How I Led a 90 Year Old Company Through a Rebrand

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The Beginning

When I was hired at McDonald Wholesale, I was told not to bother trying to change the logo. “People know us by this logo! It’s part of our history.”

I thought “Sure, okay. It’s not that big of a deal. The company is growing and selling without a fancy fresh new logo.”

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About a month into my position, my boss approached me with his business card.

He said, “What you change about these business cards?”

I replied, “Do you want the whole answer or a convenient one?”

Pause.

“Give me the whole answer.”

This prompted a discussion about impact, color story, fonts, taglines, updating to a modern world, and messaging.

He was skeptical. I was not surprised. I ended our follow up meeting with this:

“The thing is, nothing is wrong with our branding. It’s fine. But, is that the story you want to tell for your company? It’s fine? Or do you want to present your company with the same care and attention that you spend on your own image? Think about the money you spend on clothes, your home, your car, and just generally looking good for other people to know you as your best self. Don’t you want our sales team to make the same good impression when they present our material to a lead?”

“Okay,” was his response.

Okay?

OKAY?!

So, then what? I just got the green light on a rebrand for a hundred million dollar company that had no experience in brand work. The total amount of direction I got was “scope it out”.

Which was actually the perfect place to start.

Scope it out

When beginning a new project that is large and overwhelming, a scope exercise is the best way to get a handle on it. Project Management software (I use Asana) is great for this, but I won’t knock a good spreadsheet or even notepad to start putting thoughts down. Big picture first:

  1. Make a list of needs

  2. Find an agency partner

  3. Find the right voice

  4. Get buy in

Make a list

What does a rebrand look like? It depends on the company, obviously, but in my case it meant taking a company that has meant a lot to many Oregonians for several generations and giving it a public face, an aesthetic make over. Consumer facing brands usually get pretty granular and include personal profiles of their ideal customer as well detailed messages for them.

For a whole distributor, it’s a bit simpler. There are fewer assets and few people really buy in to the whole mission-driven principles of say… the natural foods industry, where I’d previously worked. Here what my list looked like:

  1. New logo with variations on color and shape

  2. Brand style guide: 2-3 preferred fonts, accent colors, and photo and media guideliness

  3. Print assets: business cards, letterhead, brochures, sales flyers, trade show displays and materials, promotional gear, etc.

  4. Digital Assets: Website reskin, social media images, stock photos, email newsletter template, brand video, photography

  5. Signage: truck wraps, building signs, floor mats, decals

  6. Taglines: 1-2 good taglines to use in your marketing assets.

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Find an agency

This can be a tough one. How you even start to find the right agency? If you’re asking if you need an agency, the answer is yes. Third party objective work is crucial to a successful rebrand, as is bringing on a team of designers and copywriters that know the right questions.

I already knew I wanted to work with a local agency that I knew had food and trade industry experience. I went to them first. Boss Man asked me to get quotes from other agencies, though, to make sure they agreement with my first choice was comparable. This makes sense on an academic level, but ultimately it was a waste of time. If you know, you know.

But, if you don’t know, ask around. Find out which companies are doing work for brands of a similar size and field as yours. Find some work you really love. Check your search engines and look through some portfolios. Then start reaching out. Pay attention to their response!

  • Is the agency courteous?

  • Do they respond within 24 hours?

  • Do they showcase any enthusiasm for your particular brand?

  • Have they expressed why they think it’s a good fit?

  • Do they offer any feedback up front?

  • Are external reviews on Google, Facebook, and/or Yelp generally positive?

  • Will they work within your budget?

If the answer is no to any of those questions, it’s a red flag. Not a deal breaker, but something to look deeper into.

Find your voice

You hear it over and over and over in every piece of marketing advice. But how do you really know what that means?

Make a list of 25 traits you see in your customers. What are their values? What’s their education? How do they make choices?

Interview some customers (or potential customers if you are just starting out). Ask them what makes them buy from you and what challenges they have around your offering.

Look at what your competition is doing successfully, and not as successfully. See what companies similar to you in other markets are doing.

Write down how you would describe the way the company works with others. Write down as many ideas about brand and voice and personification of your company as you can. Put it all out there, right or wrong, and then start grouping words together and narrowing it down. I could write a book on this process (maybe I should?) but ultimately you want to end up with a solid paragraph our two about what you should sound like when you talk to customers, write copy, or attend an event. And those paragraphs go in your style guide.

Get Buy IN

Buy in, in essence, is simple: free stuff. New hats, new shirts, stickers (they freaking love stickers, you guys).

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Other things that significantly help:

  • Communication and transparency. I put out a letter with everyone’s paystubs announcing the logo and brand update

  • Staying the course. Stick to your plan, try to stay within budget (also, pad your budget up front)

  • Sincerely thank your champions. Encourage and do favors for the people who defend your work to those who aren’t comfortable with it.

And that’s the gist of it all. Of course, branding is a living, breathing piece of the machine that is always needing adjustments and thought, but once you get the basics down it becomes easier. Have a question about branding? Email me!