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A Re-branding Project Plan

Picture it, January 2002. A solo designer, just recovering from being laid-off, decides to give this freelancing thing a try. She sits at her rented desk and works up a logo using her name, and a business card. A fellow tenant helps her by building a website – it’s so cute with her dog on it.

Fast forward to summer, 2007 – she has a good reputation, four employees, many clients and a lot of experience under her belt. But, prospects and new colleagues still get the impression she’s a freelancer renting a desk. Her salesperson has trouble explaining that Faith Seekings is someone’s name and the firm is not a religious cult. She’s embarrassed by her brand and it’s time to change – new name and all.

Skip ahead again to December 2008 when the business has doubled, due partly to buying another, and the brand needed to mature again in look and messaging, to reflect the growth. No new name this time, but there’s an entirely different dog on the website.

I tell you this story because I not only re-brand clients regularly, but I’ve done it myself. Once you’ve decided to rebrand (see past post The Right Time to Re-brand), what would the steps involved be?

First, choose the right firm to do it.

If you are rebranding, at this stage you need more than a designer, you need a brand strategist and copywriter as well. A brand is more than a pretty logo, it’s how you tell your ideal clients who you are and why you’re different. That takes strategy and words, especially if there’s a renaming involved as well.

This doesn’t mean you have to go to a large firm, just one that offers this depth of service and experience. Ask for recommendations from colleagues, meet with at least three, make sure you look at their work and see diversity, yet evidence they can work with your kind of company (size, industry, etc). Don’t discount the importance of liking them and feeling good about communication style.

Our re-brand project plan

All design firms will have their own processes and approach, but would likely include the same basic principles as ours.

Step One: Look backward, look forward.

This would likely be covered initially in the discovery meeting, then in more detail – after we decide to work together. Look back at where you started and why you made the brand/design decisions you did. Review where you are now and what has changed in the interim – with your company, the competition, the marketplace, technology, etc. Then, look at where you want to be in three to five years. I give that time-frame because it’s not unusual to do at least a brand tweak every few years as things continually change. It also reduces the pressure of thinking you’re making decisions that have to work forever.

Step Two: Research, research, research.

Depending what you sign up for with us we may do a complete competitive analysis of your industry. At the least we use one of the best ways to gage how your company is seen: by asking existing ideal clients what they think about your firm, why they keep coming back and refer you. So they’re encouraged to be candid, I recommend having an outside (branding) team do it and explain that all results will be reported back anonymously. Once you’ve got your client’s permission, they set up calls and go. This may show things you need to change, but most often reveals strengths that the company didn’t realize they had, and what competitive advantage is most meaningful to your ideal client. See our May newsletter for more on this.

Step Three: Essential Message Session

This half day session uses the essential message, a method for uncovering your best competitive advantage, articulating it and generating a brand brief. It includes the closer look at your past and future goals from step one. There are interactive exercises to dig deeper into what core challenge your company really solves for your clients and all the ways you do it better than the competition. The research previously done plays a role by throwing new ideas into the discussion. It’s ideal for us not to have preconceived notions, so sometimes we swap step two and three.

From this session, both sides should have a rough positioning statement and a really good idea how the brand character is shaping up, with consensus. If a second session is needed, we book it. We should have enough of a creative brief to begin work on the tagline and brief for the logo.

Step Four: You won’t hear from us for a while

We then take everything we learned and results of the session away to work on. We may do further research or call with further questions. What we’ll come back with is a refined positioning statement and tag line options. The positioning statement is an internal statement meant to guide us in the rest of the branding, but can also turn into content for the website, your LinkedIn profile, or even your verbal introduction.

We also send a long list of tagline options with instructions like eliminating the ones that are definitely a no, highlighting the ones you like best and how to ask for feedback.

We consider both documents iterative. However, clear guidelines on rounds of revisions should be outlined at the outset. We gladly discuss and incorporate your feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and why for the next round.

I believe the positioning statement should never be ‘written in stone’ as the world changes and companies grow, it should do so with you. Ideally after a couple rounds we have a tagline direction nailed down if not the exact words, because then we can start the fun part.

Step Five: The fun part – my favourite book is the Pantone colour book.

I’m a designer at heart, this is the best part for me. With the brand character defined and a tagline selected, the design studio begins generating logo ideas. We present the first round in black and white because personal colour preferences and dislikes are strong, and can adversely effect the impression of a great design. We hate to see a good concept rejected because someone hates orange. We present two to three concepts (or more) including the tagline, with our recommendation and rationale. The same suggestions for getting feedback apply.

The client provides feedback with change requests, mix n’ matches, but definitely narrows down options. Next round or so we show colour options for the favourite logo (or two if it helps with decisions). Again, there may be alteration requests. Seeing it in context also helps finalize the wording of the tagline, if not yet final.

Step Six: A brand is born.

With a strong brand base of positioning statement, tagline and logo finalized, we deliver a package of logos in all formats, colours and file types you’d need. Perhaps a brand guidelines document, and anything you may need to trademark it. We can also then begin design and writing all the support elements the brand needs to be taken public, i.e. stationery, business card, website, brochures, marketing materials, etc. There’s more that needs updating with the new brand than you think (what about company cheques?), so it can be an ongoing process.

Please remember that a brand is much more than a logo. It’s every way your company interacts with the outside world – your website and marketing tools, how your team talks about the company, to how your receptionist answers the phone. This is where your strong, well-defined positioning and tagline really come in to play.

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