Anatomy of a rebrand
At the beginning of this year we rebranded the company under the ResponseSource name, having previously used a number of different service brands and a separate company brand. Okay, “so what” I hear. Of course, rebrands in themselves do not score highly as news, normally only hitting the headlines when poorly executed. But I felt an urge to describe the process we went through for our loyal clients who may be interested but also as a reference point for owners or marketers of businesses who may be considering a new name of their own.
The roots of our rebrand this year really date back to when I started the business in 1997. I had previously been a journalist, writing mostly about business and technology issues. Having met many marketing managers in the course of my work I thought I knew a thing or two about marketing. It’s easy for me to say now that I was pretty naïve then, which can be an advantage when running a startup but it also led to the complex set of brands we ended up with.
I thought that many of my first PR clients in the tech sector would know my name from my work as a journalist, therefore I named the business Daryl Willcox Publishing, purely to capitalise on this recognition rather than any narcissistic tendencies. I named the company’s first service, a fairly basic website at the time, The Source. But this caused some confusion – mainly with a hip-hop magazine of the same name – and we did not own the .com Internet domain, so the name SourceWire was born for our press release wire service. When we launched our media database, at the time primarily a source of magazine forward features data, I came up with the name FeaturesExec. In the following year we launched our journalist enquiries service which I called ResponseSource. I had sowed the seed of our rebrand 18 years later.
Having multiple product brands and a separate company brand is, quite frankly, incredibly inefficient. However, this was hidden by the inherent strengths of our services and the skills of the people working on them. The company grew, and continued to grow.
But by 2011 we began to realise that we could not ignore the branding issue forever. It was becoming very obvious that having different brand names for each service made it harder for clients to appreciate that the services were related. It also made marketing cumbersome and more costly than if we had a single brand. We conducted a review and implemented a rebrand which resulted in much more consistency across our services. But it did not tackle the central issue of there being too many brands. We simply didn’t go far enough.
So within just a few years the question of our multiple brands began to crop up again. Having attended a course for owner managers of growing businesses at Cranfield University I conducted a complete strategic review of the business in mid-2014. This process encouraged me, and my management team, to review our branding once again.
To use ResponseSource as a single brand had occurred to be as the obvious solution by this time, but this was based on gut feel more than anything and regardless of whether it was the right thing to do a lot of thinking needed to be done on how to implement it. So in early 2015 we began a brand review that acknowledged this as the preferred route but did not rule out others and chose to make a final decision after doing some research among our community of journalists and PR professionals.
We have a small marketing team so chose to work with an agency on this and selected B2B specialist gyro to help with the research and brand development phases.
The first stage of the research, face-to-face workshops with PR professionals and journalists, immediately threw up a bit of a red flag. While journalists generally could see the sense in switching to ResponseSource as a single brand, the group of PRs responded quite negatively to the idea, preferring some of the less radical options that they were presented.
Looking more closely at the research – it was a relatively small sample mostly of existing clients who were familiar with our existing branding and the rebrand options were shown in stages with our preferred option coming at the end – we decided not to let this information throw us off track. Instead we interpreted it as a sign that we should ensure our client communications around the rebrand be thorough.
The aim of the next stage of research was to confirm or deny our hypothesis that ResponseSource was our most powerful brand. Through gyro a research firm was engaged to conduct telephone interviews with PR professionals to assess the level of recognition of various brands in our sector. ResponseSource did indeed come out as our most recognised brand, and the one that our clients held in greatest regard. Our other brands were not far behind which suggested that if we concentrated on a single brand our recognition in the market would be at least as good as global companies in our sector which benefit from much larger marketing budgets.
So, the button was pressed for our rebrand to ResponseSource.
We retained gyro to work on the development of the single brand. It was not going to be a radical departure from a creative perspective. The fact that we were going from five or six (depending on what you count) brands to one was radical enough, there was no need to make huge changes to the visual element of our brand – in fact it seemed to make sense, from the feedback from clients, to ensure there was plenty of reassuring ‘brand DNA’ from our existing branding. So the spider (representing our media network) in the orange disc is evolutionary, taking cues from both the exisiting ResponseSource and DWPub logos. We went to a solid orange rather than a gradient and a brighter orange at that. The end result is clean, modern and confident.
A lot of consideration went into the ‘descriptors’, the text beneath the brand that would be used to signpost each of our services. With the absence of individual brands for each service, these descriptors would be doing the ‘heavy lifting’ to distinguish one from the other. We tried to keep these as clear and unfussy as possible – call it what it is. The aim was to communicate rather than show off, more Ronseal than L’Oreal. The result was Media Contacts Database (formerly FeaturesExec Media Database), Journalist Enquiry Service (the source of the ResponseSource name), Press Release Wire (formerly SourceWire News Distribution) and Freelance Journalist Profiles (formerly JournalistDirectory Freelance Database). They do what they say on the tin.
