I almost titled this post “Why Branding Yourself Is A Terrible Idea,” but then I thought maybe we can work through this bad attitude together. I do have to say this: forget the lifestyle bloggers who tell you to “find your brand” – that’s all bullshit. It’s weird. It’s the reason why everyone’s online dating profiles are utter shit. I had pretty good luck on Tinder using nothing but this as my profile info: 🌀🌵☀️🐳📂 This mysterious string of emojis (seriously, wtf was I thinking with the file folder?) even led to a match with a classy country boy who I convinced to date me. Maybe meaningless emoji combos and a pretty chill attitude toward hurting bloggers’ feelings is “my brand” but trust me, it wouldn’t be if I got to choose.
The purpose of this blog post is not to tell you my personal opinions on lifestyle bloggers and their expensive throw pillows. The purpose of this blog post is to openly discuss some challenges, solutions, and LEARNINGS (good PMG word) we’ve come across in our plight to rebrand the agency. Here’s a quick timeline of my individual experience in rebranding the agency I hold dear to my heart:
- I started working at PMG as a designer.
- I was tasked with redesigning the website in my first 6 months.
- I kill’t the redesign (so I thought). But now, 2.5 years later, the website is hella out of date (and not at all scalable), so we’ve simplified it down to the bare necessities.
- In an attempt to revamp the website, we conducted a 5-day sprint.
- The sprint was a great success in terms of research and discovery.
- The spring was not a great success in terms of having a revamped website to deploy.
- The sprint led to the discovery that WE NEED BRAND POSITIONING.
- We hired a brand consultant, and we cannot wait to work with them!
There are several reasons why we ran into so many roadblocks trying to rebrand ourselves with a slick new website as the final output. Here are a few:
#1: Branding a new agency is like trying to tell Beyoncé she has to stick with Destiny’s Child for the rest of her career. That young, independent agency isn’t going to feel like one idea represents themselves or their vision for even half as long as Yoncé allowed herself to be part of a trio. And the agency is so successful for its young age, that its goals are for sure going to change year by year.
It’s basically like having all the raw talent and ambition of Beyoncé, but without the maturity, experience, or artistic vision (that can only be developed from time in the industry) to say, “Hey… maybe we should rethink the copious amount of matching outfits.”
#2: Branding collateral does not make a brand. A few years ago, as a new employee and a green designer, I was super gung-ho to redesign PMG’s website. The agency was fairly new, and I had been given a lot of freedom to design so I dove right in. I changed the agency colors, typography, and overall aesthetic style. I had my reasons, but they couldn’t have been based on an actual brand message or voice. At that point I was so new, I had no idea what that brand voice was. All I knew is that I worked somewhere that felt like an exciting start-up. Everyone was smart, funny, and worked hard. Everyone sat in an open space (still do) and talked across big rooms about solving problems. It was cool, and I thought all I had to do was make the design look cool too. I didn’t think about what really needed to go into this project, I just started designing. HA, WHAT A FOOL.
At the end of it all, we had a shiny new website and new business cards and letterhead all focused around an aesthetic and not a brand. The whole thing looked cool, for a brief moment. We even took elements from the website design and carried them into our new office rebuild. A year later we were still growing like wildfire, but our website wasn’t. We needed more content, more site organization, and more of a voice. We didn’t have any of that, so we made it up ourselves. And because we’re a bunch of doer-types, it ended up culminating into a beloved franken-site that we designated a team to eventually tackle with a 5-day sprint. Which brings us to the third lesson.
#3: Everything comes back to The Brand. (I’m going to capitalize “The Brand” now because we’re referring to our brand, the PMG brand, and it’s so elusive that I think it’s probably a wizard or sorceress or something. So it gets capitalized.) We embarked on a 5-day website sprint, still without a solid Brand, mission, voice, haircut, whatever. We knew this, but we thought we’d be able to push forward and come up with a site fix anyway. The problem with nailing down our Brand was that we never brought in an outside perspective to come in and consolidate everything we’ve been saying about ourselves for years. We also hadn’t really asked our clients their thoughts on “our brand” either. We’re so busy talking about their brands, their work, their goals, that we never really spent time formalizing our own. And then came the sprint! We finally asked all these questions, we had to WRITE STUFF DOWN, list our strengths, values, skill sets, everything. Where did we want to be in 5 years? What kind of new clients do we want? What kind of new work do we want? Maybe we want the same work, but blonde? Who knows!? We had to explain what we really meant when we said “full funnel digital advertising agency” – and it turns out we meant a lot.
The sprint ended up being very successful in terms of insight. We figured out a lot about ourselves as a company. The final output wasn’t a new website, but the decision to spend more time on The Brand before we move forward with any collateral that would convey that Brand.
#4: Agency branding is delicate and mutli-faceted. So I’m on the Creative team, and I really care about all things design and content. But PMG is a heavyweight in the Data Innovation and Technology fields. Does that mean we have to focus every part of our branding to communicate Data and Tech? Not at all! I was happy to figure this out. Our brand can totally focus on its strengths while nurturing what makes it different. The fact that our Data and Tech departments work alongside our Creative team says a lot for us as a nimble, capable agency. I’m sure more on that will come out of our work with a branding consultant, and I can’t wait.
#5: Treat your brand like a client. This is the biggest takeaway I’ve gleaned from working on our agency brand. Building a brand takes time and serious effort. As a young agency with a growing client list, we haven’t been in the business of carving out a lot of time for ourselves. We’re stoked to ramp up new projects for our clients, pitch new creative ideas, and place ourselves in new arenas for exciting work. However, that leaves little time for internal PMG creative work. The only way we made serious progress on our own website was wiping our calendars clean for a week for that infamous website sprint. And then we figured out that we’re not even close to being done. We need even more time for the Brand!
We still have a lot of really exciting and fun work to do on the PMG brand. A lot more discovery and decisions around our future as a company and our voice in the advertising space. For instance, maybe one of the higher-ups is going to realize Beyoncé references are totally off-brand and ban me from ever using one in a blog post again. That would be unwise, but the point is that we’re growing as an agency. And with that comes the opportunity to shape a community we all want to be a part of for awhile, a company that others in the industry want to work alongside. Creating that voice can be a tall order, one that I’ll be documenting along the way. So keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 after we’ve worked with our branding consultant! Now it’s time to squeeze into that wetsuit and rip tide on the half pipe! (Yes, that’s a metaphor for tackling agency branding. And yes, I DID watch Blue Crush last night.)