By Alastair Turner, MD, Aspectus PR
The London Olympics 2012 emblem is unconventionally bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant, according to its designers. The organisers say it’s an invitation to take part and be involved. The public, on the other hand, think it’s ‘a puerile mess, an artistic flop and a commercial scandal’ or ‘a seizure-inducing health hazard.’
Maybe one day we’ll all learn to love the London 2012 logo. But in the meantime, it’s a great reminder of the cynicism that often surrounds branding, even in today’s socially-networked, media-savvy, design-conscious world.
At Aspectus PR, we’re used to managing brands and reputations in the media – and even we’re not immune to the scepticism that often surrounds branding. Like everyone else we watched with bemusement as the Post Office became Consignia, and then transformed itself back again, before the ink was even dry on the new stationery.
But then we went through our own re-branding exercise, and we learned a very valuable lesson: never underestimate the power of a re-brand. It can be incredibly exciting, powerful and invigorating, especially for small companies.
So for anyone thinking of taking the plunge, here are a few things we learned on the way.
First of all you need a clear reason why you’re doing it: a re-brand isn’t something you do on a whim. We’d moved our offices to London, brought new people on board and injected energy into the company. That meant a new name, new logo, new colours. More than that, it meant a new way of thinking about ourselves and the work we do. We wanted to reflect the new company in all our communications, and develop a brand that everyone could get behind.
On a very practical level our old name also brought up too many similar sounding organisations on internet search engines. Getting your online presence right is absolutely essential, and search results are a key part of that. That’s why the internet is the first place to start when thinking about your new identity.
If you’re changing your name, the new one needs to have an available web domain. It can’t be the same as any other firm in your field – the web has effectively eliminated regional differences. It needs to work with online directories. And it needs to be memorable enough to type into a search engine.
With a name in place you can then think about your website, the first port of call for anyone who wants to find out about you, and one of the most important channels for getting your messages out to your public. Think about how you will use your site. Will people buy your products through it, or simply find out more about you? How will you get and give feedback? How your site looks, and the way you choose to interact with visitors says as much about you as the words you use.
Once you know what you want from your site you can write the design brief. Don’t be afraid to look for designers who specialise in other sectors, and take on board their thoughts. We stayed away from the usual suspects in PR, and went for a company specialising in architecture. Use technology not gimmicks as they’re often expensive and date quickly, and make sure the site is optimised for search engines.
The look of your site will also inform design elsewhere, so look for someone who can do logos and stationery too. Good design doesn’t have to cost a fortune – work closely with your designer, plan the work carefully and make it clear you want regular refreshes not an annual overhaul. But remember, if the work they produce doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t feel right to anyone else, so push back until you get a site that you love.
Design is also something that everyone can get involved in. Distribute the proofs, get feedback on colours and images, and take on board everyone’s thoughts. You can also get everyone involved in creating the content for your site. Even if you use a professional copy-writer, your staff can get involved in creating case studies, sales tools or marketing documents, so that everyone has input into the new brand.
This is the advantage that small companies have: there’s more opportunity to disarm any cynics, and neutralise negative thoughts because everyone buys in to the process of renewal and change. The result is a company that everyone can feel positive and confident about.
But don’t underestimate the amount of work involved, even for a small company. Just because you aren’t spending £400K – the going rate for an Olympic logo - it doesn’t mean that you can re-brand your company in your lunch hour.
Getting everyone involved in choosing the name, the design and the content is a powerful and beneficial exercise. But you also need a project manager who puts in the spadework, acts as a single point of contact, encourages decisions, chivvies people along, feeds back to the designer and copy-writer – and sticks to the company’s guns where necessary.
Of course, once you have everything in place - your name, your site, your look and feel, your messages, and your products and services - you realise that it’s just the start. Not only do you need to live up to the new company you have created - you need to tell everyone about it.
That’s when you call a PR agency!
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