What I Learned From Rebranding a Company in 3 Months

Posted 6 months ago by Shannel Wheeler

I lead a creative team of two at a company that has grown from three co-founders to over 150 employees. We’ve acquired a company, expanded to multiple offices, and launched the world’s first end-to-end account-based marketing platform. I guess you could say we’ve grown up.

But one thing that hadn’t changed over the past five years — until recently — was the Terminus brand itself. It was like our favorite well-worn pair of shoes: familiar and comfortable, but it didn’t quite fit us, or our lifestyle the way it used to.

So in the fall of 2018, we knew that the time had come to make some changes. This is the story of how Terminus underwent a brand refresh in three months, using only internal resources, and what I learned from it all. No big agencies, no fancy consultants. In the process of defining who we are, how we work, and how we help our customers succeed — I also learned that a true branding process is much more than a logo.

Let’s go back to the very beginning. While still working a different (full-time) job, I started doing some freelance work for Terminus in the spring of 2015. Terminus was my introduction to the SaaS industry and startup world, and I was excited to offer visual support to an up-and-coming startup. I keenly remember watching a grainy video of the co-founder explaining the flipped funnel on a whiteboard and doing my best to wrap my head around this new concept of account-based marketing.

Over the course of the next year, we experimented with new ideas, I designed the #FlipMyFunnel logo and we produced some pretty cool content that helped jumpstart Terminus’ visual identity in the market. In 2016 we made it official, and I became a full-time Terminator.

Getting on the Terminus train was a ride that got faster and faster, as we grew at an astounding pace. Our theming and messaging gravitated around making our customers heroes, and our brand naturally moved in that direction, too. The spirit of our team was a combination of grit, youthful ambition, and risk-taking, so the creation of a superhero-themed brand was an obvious match to our personality. We took it and ran with it.

Well, in true startup fashion, we experienced a rollercoaster of a journey, with glorious wins and daunting challenges. We grew the ABM category with a series of back-to-back #FlipMyFunnel events, launched a ton of initiatives and campaigns, and learned many valuable lessons as our competition emerged. We continued to build our product, grow our services, expand our partnerships and even acquired a company in San Francisco called BrightFunnel.

Of course, with more growth comes a steadily increasing need for more design and more visual problem-solving. Consolidating the brands of two companies, balancing the creative needs of one of Atlanta’s fastest growing companies, maintaining some level of consistency, and keeping up with design requests from various areas of the business presented its challenges. For years, I was Terminus’ only graphic designer. But as we grew, we needed more creative hands on deck, so we finally hired another graphic designer (stellar, by the way) in 2018 to join the Terminus team. With two full-time creatives, we now had the resources we needed to take a step back and think about the future of Terminus’ brand identity.

Us, hard at work!

These are the steps and the lessons I learned along this journey:

Define before design

There should be a reason or message behind a design. What’s the purpose of the project? When refreshing a brand, there needs to be an overall goal and vision for what you want the redesign to achieve. Design decisions should be based on business goals, research, and discovery, not simply because “we like how it looks”. For us, the current brand did not fully express the level of sophistication that the company had reached, and the superhero theme did not reflect the new products, services, and growth that we had attained. In order to be perceived differently, we had to look differently.

Differentiate or Die

Okay, not actually die. But what’s the point of rebranding if you don’t plan on standing out? It’s easy to default to the “safe” and “corporate” route, especially when trying to appeal to more enterprise customers. It’s seemingly less risky to just create something similar to what’s trending in your industry or space. The reality is that, along with purpose, differentiation has to be the underlying driver to refreshing a brand. After all, the brand is not what the company creates or intends to be—it’s what everyone else perceives it to be. All we can do is try our best to steer that perception in the right direction.

Process is Everything

Whether the timeline is prolonged or condensed, the process is always important. But it’s especially important when working within a three-month timeline. Staying organized and staying on track are the keys to success when executing a complex project. Here are the steps we took:

Research

A brand refresh is a big undertaking, and we knew we had to do our due diligence before diving in. Because we were working on a short timeline to launch our new brand early in the New Year, we needed to take in as much knowledge as possible to prepare for this challenge. Along with an array of online articles, we read The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier and Brand Intervention by David Brier. Also, as we dove into the project, our CMO surfaced some work that Asana had produced outlining their incredible rebranding process.

The Asana piece was really helpful in providing us with some structure. We definitely referred to it a few times throughout the project. A huge thanks to them for putting it out in the public space. It was a great story and really helpful. We also researched and discussed other successful brand stories and case studies.

Planning

Most importantly, I knew that a project of this undertaking would require impeccable planning and organization on our part. I was able to utilize my project management skills and lead the charge with creating a roadmap that would keep us on track. Gathering requirements, rallying key stakeholders, defining the scope and timeline, breaking down the workflow and defining deliverables were essential in the planning process.

Discovery

So, at the risk of sounding too existential: Who is Terminus?

This is the question we posed to ourselves as we kicked off the rebranding process. But of course, two designers couldn’t figure this out alone. We needed the collective power of the entire organization.

We decided to approach this challenge from a couple of directions. First, we conducted a brand audit and a competitive analysis. Then we organized a set of brand workshops with key stakeholders from every department — from our CEO to our marketing team to the folks who work with our customers day-to-day.

