Event Recap: The Emotional Side of a Rebrand

AIGA Santa Barbara traveled to San Luis Obispo last week, returning for the first time since our visit last fall. This time, we checked in to the tucked-away-yet-spacious HQ of Verdin, where VP of Client Services Ashlee Akers and Art Director Megan Condict discussed the emotional challenges tied to rebranding. Verdin recently went through their own rebrand, and that informed a presentation that emphasized communication, empathy and compassion for the experience of change.

Ashlee and Megan began with what initially seemed like a casual icebreaker skit: designer as therapist to a rebranding client on the couch. However, their characters soon revealed the pitfalls of incomplete communication when their branding preference descriptions (earthy, bold, modern) didn’t necessarily mean the same thing to both people. Verdin designers Jenae Walters and Karyn Savory illustrated this by hovering to the side of both presenters, holding up contradictory thought bubble illustrations for each interpretation.

Megan followed the skit with a debriefing that revealed the lesson: good communication is regular communication. While that may seem obvious, assumptions don’t need a lot of fuel to become counterproductive. The client may like your work but feel overwhelmed by change or they may not feel positive about the work but don’t know why. Megan reminded us to avoid misinterpretation by being observant: listening, reading body language, and trusting your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, ask questions to clarify. Go over the goals and reasons for rebranding, revisit the creative brief, review the process.


Ashlee then filtered that through three (very general) client types illustrated by fictional TV characters: Olivia Pope (the micro-managing multi-tasker from “Scandal”), Leslie Knope (the overachieving people-pleaser from “Parks & Recreation”), and Roger Sterling (the laissez-faire, barely-there executive from “Mad Men”). A rebrand’s value will mean different things to different clients, so it should be conveyed according to what the client feels is on the line: money, perception, reputation, or whatever the old brand’s problems are that need solving.

Finally, Megan and Ashlee led the audience through an identity exercise to demonstrate the consequences of reducing a brand to a handful of characteristics, because even the most thorough discovery process may not show how much a client’s previous brand means to them. Attendees paired up and attempted, in five minutes, to reduce each others’ personalities into a doodled caricature based on three traits. The often spastic results of this exercise showed that a brand’s identity is often wrapped up in a complex history—its trials, successes, and failures—so it should be treated respectfully.

The following Q&A session touched on when to rebrand at all (don’t do it if it won’t solve the problem or will blunt momentum), how to roll out a new brand (the presenters favored a gradual rollout over drastic change, but each case is different), combatting a client’s fear (identifying pain points and laying groundwork early), and getting staff buy-in (throw a goodbye party for the old brand or for the new one’s rollout, revealing the change with pomp and swag).

AIGA SB thanks Ashlee Akers and Megan Condict for their wisdom, Verdin Operations Manager Michelle Starnes for making it all run smoothly, and the entire Verdin crew for welcoming us to their firm. Thanks to event sponsor V3 for the great printed promotions, and to our attendees from Cal Poly and the local creative community. Last but certainly not least, thanks to AIGA SB board member and SLO liaison Rachell Newburn, who once again spearheaded the entire event to make it happen and make it great.

Rock Star Gig Rating: On a scale of “zero” to “insane,” this show was like driving to your favorite out-of-town venue and seeing a nuanced display of virtuosity, punctuated by the occasional war story, with everyone ending up on stage by the end.

Photography by Keir DuBois & Verdin.

By Keir DuBois
Published March 13, 2016
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