5 strategies to build buy-in for your new brand

Subjectivity comes with any creative endeavor. Ask anyone what they think about some piece of art, and it often comes down to a personal preference that can’t always be explained. “I dunno, I just like it.” “I would totally hang that on my wall.” “I’m not a fan.”

At the end of the day, what we see hanging in the gallery is merely the final output, not the process that went into creating it. That’s a vulnerable place to be — for the art itself and the artist who created it. Unless people are willing to dig into the rationale and strategy behind the work, they’ll simply judge the final outcome based on a gut feeling. 

Branding is no different. The general public typically isn’t privy to the extensive research, SFDs (sh*tty first drafts), consensus-building workshops or conversations, rounds of iterations, and overarching brand and market strategy alignment that goes on behind the scenes for months — sometimes even years — before an organization reveals their new brand.

In short, there’s a lot that goes into the creation of that single visual or verbal output that most people — likely the same people who will interact with the brand on a daily basis — may never know.

Things get even more complicated when you start to talk about *re*branding projects.

 

The familiarity conundrum

Humans are wired to find the familiar. Programmed to eradicate the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance we experience in the space between what we’ve always known and what’s new to our brains. We’re naturally averse to crossing the familiarity gap.

Change is hard. We see it all the time. Even if you detest your old brand or logo or visual system or name or story, when the time comes to pull the trigger on something new, anxiety and uncertainty set in. Confronted with what’s unfamiliar, our brains immediately look for areas to nit-pick and question and dissect — particularly the pieces that feel most foreign.

Here in our home base of Raleigh, we watched as a Pandora’s Box of opinions emerged with the unveiling of the new City of Raleigh visual system. Regionally, SunTrust and BB&T’s recent announcement of their new post-merger name, Truist, ruffled a lot of feathers. Nationally, Dunkin’ Donuts dropped the “Donuts” to better reflect their expanding menu — and some people had strong feelings about it. Internationally, Uber’s 2018 brand refresh, focused on simplicity and scalability, caused a stir and left some people asking, “Wait… is that it?!” And in the world of tech, Slack’s recent rebrand made some hardcore fans miss the #hashtag of yesteryear.

But in time, familiarity sets in. Fast-forward a few months or years, and things inevitably settle down. These once-jarring changes are now the new norm. It becomes hard for internal teams and external customers alike to remember what the old brand even was. All is well in the world.

 

How to roll out on the right foot

We’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to roll out brands that inspire affinity in our 10+ years of helping companies invent and reinvent themselves. And though we can’t control how people will feel about any brand we create (Though we love it when clients actually hang it on the wall), we can control how we create and share the work with the world.

Give these strategies a go to increase your chances of a standing ovation when you roll out your new brand.

 

1. SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

At the outset of any branding project, it’s important to set clear expectations for the road ahead — and the milestones you’ll encounter along the way. This is particularly important for those in charge of briefing and getting buy-in from leadership (who may not always be present throughout the project).

This small housekeeping step can make a huge difference in the latter stages of the project when things start to move quickly and more big decisions need to be made. When the full team is properly briefed and knows the goal everyone is working towards, it’s much easier to build consensus and keep the momentum going. And it spares you, as the driver of the project, from having to play defense when someone claims they don’t know what’s going on.

Cover your bases. Ensure the objectives and outcomes of the project are easily accessible. Repeat them to the working team and your leadership team again (and then again). Hold decision-makers accountable for being prepared and engaged during every meeting.

 

2. HAVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE ROOM

Particularly in fast-moving, enterprise-scale organizations, it can be difficult to wrangle team members for the many meetings it takes to build consensus and share progress. But it’s important to emphasize that getting the brand right is just as important as releasing an MVP or beta testing your next release. 

Identify your core working group and confirm they’re willing and able to commit to the energy it takes to be part of the project. Pay particular attention to the busiest people (often department heads or C-Suite members) who must ultimately sign the SOW, or who could have the power to derail the project as it nears the finish line. You don’t want that. Your agency doesn’t want that. Set the expectation that all key decision-makers show up to every meeting. If they don’t, cancel the meeting. Then tell them they need to delegate decision-making to someone who can actively participate.

Beyond your leadership team, also carefully consider the team members you choose to involve in your core working group or as “guests” at various stages of the project. Collect their perspectives and feedback so they feel as though they are represented in the final outcome. This is particularly important for members of the creative, marketing, or culture teams who will be the primary stewards of the brand. Create a project environment in which they feel valued and seen — and they’ll be more likely to embrace and champion the final product.

 

3. INVOLVE YOUR EXTERNAL COMMUNITY

Like those we discussed with internal teams, steps can be taken to ensure external audiences feel included and present in the brand process, too.

Our research process almost always includes gathering the input and perspectives of external stakeholders who know the brand well — customers, clients, investors, members of the community. Opinions shared by these groups offer invaluable insight into the wants and needs of the market. Crucially, this step also shines a light on where internal and external perspectives are aligned — and where they might not be. 

Include external stakeholders in your process and you’ll have a vocal and active community of advocates who are ready to vouch for you, your process, and your beautiful new brand upon launch.

 

4. BE AS TRANSPARENT AS POSSIBLE

At New Kind, we believe the best outcomes arise from open collaboration — doing things the open source way. While we wouldn’t necessarily suggest broadcasting every detail of your brand project to the world, we do encourage you to make yours as inclusive and transparent a process as possible.

Internally, make sure your whole team is aware that you’re undertaking this project, even if they won’t be directly involved in it. Keep them posted on your progress. Call on selected employees from across the organization to provide their input at various stages. Taking these steps will pay dividends when you reach the end of your project, and no one in the company feels like you’re springing a new brand on them without warning.

Externally (assuming you’re able and/or contractually allowed), let your followers, customers, and clients know you’re embarking on a rebrand. Start building excitement and enthusiasm for the work. And as we said earlier, invite your community to participate in your research phase. Choose people with a diverse range of experiences who truly know your brand — and who can give you honest and constructive feedback. Open source pioneers Red Hat recently chronicled every step of their rebrand in what they called the Open Brand Project.

Sharing the journey openly and transparently will help both your internal and external audiences understand how you reached the final result. They’ll “see the math” and hopefully be more receptive to the change that’s ahead — because they’ll understand why it’s necessary.

 

5. SHARE THE LOVE

Reaching the finish line of any branding project is a huge achievement. It’s a rare opportunity to experience the magical moment when your audiences engage with your new brand for the first time. So approach the finish line with optimism and elation — you did it!

The tone you use when announcing your new brand sets the tone for the way it will be received. Develop a fully thought-out rollout strategy to define when, where, and how you’ll announce or share the new brand. Prepare responses to questions you might expect to hear. Give marketing and social media teams a library of ready-made branded assets to use in promotions post-launch. Share snippets of the process that led you to this moment. Don’t hide your excitement for the work that led you here.

Because if you’ve engaged the right people, gained buy-in and approval from leadership and key stakeholders, and invited input from a strategic selection of internal and external partners throughout the project, you should have a new brand you’re proud of — one that reflects who you are today and where you’re headed next.