Thinking about a rebrand? Seek an outside perspective

Around a year and a half ago, Leff went through an extensive rebrand. The exercise was about more than finding a new brand identity; it helped us think differently about who we are, what we do, and what differentiates us as a team. As my colleague has written about before, the impetus for the rebrand was driven largely by negative feedback we received regarding our then-website. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. We knew an update was in order, and we had even come up with some new copy and new designs—but time and time again we pushed that effort aside and prioritized client work. It wasn’t until we considered that outside perspective that we realized we could no longer delay the inevitable.

As we talked about next steps, it was clear that we needed a larger brand overhaul—a website refresh alone would have been a temporary fix that didn’t address the underlying issues. Our messaging and brand positioning were outdated; the logo, colors, typography, and imagery didn’t reflect our brand personality; and, oh yeah—what is our brand personality?

We’d worked hard to expand our team and our service offerings, but we hadn’t taken a step back to think through these things—namely, what our brand meant both to us and our clients and how we should convey that meaning. We tossed some ideas around, thinking we’d get started on the process ourselves. After all, we help our clients develop their key messages! We write website copy! We design!

Our plan lasted about 60 seconds before we realized how ill-advised it was. For one thing, we’d already failed to move the project forward a few times. For another, we desperately needed an outside perspective, one that saw our place in the larger context of our industry and our clients—something that’s all too easy to lose sight of on the inside. And probably most important, we needed a strategist to guide us through the foundational work of developing and refining a brand that had depth and meaning.

We hired a brand expert and never looked back. As for other companies looking to tackle their brand—whether a full overhaul or a lighter refresh—here’s what to expect when hiring outside experts.

Accountability and process. We all play the game called “the priority juggle,” and in our case, we dropped the ball on rebranding. Hiring an outside vendor gave us a heightened sense of accountability—we needed to make the most of their time to get the most out of the process. We didn’t shift meetings or put off our follow-up items. Instead, having someone who expected something from us and who was committed to our rebrand helped us reestablish the priority level. We also had a clear, defined process and timeline with milestones, which was energizing. It gave us something to look forward to at regular intervals.

Outside perspective. Developing a brand requires analysis of many different inputs, including the competitor landscape, the needs and desires of the end customer, and perspectives from employees themselves. Simply put, we would never be able to do that analysis without our own biases and ideas clouding the process. We relied heavily on an outside perspective to synthesize these inputs and create foundational brand building blocks that didn’t just resonate with us—but also with current and potential clients and top-notch talent. Those building blocks—positioning, identity, personality, and messaging—laid the foundation for how we now talk about ourselves and what we do. In other words, they reinforced our brand in the marketplace. Had we not had that outside perspective the focus would still be too narrow.

Brand strategy expertise. We didn’t just need new marketing collateral or a website that incorporated colors and fonts that represented us. We needed to commit to a narrative and a long-term brand strategy that would position us for further growth. When our brand strategist raised pertinent questions—“What makes you different? What about your work is critical to your clients?”—we thought deeper than we had before. We considered how we wanted our brand to look and how we wanted our messaging to stand out, as well as the role our new identity would play in our business and growth strategy. Had we tried to develop a new brand in-house, it would’ve been far too easy to focus on our own connections and reactions to certain brand elements, perhaps at the expense of a longer-term strategy.

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If there’s one word I would use to describe our rebrand, it’s energizing. It reminded us of how far we’d come and how much we’d done, and we were able to take a step back and work with someone who helped us communicate that. Had we done it ourselves (if we’d ever really gotten around to it) we would have missed that outside perspective. Though we’d be none the wiser for the time being, we’d likely find ourselves repeating the exercise soon enough. Our advice: for best results, go into a rebrand with an open mind and an outside brand expert.

Alia Samhat

Alia is the director of accounts and strategy at Leff. Her expertise is in creative strategy and operations, weaving together the efforts of writers, designers, video producers, analysts, and subject matter experts to produce meaningful work.

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