As brand strategists, our work doesn’t end at identity creation alone, but extends to ensuring consistency of the brand once in the hands of the client.
Two years ago, we undertook the rebranding of a well-reputed, mature establishment. Since its inception 55 years ago, the Group has set up 21 institutes in the Healthcare and Education sector, each with its own unique identity. Our work involved consolidating the identity of the various institutes under the umbrella of the parent brand. The unifying identity was then extended into a design language common across all institutions.
The Logo is done. Now what?
Although now under a common logo, each of the institutes works with independent ad agencies/printers for all their external communication. This initially led to varied application of the logo and a disparate look and feel across the collaterals of the different institutions.
To ensure consistency in this open, evolving graphic system, we worked closely with the Group for six months templatising all the essential collaterals including visiting cards, letterheads, envelopes, certificates, brochure/ prospectus designs, identity cards for students and staff, etc. This process provided the client with personalised support that helped them initiate the consistent, repetitive use of this identity across all collaterals. Slowly, the institutes started adopting the new identity to their various collaterals.
Complacency. Complexity. Clarity?
The risk one runs with handing over a new identity is that internal stakeholders tend to get complacent even though the new brand is just beginning to take shape in the customer’s view.
When we conducted a design audit of the collaterals, we discovered some challenges the client faced resulting in the brand looking disparate in its expressions. We discovered that most institutes had not engaged with the design language beyond plugging the new identity in their collaterals.
As we delved deeper, we realised that for the client, it was not a matter of actively choosing to overlook the new design language. The complexity of the actual number of collaterals that needed to be redesigned, coupled with the ease of slipping into the old and familiar, made consistency close to impossible for them. Added to this, the number of different printers working on the collaterals for each institute lead to a lack of coherence and an overall dilution of the brand’s visual identity.
Passing on the Baton
We decided to do a fun, visual, interactive presentation to make the transition to the new visual language. Identity systems can be powerful starting points and we set out to define them as guidelines. From actual elements of the new brand identity, to the usage of colours, fonts, spacing, background, watermark, crops, and most importantly, the misuse of the logo and its elements, we focused on familiarising the client with their new logo.
We involved the leadership, the senior management and the brand custodians of each institute. These seasoned educators and experienced professionals came with the curiosity of students and with a determination to grasp the otherwise alien world of graphic design. In those two hours we presented, questioned, debated, and even had a little quiz at the end. We sought to help them take ownership of the new logo, the identity, and its every colour and line. At the end of the presentation, they were ready to claim the new identity.
We then decided to hold a couple of such presentations for the printers as well. While we explained the guidelines to them, they updated us on the complexity of printing on different machines. Together, we worked out a solution to ensure that the collaterals of the 21 institutions – which were handed over to more than ten printers – looked like they belong to the same family. We believe we all left the room with a sense mutual respect for each other and with an understanding of the skills involved in each stage of a brand coming together.
Successful brands are usually those who have worked with the same design partner for years to ensure long-term consistency. Having worked with the client for over two years, and having initiated and been actively involved in the creation of a common Group brand, we wanted to ensure that we passed the baton on responsibly.
Documenting the Evolving Brand
Soon after, we handed over a composite set of guidelines to the client. We detailed out the significance of the logo, its elements, do’s & don’ts, and templates of all the basic collaterals, taking into account the complexity, sub-branding initiatives and the partnerships of various institutes.
As guidelines they are just that, guidelines. They aren’t a definite, exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts. Brand Guidelines need to be viewed more as a living document that is constantly evolving based on newer requirements of the brand. It is a source document that helps internalise the change and is meant to guide, inform, and equip all partners with the right tools.
Through this journey with the client, we learned several things ourselves.
1. An identity is only as strong as its consistent execution over time. Every single collateral, whether internal or external, that carries the logo, represents the brand.
2. When a large number of institutions and partnerships are involved, re-branding is a journey. Most often, it isn’t the lack of intent that is the problem, but the lack of sensitivity to minor deviations.
3. Taking responsibility for guiding the client towards the ownership of their new identity is as critical as creating one.