Founder-led, conversation first

Why a branding project should always start with a conversation

Branding for founders

Founder-led companies and strong branding are natural bedfellows. With a compelling origin story, you could say that when it comes to branding, they’re ahead of the curve. Creative, driven to succeed and often the preferred choice of investors – founders are, after all, the ones who spotted an opportunity, a gap in the market, and worked relentlessly to make it a reality.

But founders also operate under a whole heap of pressures – not least that the buck starts and stops with them.

Business and brand evolution go hand-in-hand

Having lived through and survived the early years, they’ve watched their business grow, evolve and develop. That original inspiration probably remains intact but, as you’d expect, how the offering and its position in the world is being communicated, may be starting to unravel at the seams.

Like a favourite suit, the branding is beginning to feel a little baggy in the knees. The founder recognises that it’s time for a refresh or rebrand but can’t help but hesitate and waver: The brand and business are as one – their precious baby. How can they ever be sure that any change stays true to that original vision and values? How will involving the team that has grown around them play out?

Pandora’s Box or Golden Fleece?

Thinking it might be time for a rebrand can also feel exciting. Like any change it’s a step into the unknown – will the process open a Pandora’s Box or unearth the Golden Fleece? There’s always the danger that it could veer off course, prove distracting and not deliver the right end-result.

In most instances, branding is not the founder’s ‘thing’ and they’re well aware that strategic change is complex. So how can they, and indeed, anyone looking for a rebrand, set the parameters for change and make a strong start?

How can you ensure you step in feeling confident and assured?

The benefits of getting the foundations right

Bringing in external, expert help doesn’t have to feel like an invasion. By kicking off every branding project with a structured one-to-one conversation (or, if needs be, a series of one-to-ones) you will:

  • Gain an understanding of the process – there’ll be no surprises, you’ll trust the method
  • Get an objective point of view to sense check your gut instinct
  • Stay in control
  • Be able to use it as an opportunity to discuss your hopes, your vision for the future and try different possible outcomes on for size
  • Become an advocate for the change – able to set the tone from the start, heading off any team sceptics and staying on track.

Things can still move fast, in fact quite possibly faster, but it will be sure-footed speed that brings the internal team and the brand partner team together, preventing false starts and delays further down the line.

What Brand Foundation 1:1 offers

At The Co-Foundry we call this one-to-one conversation, Brand Foundation 1:1. It’s baked in at the start of every branding and rebranding project, and typically covers the following:

  • An open discussion of plans for the future – what’s going right in the business and what needs to be worked on
  • Recommendations from the brand design consultant on the way forward, including initial research and the sort of exercises they suggest for the team workshops
  • Decisions on who best to involve in the project including discussing the characters in the room and any sensitive issues, to ensure that facilitation is effective and enjoyable for everyone involved.
1:1 Brand Foundation

Clarity and confidence

Sometimes the one-to-one can act as a sense check or an opportunity for the founder to gain personal clarity. Is rebranding the best thing for the business at this time? Experienced brand design consultants should be able to ascertain whether what’s needed is a tweak, an extension, a full rebrand or a ‘leave well alone’. It may be that the visual brand is strong but it’s just the tone of voice and messaging – the verbal identity – that needs work.

Whatever form the one-to-one, or series of one-to-ones, take the end result is clarity – from having a much clearer brief, to confidence in the decisions being taken and the way they’re communicated.

I think it’s quite an unusual proposition that you can, as a business owner, speak to another business owner, who’s also a branding expert.

(Jo Haywood, Founder, Skylark Media)

Why top-down advocacy matters

Those branding projects that prove the most successful have senior leadership invested and on board from the start:

When the CEO guards the brand and the core idea it stands for, and cherishes it, the rest of the organisation follows.

(Wally Olins, Wolf Olins)

Branding is, after all, an investment that’s made only every so often and taking time to get those early pre-project steps right, goes a long way to creating a smooth journey and first-class outcome.

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