Rebranding your design business – sometimes you can’t do it alone

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Rebranding your design business articleHow many times, as a design business owner have you discussed how you should re-do your website? Or rejuvenate your brand? Or how changes are required? But then in the same breath said: “But client work comes first”?

I’ve heard this a number of times in my conversations with consultancy owners, and what strikes me as interesting is this: when a designer advises their client, they are implicitly or explicitly saying that the client has a problem which needs an external consultant to help them figure out an answer.

The message is that they can’t get to the essence of their brand on their own. They need an outside thinker to help them get to solve the problem.

Is a design business any different to the clients they work with in this respect? If you base the answer on the number of creative businesses that seem to be blocked by themselves from redoing their website or looking at their onward strategy, then the answer would appear to be, no.

So given the number of consultancies I speak to whose work on their own brand is on hold, I was really interested to see that Endpoint had employed external expertise to look at their own visual identity.

It’s worth pointing out that Endpoint is not a design or branding agency. Its background is in industrial design. It actually partners with designers and architects to communicate brand in the built environment. This can be by translating the brand idea and bringing it to life in a physical space, or through wayfinding.

The decision to rebrand was part of an evolution – consultancies and clients were increasingly recognising their strategic and creative nous. Out of curiosity I called Gideon Wilkinson, co-founder and managing director of Endpoint, and uncovered a fantastic story of how engaging an outside consultancy can move a creative business on leaps and bounds.

There’s much for any design business to learn from Endpoint’s approach.

The drivers – business and personal

The driving motivation behind the decision to engage outside help was interesting. It was part-business need, part personal. Endpoint’s current brand just didn’t fit anymore. It didn’t reflect the consultancy’s strategic strength and it didn’t recognise its creative ability – the value-add that designers themselves were saying they brought.

On a personal note, Wilkinson and his business partner Paul Veness were keen to challenge the status quo. They’d built up a successful business over 15 years. Profits were not down; they were good. But as the world around them was changing, so they were too, and they wanted fresh challenges and new opportunities.

2014: Getting a coach

To kick off the project, Wilkinson and Veness worked with coach (and DBA Expert) Emma Collins, who was in their words “brilliant.” She challenged them to reflect on their business – why they did what they did and where they wanted to be.

Collins worked with Endpoint on a skeleton five-year plan that involved rebranding and moving the positioning and the way the business talked about itself.

2015: Finding a strategic brand consultancy and identity designer

Endpoint needed a brand agency that would really dig deep and get under the skin of the business. So they it was careful to select a consultancy with a strong strategic focus – brand transformation business and fellow DBA member Goosebumps.

But there were two things making Endpoint pause and think before doing this. The first was the risk that if it rebranded its current agency clients might perceive it as a competitor.

Endpoint had been cautious about pushing its creative and strategic output before. These had been the preserve of its agency clients. What would happen to Enpoint’s client relationships if it started promoting this aspect of what it did? Would customers fear it as a competitor and start to walk away?

It turned out to be a fear unwarranted. Perception studies carried out by Goosebumps showed that the very reason the creative agencies were using Endpoint was precisely because Endpoint spoke the same language and safeguarded design integrity as much as they did. The business was worried about something that didn’t exist.

The second concern though was cost. A rebrand is of course a huge expense. But Endpoint knew it was a worthwhile investment in their business and its future. It selected The Allotment as the creative consultancy to design its collateral.

And what happened as a result of taking these decisions? Put simply, Endpoint has been revitalised. For Wilkinson and Veness, the experience has been a resounding success, both from the point of view of the business, but also both personally for them too, bringing renewed energy and enthusiasm.

But change, especially transformational change, is a difficult process. So what are the critical factors that emerge from Endpoint’s experiences?

Change involves people

It’s imperative to take your people along with you on the journey; they need to understand the drivers, the motivations and the ambitions in order to engage with and champion the end result.

Wilkinson and Veness had to navigate their way through the change. This can be painful. When you’ve been in business for 15 years, you become very comfortable with each other. But they had to challenge their own thinking and their motivations to really determine a future of which they could both be proud. You need to be prepared for a challenging journey.

Change involves trust

You have to trust someone outside of your business. In Endpoint’s case it trusted Emma Collins, Goosebumps and The Allotment. A team of advisors that together, steered the business in the right direction.

Change involves discomfort

Whoever we are, we tend to gravitate towards comfort, to a state of stability. But change, real transformational change, involves some chaos, some discomfort. It may even mean turning some work down – hard to do – but necessary to stay on track!

Ultimately though, knowing it had invested in change for the right reasons is what got Endpoint through the process. This clear vision for the business, will hopefully take it into the next 15 years of business and beyond.

Discover more:

  • Website and communications for Endpoint, by The Allotment

John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. For more information on DBA membership go to www.dba.org.uk. Follow John on Twitter @DBAScarrott.

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