Shannon DeJong, founder and owner of branding agency House of Who, talks about the philosophy, strategy and art that goes into a successful rebrand, and why rebranding her own company was the most difficult job she’s tackled.
“People rebrand when how they view themselves is no longer consistent with how they’re viewed by the outside world,” says Shannon DeJong, founder, owner and designer at House of Who, a Berkeley, California-based branding agency.
Clients usually come to her after they’ve experienced a problem or a challenge that their current brand can’t meet. They want to expand into new markets or create a new product that doesn’t fit in with their current brand, or “they’ve straight-jacketed themselves by being too narrow.”
And, then there are rebrands that happen after bad PR, when companies want to distance themselves from a past they’re not proud of (the #MeToo movement spurred a number of rebrands).
Often though, it’s just time to refresh a tired logo, or a typeface that was popular in 2001.
Shannon says “It’s like the brand becomes clothes that no longer fit.”
Of course, a brand isn’t just a logo or a typeface. Shannon describes it as “a complex ecosystem. It’s internal, external, exists in the minds of the customers, it’s all of these things rolled into one essence. They’re like people—nuanced, multifaceted, experienced externally by other people who have different perceptions.”
And just like a person getting a makeover, new haircut, or even a facelift, making changes on the outside can spark changes on the inside.
“With a good rebrand, you can make what you stand for appear more current, or unleash some deeper potential that you haven’t been able to tap into.”
How a rebrand helps your business communicate its value
A rebrand is far from superficial - it’s more than updating your wardrobe. “A rebrand is really warranted when there’s something deeper that’s misaligned,” says Shannon.
For House of Who client SDL, a language translation and content management company, their technology was cutting-edge, even industry defining. But they hadn’t changed their brand significantly since their founding “in a very different time and era,” says Shannon.
“They were positioned in a way that, at the time, was differentiated and powerful,” she says. But as competition increased in the translation and content management service industry, what had differentiated them in the beginning was no longer unique.
And, their brand identity wasn't communicating the value of their work.
SDL serves 79 percent of the world’s top companies, and had been doing so for more than 20 years. While many companies claim to be “industry leaders,” SDL actually was. However, even longtime SDL customers did not necessarily know the full extent of the company's capabilities or the global impact of their work. Shannon knew the House of Who team could reveal the value that was already present, but not as visible as it could be.
“Our differentiator is that we don’t just design logos and names. We help clients to understand their truth and their real value, so they can self-actualize as a company. Then we see how we can express that truth through the logo, name, and other brand assets.
It’s elevating the value of a company beyond the commodity they sell or services they offer to the impact they have.”
The team’s “aha moment” came when thinking of one of SDL’s biggest customers, a global food chain with nearly 30,000 stores in 62 countries around the world. The client had to produce “huge volumes of content, internally and externally,” to support their stores and internal operations. That content is critical to their business.
“When SDL translates that content, it’s not enough just to make it comprehensible to people on the other end. They can’t just run it through a machine and have people piece it together halfway around the world. They have to give people information in a way that allows them to meaningfully connect with each other.”
Shannon and her team decided to reframe what SDL did from “translation” to: Delivering global understanding.
“That’s a very modern perspective on the value SDL has always offered.”
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Shannon and her team’s fresh perspective on SDL’s real value was that they were “neither technical nor linguistic experts, but a combination of the two that has the power to make not just top-level comprehension but universal understanding a reality.”
SDL not only had a new logo and fresh design, they had a new, fresh story to tell. One that reflected the needs and values of today’s global market.
That’s the power of a good rebrand.
How does a branding agency rebrand itself?
Shannon DeJong went through her own rebranding process with House of Who just last year, something she says was long overdue. House of Who evolved out of Shannon’s own freelance career, and as with many new companies, developing her own brand wasn’t first priority. Keeping the business running was.
“It’s a very cobbler’s son has no shoes scenario.”
She says that even for a professional brand consultant, branding is hard to do for your own business, which makes an outsider's perspective not only valuable, but necessary.
Brand yourself pro tip #1: hire someone
Shannon’s #1 tip is to work with a professional, or at least hire a consultant for an hour or two “to get you on the right path.”
“We call it ‘brand therapy’—you can be an introspective introvert and still miss things a trained expert would pick up on instantly, even when your agency is full of brand experts.”
House of Who brand strategist Ciana Wilson worked closely with Shannon to dig further into the deeper purpose behind House of Who.
Ciana recalls, “Shannon wanted to have the experience that she would, ideally, deliver to our clients—that is, both a practical business-oriented strategy exercise, and a very personal experience of discovery. Shannon is a very talented strategist herself, but her proximity to her own agency obscured the full value of its expression and what it had to offer. This is common for many business leaders.”
Shannon’s wishlist for her rebrand was anything but easy—she knew, better than anyone, that House of Who needed to have a solid, unique brand to keep up with the extremely competitive, crowded agency world. And Shannon says one thing she was really hoping for “was to identify what felt true and powerful for my business.”
Brand yourself pro tip #2: always start with strategy
Shannon says when she and her team begins work for clients, they always start with the big Whys. “Know why you’re making decisions. Understand why you want to rebrand, what you hope to get out of it, what your big future goals are, and how you want this to impact your business.”
So much of the branding process depends on knowing your mission and vision for the company, along with how your business is positioned in the marketplace against your competitors. What makes you different?
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Shannon says sometimes you even need to update your value proposition.
And, you may need to ask “are you trying to reach new people with your rebrand? Or reach the old ones?” Because that can dictate the style that resonates best with your target audience.
“If you answer those questions and put some parameters around what you hope to do, that will keep you from spinning in circles.”
She recommends thinking “about your business goals for the next 5 years and how your rebrand will help you get there. From there, all of the other decisions become easier, because you know the Why behind those choices.”
Brand yourself pro tip #3: align with your truth
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Ciana says, “Shannon and I wanted to create an agency that was honestly in line with our ethics and perspectives on business, branding, and the world.
This meant taking a calculated risk regarding our position within our marketplace. We’re all about truth in a world where branding is often used to ‘prettify’ and obscure. Taking strategic risks, when they underscore your authentic identity, is one of our most important pieces of advice to clients. It’s how you stand out from all the sameness. We know from experience now that this is easier said than done!”
Shannon says “a testament to the power of the rebrand is that I have previously built the business entirely on word of mouth. And now we are starting to get people inquiring about our services who are finding us purely through our marketing and brand. That’s a powerful change!”
Brand yourself pro tip #4: this above all…
Shannon’s last tip is the most fundamental and vital: “At the end of the day, however you rebrand, whatever changes you make, they should reflect what’s true, inherent and essential about you. It’s never about putting a pretty face on what you’re selling. It’s about reviewing the value you offer in a way that people can appreciate and understand.
“Rebrand with purpose - this is where your brand’s truth comes in. It’s never just adding glitter (though we do love glitter).”