Don’t forget your staff or risk your branding project failing

Mark Busse – No Comments

Recently, the University of California unveiled a new “visual identity system”. This new system is supposed to be a fresher, less bureaucratic expression of UC’s values, and had taken over three years to perfect. However, that’s not how many UC staff, students, and alumni saw it. The backlash to the new logo was so intense, UC had to suspend their new identity system. You can read the story of UC’s failed brand identity on 99% Invisible’s website (one of our favourite podcasts by the way).

Now, imagine this. You’re a partner of a firm and you’ve just spent thousands of dollars on a rebranding process for your company. The process has taken months of time and energy, and finally, you feel that it’s perfect and ready to present. You launch your new brand identity with confidence and excitement… only to receive unexpected backlash and confusion from your staff. Even if your clients appreciate your efforts, if your staff don’t understand the logo, don’t get why you had to change anything in the first place, and they don’t relate to the new brand personality you’re projecting, you could be in a real pickle. In fact, this situation would suck.

On the bright side, this bump in the road can be avoided with proper planning and thinking ahead. The key to everyone’s satisfaction is rooted in one thing: communication. While you are rebranding, it is absolutely vital that your staff are made aware of the rationale behind the decision in the first place, and that they are given a look into the decision-making and branding process. The decisions made might make perfect sense to you and your partners, but that isn’t the only thing that’s important. If your staff aren’t on the same page as you, all that time and money spent will be wasted if your staff will not adapt. You want them to feel the values and image are a representation of themselves.

Specifically, make sure your staff understands why you’re changing your brand identity and what that means. It may take time and patience before everyone gets it, but there are a few key questions that should be asked and understood.

  1. What has been working for your company?
  2. What hasn’t been working?
  3. Who are you as a company?
  4. What are you known for?
  5. How are your competitors positioned?
  6. Where do you see yourself in the future? In the next 5 years? In the next 10 years?
  7. How will your company achieve these goals?
  8. What do your clients want?

If you reach a consensus with your staff on your current positioning and how you want it to evolve, then the rest of the process will likely be met with more understanding and acceptance. You can’t please everyone, but you can respectfully include them as part of the process and give them a chance to be heard.

Same thing goes for your vendors. The relationship you have with your vendors is just like a relationship between two people. If one of your friends suddenly showed up with a totally new look and attitude, you’d probably be pretty confused and be suspicious of them. It only makes sense that that’s how your vendors might feel if you don’t communicate to them the rationale behind your rebrand. Like your staff, they too are defined by your brand identity as their partner.

Last, but definitely not least, inform your clients. In fact, if you didn’t start the rebranding process with a brand audit by interviewing your clients about their needs, priorities, and preferences, you’re risking failure from the start. Your clients trust you because of your unique personality and services; you want to make sure they understand that you rebrand is an indication of an improvement and a vision into the future, not a personality, promise, or service switch.

How exactly do you communicate the rationale? Well, there are a few simple solutions.

As we have mentioned before, be open and inclusive with your staff from the beginning, but also, let your design team do their work. For example, at Industrial Brand, when working with clients, we conduct office visits and thorough staff surveys early in our process. This lets staff know that outside experts have been hired to help, but also that their opinions matter. To let your vendors and clients in the loop, it’s even simpler. Send them an e-newsletter explaining a bit of the rationale behind your new brand, with some visual examples if possible. Host a party, invite your vendor reps and clients, and unveil your new brand. It doesn’t have to be as thorough of an explanation as your staff requires—just as long as they are communicated to, you should be okay. They’ll appreciate it.

One of the reasons the University of California experienced such a rejection of their new visual identity from within was likely a failure to inform and consult with their vast audience (UC consists of ten campuses, with a combined student body of 234,464 students, 18,896 faculty, 189,116 staff members, and over 1,600,000 living alumni). Although there may be valid reasons for the design choices they made, they unveiled their new brand identity system without adequate inclusion or explanation before it was too late. The intro video confused viewers and misled them to thinking that the old crest would be completely replaced by the new logo (although this was never part of the new identity plan). The media was left in the dark about all this, too—so the first thing they did was display the new logo right next to the old crest, only intensifying the fear people had about losing the old crest. If the University of California had consistently communicated with their students and staff about the new identity, the emotional relevance of the new system might have made more sense. Unfortunately, everyone was left in the dark, so when the system was unveiled all they saw was a random new logo replacing the much-loved old one. People freaked out and the new identity was shelved.

If there isn’t an adage about how brands are born and die from within, there should be. If your own team doesn’t know what the company’s brand stands for and what its identity means, then how can you expect them to be defined by it? If they aren’t proud of the logo, messaging, and marketing of the company they work for, why should they be ambassadors for it?

Don’t keep your staff, vendors, or your clients in the dark when you make the choice to rebrand. Without the understanding and support of those around you, your new brand identity might be a waste of money and ultimately fail to stick.

Do you have a success (or horror) story to share about a branding project gone awry? If so, we want to hear it!