Any marketer that has been through a brand refresh has likely imagined the same nightmare scenario. After a lot of hard work, sweat and tears, you launch your new and improved brand, but it misses the mark. The brand upgrade gets reviewed as just a new shade of blue.
The problem is that for most marketers, branding is synonymous with a new design that just involves the marketing and creative team. A cool website with new colors, a flashy template and some animated forms are often where the branding and rebranding process begins and ends.
But, a brand refresh isn’t just a marketing initiative — it’s a company-wide effort that should involve every department from HR to engineering to finance.
So, instead of layering on a new coat of corporate paint, marketers should be working with the entire company to ensure customers and prospects who encounter the company online, in social media, in collateral or on the phone are greeted by the brand they expect, every time. Updating your brand and its visual representation should be about fixing mismatches between what people expect and what they actually get in terms of an experience.
What we learned from refreshing the Spiceworks brand
Let’s be honest: No company is perfect, and growth can create schisms in how a brand is represented over time. Maybe new employees create off-brand content, or a new department launches a product that’s inconsistent with existing, on-brand norms. A CMO might hire a marketing firm to design a new website for a pet project, authorizing an entirely new look and feel in the process. The larger a company gets, the more likely it’ll suffer brand mismatches.
We found plenty of said mismatches in the Spiceworks brand experience when looking more closely at it last year, our tenth year in business. For example, mobile was a common breakpoint. A decade of growth had led us to create multiple mobile apps, each with its own distinct look and feel. We’ve also grown as a company to do much more than offer network inventory and IT help desk solutions, yet that’s how some customers still saw us — and a limited portion of our corporate look and feel still reflected that.
With help from our core network of IT professionals, tech marketers and our own Spiceworkers over the last 18 months, we’ve found other areas where our brand identity isn’t always consistent. We’ve addressed this and begun rolling out updates to how we’re represented visually, in language and in tone. But, we’ve learned a lot along the way, including some best practices that should come in handy for any company undergoing a brand refresh or rolling out a major brand campaign.
Keep in mind the whole process should begin with an introspective exercise to take a deeper look at your brand and determine what you want to stand for, what’s your true value to customers and what drives your employees to come to work every day. Answering these questions helped fuel all of our new visual components and messaging. You can’t update your visual representation and written identify without undergoing this exercise first.
Delivering a consistent brand experience in every department
It’s worth noting up front that we didn’t seek expertise from an outside agency during the process of our brand refresh. We don’t consider this a knock on agencies so much as a philosophical preference for accelerating change.
When you hire an agency, you’re paying not only for their expertise but also to educate them about your company, its history, customers, culture and anything else that could inform the look and feel of your brand. Sometimes paying for this level of deep-dive education is worthwhile, but we’ve built our brand from the inside out, starting with our people. As such, we decided that the communication of that brand visually and in written form should be championed by those people.
And there are a few lessons we learned along the way.
1. Make it a company-wide initiative and appoint “brand champions” to help.
Consistency is crucial when it comes to delivering an on-brand experience, but it’s worth noting that top-down, command-and-control delivery of visual and written elements won’t prevent mismatches. These sorts of “brand police” tactics inevitably lead to either modest dissent or, in extreme cases, outright rebellion.
Avoid these negative consequences by choosing not to make on-brand experiences something you enforce but rather something you enable. How do you do that? By appointing and training “brand champions” in every department.
Brand champions are the people most familiar with the core values of your brand, the visual elements and intended experiences. Instead of enforcing the law, brand champions are enablers and teachers with authority to give others in their department guidance on how to stay on-brand in their work.
Having brand champions won’t eliminate every mismatch. Every team adds value and creates experiences with customers in their own way. Therefore, including cross-department representatives who are integral to the brand refresh is the best way to minimize issues when rolling out brand updates.
Ultimately, the more educated, empowered and invested your workforce is in the brand refresh, the more likely it is your new look and feel will deliver consistency in the brand your customers expect.
2. Involve your customers in the process; they know best.
In addition to employees, your customers are important brand representatives to the outside world. It’s critical to engage and evaluate how your customers perceive you and determine if that differs from how you want to be perceived.
Reach out to customers, but don’t just give them a few new logo options and ask them to choose a favorite. Get to the bottom of why they’re a customer. How do they describe your brand? What experiences, good and bad, have they had with your brand? What messages resonate with them and what’s missing the mark? This will help determine if your visual representation and written identity is simply outdated and needs a refresh for more consistency and modernization.
At Spiceworks, our mission remains the same — to make IT easy and fun for everyone — but it was clear our brand look and feel needed a facelift. In some cases, a full brand revamp may be required if customer brand perception no longer aligns with company mission.
3. Focus on delivering a consistent customer experience, not just a cool design.
Good branding is about reflecting the truth of the business and your promise to customers clearly and effectively, and then making good on that promise.
Let’s say you launch a new brand campaign and your outward message and appearance reflects your mission to improve customer service. However, when faced with a service issue, customers continue to face slow response times when emailing support, their tweets are ignored and they can’t seem to find a human being at the other end of the line. This will sink a brand refresh faster than you can blink.
Every single person in a company impacts the experience people have with your brand, so to create more consistency, everyone must be involved. It helps to think through the categories of customer experiences that need to change in each department versus focusing on specific assets or product elements.
Ultimately, a brand refresh that doesn’t address every touchpoint with your prospects and customers is wasted capital. This transition won’t happen overnight, but your customers and prospects should begin to develop new experiences with your brand, instead of just noticing a new color on your website.