By Andrew Brooks and Ted McIntyre
A name change might be just what your organization needs, provided you know what you’re getting into…and why
An acquisition or merger. Changes in the economy. Shifts in customer demographics or social attitudes and norms. Corporate succession or a realignment of management relationships. The realization that the existing brand just doesn’t cut it anymore.
There are any number of reasons for an organization to revisit its brand—or perhaps to seriously address it for the first time. But the most common impetus? “New management,” says Glenn Marshall, president of Greening Media, a Hamilton-based agency that has worked with several clients in the home building space to give their brands everything from a tweak to a complete overhaul. “When a new director or CEO comes in, it’s very common for them to want to put their thumbprint on the company and do something different. Changing the brand is a very visible, obvious way to look like you are ‘doing something’ or ‘shaking things up.’”
But those are lousy reasons in Marshall’s book. Rebranding should be about finding the best way to convey your company’s identity and message, he says, and that doesn’t mean throwing things out just for the sake of being new. “Make sure that your brand is still recognizable and retains the goodwill and recognition it’s developed over its lifetime.”
“We don’t look at rebranding from the aesthetic perspective of just changing a logo,” says Lianne McOuat, creative director at McOuat Partnership in Markham. “It really is a deep dive into the culture of the company and their own personality. We often describe it as a bit of psychoanalysis.”
“It involves discussion and questions that clients seldom ask themselves,” adds Geoff McOuat, creative director at the partnership. “Hopefully, when we’re discussing some of the deeper issues and what the company stands for—why you do what you do—they learn something, and we learn something.”
“A large number of companies, especially in the home building sector, have created an image for themselves without thoroughly exploring the ‘why.’ It’s much more of a ‘what’—as in, ‘This is what I want it to look like,’ Geoff says. “But the deeper question becomes, ‘What is your company about and how is that reflected in your brand?’”
For McOuat, “purpose” is the most important word when talking about branding. “‘Why are we here? Why are we doing this?’ That’s really the essence of what a brand is all about,” Geoff says.
But many companies may not fully grasp how deeply rooted their current brand is, Lianne cautions. “Sometimes they don’t think about all the places their brand/logo appears—the customer service van, head office, letterhead, business cards. It can stretch six months to a year before the logo is changed in every location. And when we put together a planning grid and overall budget, they’re like, ‘Oh, I think we’re going to stage this out.’”
WE THE WEST
For the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders’ Association, the brand was certainly well-rooted, but it didn’t say much about how the OHBA local saw itself. So the association decided to address the issue in late 2019.
“Our goal was to select a brand that reflects the inclusiveness and business diversity within our industry—one that better represents our membership, which is more and more geographically diverse,” says the local’s Past President, Bianca Bruzzese. “Many components needed to be taken into consideration—a new marketing strategy, vision, new logo, tagline, brand colours and guidelines, as well as the hours of research that go into the project when considering a new name. Our staff and volunteers didn’t have the capacity. We needed a trusted partner who was familiar with our purpose and identity, who would lead this exercise and guide us through the process.”
Enter Greening Media, an OHBA member itself. Saddled with the clumsy HHHBA acronym, Marshall and his team were charged with a double task: Combine Bruzzese’s “collective” concept, which would stress the multiple disciplines that make up every local home builders’ association, with the geographic location of Hamilton-Halton.
Working with a tight two-month window to execute the rebranding, the Greening crew began cobbling together ideas for each. And then one day, as Marshall’s eyes rotated back and forth across three whiteboards of concepts, the symbiosis of the “west end” regional description and the “we” team concept suddenly hit him like a thunderbolt.
“You almost never get a ‘eureka moment’ in this business, as you go back and forth with clients on ideas,” he says. “But that’s what we had with this one—the “WE” acronym worked perfectly for both sides of the equation.”
And thus was the WE HBA brand born.
The process was complete in time for the new brand to be presented at the association’s industry luncheon in February 2020. Bruzzese says that the “WE” in the new acronym “connotes the strong collaboration within the industry, and it recognizes all the various trades, services and other intermediaries that come together to make this industry possible.”
The rebranding needed to be managed like any other major corporate project, Bruzzese notes. “Organizations need to be agile and willing to consider the ever-changing market around them and adjust accordingly. They should regularly examine their identity to ensure it aligns with their mission, values and strategic plan. But it is very important to define the scope of the rebrand and understand your strategic goals early in the process. And making sure that the right team is involved is paramount.”
The widespread, unabashed embracing of the new brand has caught even Marshall by surprise. “I have never had a project that was that universally well-accepted right away,” he laughs. “And, frankly, I can’t imagine what a second option would have been that would have compared.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
For Huron Creek Developments, it was a change in the tide of corporate philosophy that motivated a new look back in 2015.
“It’s not that there was anything wrong with (our previous) Eastforest Homes brand, Huron Creek Developments Vice-President Rick Martins explains. “At Eastforest, we had successfully built over 10,000 units in South and Central Ontario. Energy Star was our standard, but Peter [president and CEO Peter Catana] and I wanted to give back to the community even more. Our staff also believed in where we wanted to take the company, and the political climate was one of environmental sustainability.”
The Huron Creek rebrand process lasted six months. The company did not engage a branding specialist, although they did reach out to consultants, engineers and community partners to get a sense of what the market was looking for.
Martins lists red tape and supply issues, as well as the training and education of customers and partners (as well as internally), as some of the primary challenges, with municipal roadblocks heading the list. Looking back, Martins says he would have secured the buy-in of municipal officials much earlier in the process.