We took a similar approach to the strapline. Our old one was ‘making media communications easy’. That was pretty broad, and a pretty big promise too. It’s so easy to be ‘trite’ in straplines, so we just asked ourselves “what do we do?” The answer we came up with was “connecting the media”, and a strapline was born. What’s nice about this one is is consistent with our philosophy that the media – and journalists in particular – are a critically important part of our community, and it is our relationship with them that sets us apart (something I touched on in a previous post).
Implementation of the new branding was the tough bit. Having not gone far enough in 2011 I decided we wouldn’t make that mistake again, and this time we would go all the way. That would mean changing the name of the company, too. It struck me that that was the only way to drive the new brand through in the most complete way possible. Back in 2011 we had quietly dropped Daryl Willcox Publishing in favour of DWPub, but we had not actually changed the name of the business. Therefore the old longform name kept creeping back in.
So, we wanted to execute a complete rebrand of the business, in a fairly short time and with a small internal marketing team. And not only that, as a software as a service (SaaS) business with six separate websites, a big technical undertaking was required to merge these into one single website.
To allow our in-house development team to concentrate on our revenue-generating services, we chose to use an external agency to build our new corporate website. We took this as an opportunity to switch this to a content management platform so that once launched we could do much of the site maintenance without input from our dev team. WordPress seemed the obvious contender for this, and we chose London agency Redwire to build it on a custom theme.
Merging six sites, implementing a new corporate site, changing the company name, changing our email addresses and branding on dozens of automated emails we produce and making sure we didn’t break anything while we were at was a major mission for a relatively small (50 people) company.
Having completed the brand development and produced our brand guidelines by the end of September 2015, we planned to get the whole thing in place by 4 January. It seemed comfortable at the time, but I have to admit it got progressively more stressful as we approached the deadline.
In order to achieve it we did do some things early. Not knowing how long Companies House would take to register our new name we got the ball rolling in November and ended up officially changing the name to ResponseSource Ltd on 25 November. We changed all our email addresses on 10 December. Doing things like that early did take the pressure off a little later on, as things got more hectic. Although this meant we had a short period of mixed branding I felt it was better this occurred before the official launch than after it.
On reflection, we should have ensured we had an extra couple of weeks wriggle room for the implementation of our corporate site. Things got quite tight by the end as we dealt with the inevitable tweaks prior to the launch of anything new and this coincided with that period between Christmas and New Year where many people take time off. But after a long day in the office on Sunday 3 January, our new branding on our new single website was live for the first working day of 2016.
Communications and launch
A big part of a successful rebrand is to ensure the whole team is on board. We involved all our colleagues at least in some way during the brand development, though I have to say we skimmed over the development of the ‘values’ part of the brand guidelines. We soon found that as a relatively small team of 50 talking about values can be a little awkward when people already feel well connected with what the company stands for. There was a great deal of support internally for the rebrand which was perceived as a logical move, but we still made the effort to communicate the reasons, benefits and risks of what we were doing – including all-hands meetings and putting a poster on various walls around the office about six weeks before launch.
As we identified during our research, communications with existing clients was going to be important so as not to confuse the people that are most important to us. So we began communicating the rebrand to them with an email from me personally on 9 December. Prior to this I had dropped a number of big hints on social media and we put more explicit posts on our company social media profiles prior to the Christmas break. At our annual Christmas party for journalists at the Cheshire Cheese Pub on London’s Fleet Street we showcased the new brand. We also put notices up on our websites a couple of weeks before the launch. And on 4 January, we emailed every PR professional and journalist on our database to let them know what we had done and published a short video animation explaining the rebrand. Changes to our pay per click (PPC) marketing were implemented on this day. All our social channels had been updated with the new branding by 4 January too – we had critical support from Restless Communications on this which was a good move as we wouldn’t have had the resources to do it on our own immediately prior to the launch.
I’m writing this in the last week of January and while we do have a long list of enhancements for our corporate site, the feedback we have had so far has been positive. After launch, some customers who had set up email client rules to sort their journalist enquiry emails had broken as a result of us changing the email address they come from, an unavoidable problem that probably helped to flag up our rebrand to people. There was also the inevitable dip in natural search traffic from search engines before the new site was fully indexed, something we mitigated by ensuring redirects were set up from the old sites and submitting relevant information to search engines as quickly as we could in the first few days. But apart from that we had no major ‘breakages’. From now on we plan to keep refining the new site and in particular to look for any user journeys that could be improved.
Having gone through this process, a process that promised much but was fraught with risk, I’m delighted with the result. A rebrand to this extent – triggering the merger of six websites and a new name for the company, among hundreds of smaller changes – was inevitably going to generate some anxiety for me and the team, and it did. But it may be a measure of the success of it that I now feel even more proud of this business, now that its brand properly reflects the extraordinary network of media people the company helps to bind together and the energy and dedication of the team behind it.