One of our sweet spots as a creative agency is working with organizations that have realized that it’s time to update their brand — including their visual identity, digital presence, and messaging. They know that something feels “off” but they’re unsure how to express their current identity as an organization while they’re in transition.
How can a social impact leader take their organization through this transition when you’re still trying to figure it out? You might be surprised to discover that the branding process itself can bring clarity at a depth that goes far beyond your logo and website.
While we expect that other creative agencies have a similar effect on their clients’ evolution, we can only speak from our own experiences. With that caveat, let’s break down our integrated branding process and examine how it can help you define or redefine your brand — even when you don’t quite know where you’re headed.
Before We Dive in… Is Your Organization in Transition?
An organization-wide change can be driven by several factors. Yours is at an inflection point when one or more of the following conditions occur:
You have had a leadership change that’s introduced a fresh perspective and focus
Your organization is new or ready to grow beyond your roots
Your legacy website is difficult to update and has a poor user experience
You are evolving your mission, programs, focus, and/or size
Your visual identity looks and feels “dated”
A shift or repositioning of the organization isn’t reflected in your imagery and messaging
Your messaging doesn’t reflect the current state, purpose, positioning, or theory of change central to your organization
You realize that your organization needs to elevate their digital strategy to compete in the attention economy
A change in your issue area has prompted a pivot in your organization
The market in which your social enterprise operates has shifted
The needs of the community you serve have changed
Technology or other operational changes are driving you to keep up or lose relevance
Social impact organizations typically evolve organically and sometimes struggle to keep their digital presence and brand expression up to date as they change. This can lead to a dissonance between current messaging and communications, collateral, programs, and even the mission and vision of the organization. Even something as simple as branded swag can fail to represent your organization as it exists today.
In short, if it feels like you have outgrown your current brand, website, messaging, and/or digital presence, you are likely in transition.
It’s a significant investment in time and resources to rethink who you are from the ground up. But it’s worth it. We have seen the branding process get CEOs, EDs, Development teams, staff, and Communications Directors as well as volunteers and community members to align and rally behind their brand and mission with newfound enthusiasm.
Our branding process can give everyone in an organization an opportunity to stop and pay attention, focus on their ethos, culture, and external communications and examine every visual identity element. In fact, it forces you to stop and pay attention; to think deeply about aspects of your brand that you may not have considered previously.
Our Integrated Branding Process
It’s common for people to think of visual identity and messaging as separate aspects of an organization. We think of them as an intertwined lattice that creates a complete brand experience.
Think about visiting the website of any social impact organization. The visual and written elements exist in the context of each other. A good branding experience nails the balance between style and substance. This is why we develop branding and messaging together in our integrated branding process. Below, we’ll discuss these elements individually, but always know that they work in unison.
Brand Look & Feel
Your visual identity should be a system of visual elements that people identify with your brand. For that reason, we typically start a visual identity project with moodboards. We explore color, typography, illustration styles, photo treatments, the use of photos and illustrations, shapes and symbolism, and other components of the visual brand system.
Moodboards are a tool that helps collaborative teams have a conversation about brand system components from a concrete, rather than theoretical, perspective. We typically show 2 - 4 different moodboards during our initial presentation. We discuss the strategic choices behind each component. Typically, we also include initial messaging ideas to integrate the visual system and messaging from day one.
With several brand expression directions to choose from, we ask our clients to have an internal discussion about which moodboard elements best capture the essence of the organization and why. This is deep work. It forces you to closely consider how your organization is seen in the world.
Every component of the visual brand system is up for discussion. Preparing feedback for us to use in refining your brand’s visual direction requires that you articulate why elements of the moodboards do and do not represent your brand. This includes how early messaging elements mesh with the visual treatment of fonts and copy.