• Samuel Biscoe

Now Is The Perfect Time For A Re-Brand, And Here's Why.



I was recently invited along to Cog Design's breakfast briefing (we're working together on a new website) and was treated to a morning chat with Nigel Davies of PIN Creative about basic principles of a brand and why it matters. It got me thinking a bit more in-depth about what brand means to the Arts and so got into a further chat with Cog's Founder Michael Smith - more on that in a bit.


We're all experiencing untold depths of what it means to have 'downtime' at the moment, however a friend recently told me it's possible to 'waste a pandemic' simply just by sitting in the corner and facing the wall. Now is probably the only time your arts venue will ever get to turn around and refocus exactly where you want to go and who you want to be. Now is the time to re-brand, and I don't mean just crack out a new logo.


Unfortunately almost every arts organisation in the UK has been forced into making redundancies, some more aggressively than others, but we now find ourselves in a position where we get to make a choice about the future, do we do as we did, or do we make adaptions and innovate when we finally get to pin down that date for re-opening without social distancing? If I was the CEO I'd know I'd want to really figure out where we are heading and how we are going to achieve that - now is the time to get it right.



Here is the very much paraphrased version of the conversation I had with Michael about what it means to re-brand an arts organisation. Each question below was more of a discussion point and the answers are the expanded version of my notes with some additional thoughts thrown in!


1) How do you know when you need to re-brand?


Firstly, Cog doesn't approach organisations and point out when they're looking and feeling a bit tired. Their clients approach them when they think the time is right.


When people talk about a brand you might think of Gucci, Coca-Cola, or Nike, so the design team at Cog think about brand for arts organisations as a 'personality' so much so that they avoid using the word 'brand' at all.


A good way to identify if the right time is now is to look and see if your visual appearance matches your organisation's vision and if the two things don't go hand in hand that's a good indicator that it's time for an overhaul.


Visual appearance doesn't need to always come first, more often than not aspirations for the company's direction will lead how a personality for the organisation is visually formed.


2) What do need in order to re-brand?


Brand is about how other people talk about you. The conversation people have in the bar after the show. As a reminder, you’re not in charge of your brand, but you can control touch points of how their perception about you might be formed.


For most this usually starts with how you communicate. Is your tone quite formal, do you take a more relaxed approach? Physical surroundings in a venue, for example, does your Front of House feel the same as your visual identity online? If your bar is decorated in Neon Neo-classical would for instance your social media read the same? If your Box Office team are super formal would script for conversations help relax the vibe? Would a bow tie with your staff uniform speak the right identity to a) the person you've hired, or b) the people coming through the door. Does your staff training reflect how you want to do business?


3) What's the best way to control a brand?


The best way to control a brand is to align perceptions with your organisation. How is this done? By having the right people at the helm.


People, in particular your staff, are the best way of making sure that your brand is in control. Your team will be representing the values of your organisation from the second their working day begins. This will mean hiring the right people for the job (experience shouldn't be the top of the list) that speak the language of your organisations personality. Recruit people that marry with your values.


4) Can redesigning your logo help as a first step?


Avoid re-designing your logo!


No one will ever look at your logo as much as you do. A logo doesn't have to tell a story or history. Pick your concentrated values and stick to them. A logo redesign works best when part of a full re-brand. Logos only work well as part of an associated feeling with your organisation.


A logo is a useful shortcut to lots of other things. It is a representation of all those things rather than the whole story itself. For example, the Pepsi logo doesn't tell you that it's a soft drinks company but the associated feeling with that logo does.


5) What do Arts organisations often get wrong?


There is a tricky balance between easy access to a brand and 'doing something different to everyone else'.


Some arts organisations fall foul of trying to align with a current trend which will quickly fall out of fashion leaving them with an outdated brand in six months or less. Bigger companies, like 'Shell', are able to adapt their visual identities continuously by making small adjustments to their design, but in the arts, because it's often a huge outlay (£££) they have to stick to a new branding architecture for several years, this can be a huge risk.


6) Why doesn't visual identity adapt as well in the Arts?


More often than not a visual identity isn't led by a Marketing/Communications team. It might be administered by them, but as we said before, often the aspirations of an organisation lead where a visual identity is going to end up laying. Brand is often spearheaded by Executive management (often Artistic Director and a CEO in a team) and their board and this usually excludes a conversation with a marketing team until much later.


7) How should you manage different brands under one umbrella?


Many organisations might have several operations under one roof - a performance space, a bar, conference spaces, and restaurants etc. All these branded spaces can co-exist under one umbrella but it might be difficult if they're speaking to different demographics. However, this doesn't mean to say that each one should be the same visual identity just in a new colour. It's communication, language, and people that make a difference when there is a mixture of brands under one roof.


8) Who is currently a good example of great branding in theatre?


The Young Vic is a great example of good branding. They serve the same audience during the day at their bar/cafe as would attend a show in the evening, so this makes it easier to marry across all strands of their business.


Regional theatres traditionally find this more difficult as they have to engage several different types of audiences to be successful as a business overall. The Marlowe, Canterbury, is a good example of visual identity, along with Cast, Doncaster. The Contact in Manchester are a good overall example of how a brand speaks to and engages it's audience with its personality.


So, is now the right time for a re-brand? In my opinion, I'd say so. There will be some work to do and some decisions to be made but they could be the defining moment for your futures organisation and you may not get another chance to redirect your 'personality' with such clarity again.


Much of the conversation I had with Michael often ending up reverting back to people and I can't help but notice this reoccurring theme in every aspect of the arts. Finding the right people to represent your values is more important than ever. We shouldn't employ a set designer because they have a reputation for bold and contemporary sets if your personality isn't that - in the same way we shouldn't hire a Head of Communications that wants to promote edgy and cool if your audience isn't.


The best people I've worked with are those that have understood the mission and values set out by the organisation regardless of what worked last year or in their previous jobs.


Brand is who you want to be and the people you are.


Today's actions:


From Michael

- Discuss with colleagues, staff, and audiences what values set your 'personality'.

- Assess if your visual identity/branding represents your values.

- Do something about it there is a mismatch!

- Work out what you want to say and who you want to say it to, then work out how to deliver it. ….. adapt how you communicate to everyone, from the boss to the cleaner to the audience


From Sam

- Start to control your brand by listening to what people have to say.

- Train your staff to match your audience's expectations and look at how training is delivered.

- Remember that visiting companies are also an 'audience' to engage with so don't leave out backstage.

- Identify your core audiences that you want to engage with your brand and make sure that you're speaking their language.


To learn more about Cog Design visit their website: https://cogdesign.com/

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