26 Feb Masterclass: Uplevel Your Brand
Startup, Refresh, Revamp or Rebrand: Our founder, Graceann Bennett, on how to make your brand more valuable no matter where you’re starting from
What’s in a brand? A lot. A strong brand can create internal alignment, boost efficiency and efficacy, and increase your company’s value. When you’ve lost your way, there’s much to gain from stepping back, defining your values, and figuring out where you stand among the competition.
Every brand needs help eventually, be it the 100 year old company undergoing a massive overhaul or the newly minted startup striving to sow the right seeds for future growth. With that diversity comes a range of services vying for your time, attention, and budget. In my experience, the price to value equation in this competitive industry is often unpredictable––I’ve seen top dollar brand makeovers miss the mark completely and cheap and cheerful brand refreshes produce phenomenal results.
I spent the large part of my career working with multi-billion dollar global brands. I started Playbook Studio to offer my expertise to clients at every level and price point, applying those same high-fidelity branding principles to clients across every vertical and size. I actively seek out clients with shared values and intentionality who are willing to do the deep brand work needed to accelerate their growth. They value strategy and slowing down to speed up. Ultimately, I find these to be the most rewarding partnerships.
In this first of its kind Playbook Masterclass, I’ve broken down the four core levels of the branding continuum as I see it in detail. I hope it will help companies at every stage understand where to start to and what to do to create lasting value.
You have a great idea – a new product or service the world needs right now. A startup is an opportunity to build something from the ground up and create lasting value. Your startup’s brand is its DNA. While your team is likely fixated on developing a perfect prototype, it’s as important to align on an origin story––how this brand came to be and what it can offer. Investing in a strong brand foundation at this early stage will guide the process and pay dividends later on down the line.
The fundamental problem you are trying to solve is your startup’s reason for being. Procedurally, you’re starting from close to square one. You likely lack a brand blueprint, clear milestones, and a tangible early product. In order to secure initial seed funding, your team needs to develop its vision and present a robust concept that will resonate with investors and your ideal customer.
Think: “This brand looks smart, put together and knows what they are all about”
Feel: “I feel confident about this brand and like they get it and get me”
Do: “Even though they are new, I will check them out”
Building a startup is the process of getting from a concept to a minimum viable brand, or MVB. You’ll begin by aligning stakeholders on your brand’s origin story, mission, vision, and values. With that foundation in place, you’ll develop a cohesive strategy, visual identity, and voice – a full suite of initial brand assets that will inevitably morph as the brand grows. Brand voice work will include guidelines and guardrails for tone, delivery, and consistency, while efforts on the visual side will include creating a logo and icon library, selecting a color palette, and choosing primary fonts.
The founders, strategic investors and advisors, tech and product leads, core creative/marketing team.
Firefly Health – Playbook worked with this pre-revenue startup to deliver a high end brand identity equipped to compete and collaborate with higher level health service company partners.
Thinx – Period underwear startup promoting a transparent conversation surrounding sustainability, menstrual health, and comfort.
Hims – Men’s personal care product startup centering support for stigmatized health issues like erectile dysfunction, depression, and hair loss.
Robinhood – This financial startup’s product is its brand: an easy to use app empowering regular people to invest in the stock market commission free.
You need your brand to look and feel better, but not necessarily different. A refresh presents a refined, upgraded front on a largely subliminal level. It requires minimal investment and buy-in, yet has a subtle but profound impact. Like painting the kitchen before redoing the tile and cabinetry, a refresh may precede a brand revamp.
Your brand isn’t entirely out of tune with the culture, just a little rough around the edges. Maybe the color palette doesn’t pop or has limited range. Maybe the photo/illustration library is outdated, out of order or non-existent. A lack of clear brand guidelines might be to blame for inconsistent logo application, fragmented content creation, or inconsistent strategic language. Because there are missing pieces or fuzzy definitions, your creative teams are filling in the gaps through improvisation. This isn’t a good look!
Think: “Wow they look like they really have their act together. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I wonder if they’re doing something differently?”
Feel: “I like how this looks. It feels like they’re putting in a little extra effort”
Do: “I feel better about buying this product or doing business with this brand. I’m happy staying put!”
A refresh is light on brand strategy and heavier on design asset creation. You’ll retain key elements of the logo and visual identity, with slight refinements. Your color palette, typeface, fonts, icons, and photo library may all receive an update. To ensure future implementation, you’ll establish a more useful and robust set of brand guidelines. No PR is necessary – you want this project to get your brand above the fray while flying under the radar.
Just the core internal marketing and creative teams.
Revionics – This high-tech pricing technology company wanted to clean up their image and present retailers with a friendly, useful service. Playbook led an expedited digital refresh and visual alignment, clarifying strategic language, creating a brand asset library, introducing new graphics and fonts, and broadening the color palette and visual alignment.
BeautyBio – Playbook worked with CASE Agency to tighten this skincare company’s brand voice, conduct a visual refresh, and equip the internal team with the tools for execution, driven by the strategic message, “seriously beautiful skincare that works like a boss.”
Coca-Cola – The iconic soda company underwent a series of subtle changes and refinements to its logo and visual language over many years.