The workshops included engaging activities, including a brand comparison exercise, a brand attributes exercise and defining “who, what and why”. We wanted to get honest feedback and dig deep to uncover what we felt like Terminus represented and what we wanted Terminus to represent moving forward. We also created a brand survey to get the perspectives of other voices from around the company.

Messaging

The brand workshops produced fantastic value because we were able to narrow down key attributes that describe what we represent. We started with many attributes, eliminated some, grouped those that were left into categories and then refined our results. Combining data from the workshops and the survey, we were able to see trends and recurring themes in the responses. This helped us further narrow down and refine our brand attributes from more than 40 to three core words. These attributes describe what our brand should represent and how we always want our customers to perceive us.

And with these brand attributes comes brand voice. How does who we are reflect how we write and talk?

For this, we turned to our content & product marketing team. They own our go-to-market and content strategies, so they’re intimately involved in crafting and activating our brand messaging and voice. We presented them with our proposed brand attributes and asked them to help define how these attributes would translate to the language we use.

Design

This is where the magic begins. We followed a traditional but accelerated design process: conception, refinement, finalization, and production. With the foundation of the brand attributes as our guide and the goal to differentiate, we brainstormed visuals that could represent those attributes and developed three mood boards. After getting some consensus from our marketing team, we took feedback from the mood boards to develop the initial design concepts. We had about four weeks slated for design exploration, so we had to move fast. We landed on two solid concepts, both headlined by redesigned logo concepts.

With an astounding “Yes!” from our CEO and key stakeholders, we chose the strongest logo, which paid homage to our old logo, but was more modern and uniform. The new logo’s anatomy is comprised of two pillars — our software platform and our people — that hold up the customer, represented by the upward and forward moving arrow. The negative space of the logo is reminiscent of the old logo, while also offering balance and breathing room to create a more technology forward mark.

logo anatomy

There were supporting elements that they liked in both concepts, so we had to figure out a way to consolidate the graphics and typography in a way that made sense. It was definitely a challenge to get the creative juices flowing within such a tight window of time, but we were able to pull off a refined concept, with some back and forth between us, our CMO and the marketing team.

The graphic elements we landed on were inspired by the forward moving arrow of the logo, along with the ideas of growth, collaboration, and the authentic boldness of our company. We utilized a combination of bold color gradients, simple shapes, and bold lines to create a unique look and feel. We also incorporated simple icons to contrast with the bolder elements along with isometric illustrations, and photography styles that include a mix of human and surrealist styles.

Supporting graphical elements

Implementation

The combination of our refreshed visual identity and refined messaging resulted in a transformed brand. We finalized on a brand promise (what people should feel when they interact with our brand), brand attributes (core attributes that the brand should represent) and a flexible design with room to grow (intentional, modern and intuitive).

Our brand promise:

We empower you to drive quality growth for your company.

Our brand attributes:

Brand in action:

Communicate, Coordinate, Concentrate

One thing’s for sure, you cannot refresh a brand in a silo. It takes consistent communication and coordination to keep the project on track. Week after week, I made meticulous plans—sometimes down the day and hour—to make sure that our team stayed on track. To stay on top of things, I wrote down the same goals and tasks in many places—my notebook, on the wall, in my phone, in online checklists, in project management software—to make sure I didn’t miss any important steps. I had weekly check-ins with my designer and bi-weekly check-ins with our CMO. I met with our product team to coordinate visual changes to the software and with the employee success team to help order new stationary and other internal necessities for employees. Spending half of my time designing and the other half documenting/organizing was tough but very, very necessary.

A snippet of one of many planning docs

Launch it like you mean it

It was finally time to unveil the new brand to the company. On January 15, the day before we introduced the new Terminus brand to the world, we launched it internally. With the brand unveiling saved for the end of our 2019 kickoff meeting, our CMO Derek, our designer Laura and myself had the pleasure of revealing our new brand. With resounding applause and excitement, it was well received. We were sure to set up the obligatory swag shop to hand out newly branded tees, journals, pens, stickers, etc and included some tasty branded treats as well. More importantly, we armed our employees with the education and tools they need to understand, confidently speak about, and implement our new brand.

Internal launch day

The following day, we launched externally to the rest of the world. This included activation of the new brand across our website and social/online profiles, updating the logo in the product (that’s a gradual rollout to change over visual identity in the software) and a brand story that we shared as well. Of course, all of these activities had to be carefully planned as well, because coordination across the company to make a successful launch happen cannot be done overnight.

Snippet of brand launch spreadsheet…ugh, spreadsheets!

Are we finished yet?

Oh no, my friend. The brand lives on. “How does it feel to finally finish?” was the recurring question I was asked by colleagues, family and close friends who witnessed the struggles and efforts we went through to launch the new brand in such a short time. Not to take away from the accomplishment of launching, but a brand’s implementation is an ongoing feat. Coming up with a solid design is half the battle, implementation is the other. Nonetheless, it does feel good to complete the initial launch!

This article was originally published on Shannel’s Medium page

Creative professional, designer, author. Lover of chocolate, coffee, laughter, and football. Not interested in staying inside the box. www.DesignInsightBook.com

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