Despite the hurdles, the change paid dividends. “The results were better than we would have believed. In our first project, our visitable units sold out the quickest,” says Martins of the company’s homes that embrace accessibility features. “This was a different trend, as usually the less expensive units tend to go first.”
Further, Martins says that many customers came to understand the significance of the changes once they moved into the units and experienced first-hand the difference in their quality of life and the performance of the home.
“The rebrand was a huge success, but the mind shift in our culture has been the biggest accomplishment,” Martins adds. “Trades, suppliers, customers and staff are all helping us move forward and pushing boundaries with the goal of creating attainable housing.”
THE UNCOMFORT ZONE
While Huron Creek managed the process on its own, outside expertise tends to be a prerequisite when it comes to branding a particular project or company. The support offered to DeSantis Homes by McOuat Partnership has been invaluable in guiding identity development for a number of the builder’s distinctive projects, says Serina Carbone, director of sales and marketing at DeSantis. And while consistently taking an ‘outside the box’ approach when bringing projects to market can present challenges, the payoff can be more than worth it.
“If you’re not pushing the envelope and doing something different every single time, you’re stagnating,” says Carbone, whose company’s Century Condos earned Project of the Year honours at OHBA’s most recent Awards of Distinction after the development required a rebranding due to years of delays brought on by politics and Covid. “It’s a very busy and crowded marketplace we’re in, and you’ve got to constantly be looking for ways to surprise.”
“One of the things Geoff likes to say is that if you don’t feel just slightly uncomfortable about a campaign, you probably haven’t gone far enough.’ It’s something I like repeating, because I think it can get clients to realize that they’re being too safe, and the safe space isn’t always where consumers are going to remember you,” Lianne McOuat says. “An example is the ‘What if?’ campaign we’re running right now for National Homes—a whale flying like a zeppelin through the air with a prop plane suspended below. It’s a little bizarre. But all the campaigns we’ve done for them over 30 years have seemed a little wild at the start. But that client is fully on board.”
Of course, in the end there can always be creative differences of opinion. Every marketing firm has launched beloved concepts only to see them scuttled by a client’s rocky reception. “Our dreams get dashed on a weekly basis,” jokes Lianne McOuat.
Fortunately, the flying whale wasn’t one of them. “National Homes’ motto is ‘You are the Blueprint,’” Geoff explains. “They listen to their buyers, ask them questions and then bring those ideas to life. That means the innovation and the bright ideas that National creates in their communities all start with the question, ‘What if?’ The point is to ask the consumer and ourselves, ‘What can we do to make their home better and to push the boundaries further?’ So I was looking for ways to express the fact that the ideas of their customers matter, that their dreams and their imaginations are a key part of the research that helps to create a National Homes community. Could we have taken that exact same idea and given it to another builder? Probably not. You have to tailor your campaign to the brand and the builder. You have to come up with the right expression of what the truth is about this builder and that particular brand to help draw people to that product.”
A year ago, custom home builder Timberworx decided that connection was missing, and that its brand needed an overhaul more in keeping with its luxury positioning. Consequently, president Shawn Marsh looked to web design and development agency Pixelcarve for professional support in guiding the process. The rebrand was thorough, involving a new logo, redesigned website, new signage and a new name—Claxton+Marsh (the “Claxton” half representing the company’s dedicated design and realty specialist Eve Claxton).
“We wanted a new image to incorporate a brand that defined us in a way that was more in line with who we were and the kind of product we offered—a true luxury brand that focuses more on design/build than on construction,” Marsh says. “Pixelcarve is an extremely talented group who overdelivered on our new vision for the future of our company and campaign.”
The biggest concern was to avoid losing the market reputation and credibility the Timberworx brand had built since the company’s 1987 founding. “Having many years of awareness of our existing brand within the community and surrounding areas with social media, TV, signage, philanthropy and reputation, we wanted to be recognized as the same company with a new name,” Marsh says.
While the main elements of the rebranding are in place, the process is continuing, and Marsh says the results have been very positive. “The new image was essentially our names, which were already well known, so the optics fell into place, and it has been a fairly seamless and smooth transition.”
Rebranding need not be an overly pricey or time-consuming process, says Marshall. But there are some things to watch out for. “One of the more expensive but essential parts of the process that we recommend is trademarking your logo, slogan or brand statement.” At the same time, Marshall cautions that a new logo or brand identity is only the first step, and if you blow the budget on that, you’re wasting your time.
“We’ve had clients who spent a fortune on new artwork and a glossy brand standards brochure, but never explained to their audience why they changed the brand or what the new brand means,” Marshall says. “They never communicated the message; their rebranding had no marketing plan. This is one of the greatest mistakes a company can make. If the general public don’t understand why the rebrand has taken place, or doesn’t even know about it, you’ll just be creating confusion.”
Marshall points out that tools like a ‘Brand Report Card’ can be helpful in evaluating the success of rebranding. Usually administrated by a third party, they poll the public to measure the consistency and relevancy of the brand and to assess how the company is perceived and recognized. “Doing one of these studies before and after can certainly show the impact of your rebranding,” he says. It’s also important to set communications and marketing goals with regard to social and traditional media reach.
Part of helping a new brand to become entrenched requires a song sheet for company staff, McOuat notes. “We will often be called upon to come to the client’s office and present the new brand to the team,” Lianne says. “We might do mission plaques for their head office or construction office and do mission cards that they can carry around in their wallet. We’ve often presented the new brand to the trades at a kickoff event, so that everyone on the team, including the front-line people, know what the client stands for. And then when new staff members come aboard, they’re given a brand book.”
It’s a reminder of the many steps in the journey of a name change, and the length of the learning curve in a brand new world.
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