. files. safe.

As is inevitable with any rebrand, during the rollout, the team came across several scenarios that hadn’t been thought of yet – unusual logo placements, colour clashes and awkward positioning of elements, which meant that our team needed to refer back, and sometimes update, the brand guidelines with additional cases and uses. This can sometimes feel a little bit like cheating – you can’t make it fit, so you adjust the rules – but it’s absolutely not. It’s part of an organic brand, one that adapts to it’s scenarios. It’s why we keep our lead creatives tight-knit to our artworkers when we do a brand rollout, they can collaboratively problem solve and adapt the brand as it evolves. We’d do this for our clients, so we did it for our roll out too.

With just over 62GB of files, assets, visuals, documents and brand assets, it was time to deploy and roll the brand out to the public. We’re always fans of a gradual and quiet release, rather than a shock and awe campaign. Using this approach, you can sample sentiment and gauge consumer response to your new identity without alienating anyone. The public rollout of the Many brand began in earnest in early February 2020, and it due to run until the end of April, as we roll the brand out across our existing clients, introduce it to our new clients and approach new business with the brand.

We’ll always suggest a digital-first rollout of a new brand, just as we did for Many. By rolling out the website and social channels first, we’re able to both gauge sentiment towards it landing, as well as quickly iterate in case of problems. As has been proven in the past, mistakes during branding can be costly once rolled out to products, print stock and other offline media.

Ditto.

Which brings us to ditto, the phase we are in as I write this. The Ditto phase is a time for data gathering, reflection and learning before you do it all over again. That’s right, do it all over again.

You see, a rebrand is literally just the start of a business identity. Of course, it’s a new visual identity, a tone of voice, but it’s effectively an infant. It needs educating, it needs to mature, to grow into a full fledged brand. It’ll do that alongside your team, your product and your service, but it needs guidance.

The ditto phase is the time follow deployment, where you really start to feel the reaction. Indeed, the most useful insights are often gleaned here. Consumers can be hasty to judge a rebrand, especially if it’s a sweeping change to the brand or visual identity. It’s important to listen to initial feedback, however abrasive, but it’s important to listen to a broad spectrum of people. Feedback during this latter stage of the rollout is often less charged and more accurate.

A brand needs constant refinement and guardianship, and it’s important to promote an ambassador within the organisation to oversee how the brand is used, as well as the surrounding tone, imagery and aesthetic, to ensure that the brand is represented accurately in the public domain. The brand guardian should have the ability to modify and veto any output that represents the brand, as well as to adjust the brand to accommodate new uses. It should be his of her charge to make the brand document a ‘living document’ that’s introduced to everyone as they come aboard. through this process, the brand will become embedded as if it were a member of the team.

The “Ditto” part really comes into it’s own with regular reviews. For example, at Many, we’ll meet monthly to discuss our upcoming marketing strategy, and as part of this, we’ll present a brand review. This forms a discussion where changes to the brand are formalised, be it changes to the visual identity, the rollout or the adoption of new imagery into the brand style. It’s a chance also to reflect on other brands, competitors and movements within your industry.

By continually iterating on your brand, you’ll allow it to flourish and mature alongside your team.

Onwards.

A rebrand is one of the most disruptive processes you can put your business through, for good or for bad. There’s no way to avoid it – some people will love it and some people will hate it. By taking a thorough, process-driven and staged approach to a rebrand, you can minimise this risk.

Our teams always base our designs on systems, be it digital, product or service, and our rebrand is a result of building a system that recognises our team, our voice, our passions and our work. Now our identity truly reflects how we think about design, and how we believe brands should be born.

We’re excited to see where it goes next.

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