Ever buy a candy bar and read “New Look, Same Great Taste!” on the wrapper? That’s a revamp. A revamp occurs when you need to make a bold statement, more aggressively reasserting your relevance and value within the culture without necessarily abandoning your initial appeal or your loyal customer base. It’s a more intense, dramatic refresh – a substantive means of recalibrating and getting your brand’s vision in sharper focus.
Either your brand is fundamentally out of sync with marketplace trends, or you need to grow significantly to meet ambitious goals. In the first scenario, consumers are overlooking you or counting you out. A lack of awareness or disregard for changing consumer attitudes and demographic/aesthetic shifts have left you looking disoriented and dated. In the second scenario, you’re not in such bad shape, but you’re ready to invest more heavily in sales and marketing in order to seriously compete with larger brands in bigger arenas. Whatever the case, you need to make the effort and allocate the resources to align your brand’s identity, messaging, and strategy with the current marketplace and culture.
Think: “Wow! This brand has had a massive upgrade! They’re much more relevant than I thought.”
Feel: “They seem to have their finger on the pulse. They feel a lot cooler than I remember. What are they doing differently?”
Do: “It’s been a while, but I’m going to them a second chance and properly check them out. Maybe I’ll buy something from them or schedule a meeting with them!”
A revamp requires a strategic, visual, and verbal intervention in order to refine and reposition your brand, readjust to the culture, and expand your audience. You may change or replace logos and other assets in order to refresh visual and verbal cues. A focused PR campaign will serve to reintroduce you to consumers. Typically you’ll conduct stakeholder interviews and collaborative work sessions to build alignment with executive and cross-functional teams. Playbook facilitates this buy in through a Brand Narrative Workshop informed by our due diligence. Beforehand, you’ll pull in key inputs around brand, culture, consumer/customer, and competitive landscape. Depending on how much data you have, you may also conduct market research to fill in the gaps.
Requires core marketing and creative teams, and executive involvement of the CMO and CEO depending on the size of the company.
Forcepoint – Forcepoint wasn’t thinking or talking about cybersecurity issues like their competitors in the crowded field. Playbook helped center their unique humanist perspective, spearheading a logo change, cultural overhaul and reframing their brand narrative.
Lafayette 148 – Stakeholders at this high end women’s clothing brand had lost sight of their customer. Playbook obtained strategy on a collaborative team which worked with executives to refine the brand’s visual language, assets, and retail experience in order to connect with an aspirational shopper while retaining loyal supporters’ allegiance.
Central Intelligence Agency – The CIA’s brand overhaul presents a sleek, modern aesthetic on its digital channels and visually expresses a commitment to diversity.
RX Bar – Minimalist packaging redesign centering product ingredients put this protein bar back on the map.
Your brand needs a new name, new look, or both. A rebrand constitutes a radical transformation in optics and approach. You may take advantage of existing infrastructure to create new products or services under a new name, or pivot to new markets and lines of business. If the name stays, repositioning will aim to shift public perception and introduce you to an entirely new target audience. To rebrand is to raze and rebuild the brand house, maybe on a different lot altogether.
Either the world is changing or you’re in deep s#*t. Maybe your brand has become a potential liability due to a scandal or a public relations crisis. Maybe your once effective messaging is at odds with dramatic, widespread shifts in public opinion. Maybe your business category is antiquated or obsolete. Old consumers have forgotten all about you while the new generation has never heard of you. Whatever the case, you need to spark a radical reassessment of what your brand represents and what it offers. Your brand image is holding you back, and you cannot remain profitable, sustainable, scaleable, or relevant in your current form. This necessitates a radical change and a reintroduction to consumers. “Change or die.”
Think: “They’re completely different––almost unrecognizable in the best way. I can’t lie, I’m surprisingly impressed”
Feel: “After all that effort, I guess they deserve a second chance. There’s a sliver of hope for them yet”
Do: “I’m going to wait and see how they follow this up. I might be willing to get to know them again in this reincarnation”
A rebrand requires strategic and visual heavy lifting across the board. You’ll carry out all the steps required of a revamp, but not before completing extensive primary research. This includes naming research and vetting, customer and consumer research, creative development research, sentiment analysis, concept testing, and a cultural audit. This will inform the creation of a new logo and new assets. If you decide to keep the name, the brand narrative, appearance, and potentially even the products/services offered must change. A far reaching PR campaign will reintroduce customers in new and old markets to the brand.
The process cannot be completed without internal stakeholder alignment at the highest level, potentially including board approval for larger enterprises. Financial advisers, lawyers, a public relations team, and executive stakeholders will all have a hand in the process.
Eastern Airlines – After a string of high profile crashes and a bankruptcy filing, this commercial aviation pioneer made the decision to deplane in 1991. Over twenty years later, Playbook developed a fresh brand identity and strategy to relaunch Eastern and reintroduce the iconic airline to new global markets.
Altria – Previously Phillip Morris, this tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis holding company rebranded as Altria Group and repositioned itself to be avowedly anti-smoking and cessation/prevention oriented.
BP – The global oil driller and exporter unveiled a new green flower logo and changed its name from British Petroleum to BP, distancing itself from unsustainable, imperialist connotations and expressing a commitment to renewable and alternative energy sources.