Having worked with hundreds of companies on branding and rebranding efforts, we asked our fearless leader to share some secrets for making sure you come out stronger on the other side.
Q: When a client comes to you looking for a rebrand, where do you even begin a project like that?
Kriston: Well, the first thing we do is a questionnaire. We have a set of questions that we ask everyone. And we hope that everyone who is going to be involved in the project will complete it. We want to know what a successful rebrand will look like to them.
We don’t want anyone to spend a ton of time thinking about these questions. It’s more top of mind, because when you sit down and think about something, sometimes you change what the answer actually is.
There are questions like: “What do you do? It’s not just selling stuff to people. What do you really do?”
After that, it’s: “Who are your primary clients and who is your primary competition? What can you do for those clients that’s better than what your competition can do?”
Through this process, we get a framework for their level of understanding of branding and marketing – how we can really speak to them.
Once we have that information, we do a lot of preparation and research before our discovery meeting with them. In that discovery meeting, we dive much deeper into the questions we had them answer prior to the discovery meeting. At this point, we take all of that prep work and really start digging into things more specifically. We’ll ask questions that are more along the lines of: “Why is your competition actually competition? How have you lost business to them?”
We’re talking about asking them to explain examples of their key differentiators. Clients will always say: “We have the best customer service. We offer the best quality. We’re innovative.” Those are the three things we hear all the time and it means absolutely nothing to anyone.
Our job is to really understand what that means in their line of business and then translate that into the language of their customers.
Q: How did you arrive at the questions in that questionnaire?
Kriston: I started noticing that we were asking the same questions every time we were in a meeting, and we could only get so far in that first meeting because we didn’t have the client participate in that prework. Because of that, our discovery meetings weren’t very deep.
That’s when we started asking the questions ahead of time. We’d gather that information, do some research, and put ourselves in a position to be able to dive deeper in that first discovery meeting. Getting that information upfront created a more productive and deeper discovery, and then that turned into our process.
Q: You mentioned the research that goes on in the background. What does that look like?
Kriston: We’re looking at their digital footprint, their website, their social media, and what people are saying about them. How are people reviewing them? What language are they using? We’re also looking at their competitors’ sites and what people think about them.
We’re also focusing on what they say about themselves to see if that aligns with who they are. What do they talk about when they’re recruiting, how do they talk about their employees? Are they more formal? More casual? Those kinds of things.
We also like to tap the rails before that discovery meeting with other people in their market, in their industry, to see what’s going on with them. Have they heard of this company? Have they ever worked with them? We like to get some more personal thoughts from outside people to understand the client’s standing in the market.
Q: How do you view the client’s role in a rebranding project as far as creative and strategic go?
Kriston: It’s 100% a partnership. They’re paying us to do this work and ultimately, they have to make all of the decisions. We feel our primary job is to inform and educate our clients along the way. They need to understand what they’re getting into when they’re making the decision, what the outcomes could be, and the risk-opportunity implications that come with those choices.
We like presenting options. There are times when we have to say, “We listened to you and we wanted to show you what you were asking for. However, we think this direction might be better. We want to make sure that we’ve given them good options and then they’re making the choice based on that.
Q: Once you’ve established that basis of where you’re going in a rebrand, when do you start talking about new logos, a new visual identity and other creative aspects?
Kriston: The creative team is absolutely involved in the discovery meeting, but more as an observant party. They might be asking some questions that are going to impact the visual communication, but they’re mostly gathering data. They actually put pencil to paper once the positioning and messaging is done. They can’t really start until we know what the company stands for. The whole creative team has to be in alignment and working toward the same goal.
Ultimately that goal is the emotional response the client wants their customers to have when they do business with them. That informs the color choices that we’re going to make, because colors evoke a complete emotional response. The designers are going to choose colors based on that emotional response. And then we’re going to create concepts that visually communicate key differentiators of the brand.
Q: Once you’ve established the brand identity, what do you do to ensure consistency across all of the brand touch points?
Kriston: We are firm believers that marketing, sales, design – whatever the divisions may be – are distinct parts of a company. They all have to work together. When we’re all working to the same end, that’s helping to generate more revenue for the organization, so we’re trying to arm all of the teams with consistent materials. So, if your salespeople love to use PowerPoint, we’re going to help design that standard so they have a consistent way to present information to their customers and prospects.
What that means is creating iconography, creating charts and graphs, in the same color palette and the same fonts. It might be layouts that have a lot of copy, and some with a little copy. Same with the website. We’re providing the guiding principles and the guardrails of the brand. We want you to stay within those rails: Use these fonts, use these colors, use these graphic elements to stay on brand.
One of the pieces we design is an email signature. That might sound really simple and like a no-brainer. But a lot of times in large organizations people are using things like a quote from the Bible or pretty flowers with some parchment paper in the background. Emails are really one of the ways to build your brand very quickly and easily because you’re communicating with clients on a regular basis. If you’re sending 50 emails in a day, that’s 50 brand impressions. If one of those signatures is not on brand, you’re diluting the brand position.
Q: Should an organization make a big deal of a rebrand, or should it speak for itself?
Kriston: It really depends. The secret sauce here is to start with communicating to the internal team. You want people involved in this process first. This isn’t just the owners working with the branding agency. This is really a process where you try to get as much input as possible from your internal team, your clients, and partners.
A big piece of this is that you do need to announce your rebrand internally first. You need to have a plan, you need to have a party and you need to celebrate this. You need to arm everybody with what the new brand is, what it means to them, and how the new brand benefits them. Then they know how they can talk about it to the people they’re working with, whether that’s internally or externally.
We did a rebrand for a municipality and they had a big breakfast. They brought in all their employees – people that work in the office, the people doing landscaping – a very broad spectrum of people. They announced the rebrand. They presented everyone with a little accordion book that said “Hey, we listened to you. This is the impact you’ve had on this community. Thank you for all your contributions.” and they handed out t-shirts to everyone.
People were so thrilled to be a part of this process. The landscape guys were running into the bathroom and changing their shirts so they could wear them that day when they were out working because they were so excited.
Q: So how do you ultimately measure the success of a rebrand?
Kriston: Success can look different in different situations, but I’ll give you a real world example. In the research phase with a client, we did a brand equity survey. One of the pieces of measurement was a Net Promoter score. Basically, that’s a measure of whether your customers would recommend you.
This client learned that 20% of the people interviewed would refer other people to them. That’s very low. We went through the rebranding process we’ve talked about today. There was clear, consistent, aligned communication across the board. Three years in, they did another brand equity survey. Their Net Promoter score is now 51%.
That’s how we measure success – with numbers and evidence. It’s what we’re all about. Every single client should be doing that survey – or something similar – and should have a benchmark. Then they should assess it periodically as it makes sense.
Q: Finally, what’s the biggest mistake you see companies make when they’re rebranding that you try to help them avoid?
Kriston: That’s easy: Lack of patience. Rebranding takes time. We can’t change human nature. It takes in the neighborhood of 18 months for someone to change their mind about something. If you’re rebranding, you’re looking at a minimum of 18 months to really see a change. You can’t make someone change their mind. There’s no magic formula, there is no Easy Button. There’s no quick way to implement this kind of change. It’s going to take time.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.