A simple paint-by-numbers guide to changing absolutely everything about your business identity
At the end of 2022, ACM sent its last email. Its last Instagram post. Its last newsletter. ACM was gone.
For the last six months, we’ve been repositioning, redesigning, reheating (cups of coffee), and rebranding every element of our brand identity, leaving behind a ‘well-used’ logo, tone of voice, website, social media approach, and more, to start 2023 with a bold new visual direction, statement of intent, and awareness of what we’re capable of.
Leading from the front has been Mark Rosenberg, ACM’s Head of Strategy and Creative, who’s taken the process’s positives, negatives, highs, lows, and 2am pangs of inspiration to scribble down an eight-step plan to rebranding your very own company.
For those about to redesign, we salute you.
1. ASK YOURSELF: ARE WE READY FOR THIS?
You better get this right, because a YES will kickstart the biggest, most creative, most draining but rewarding internal project of your professional career.
On an aesthetic level, our ACM branding hadn’t been updated for knocking on 20 years. But that reasoning alone wasn’t enough for us to take the plunge.
The true reason was simple: we’re not what we once were. Back when we started, we were little more than a local PR and copywriting shop (albeit a very decent one) with more snowboards in the ‘office’ than staff members. Now, ACM is a progressive, innovative, fully integrated agency, and the only one that can communicate to, and on behalf of, the outdoor and action sports cultures with authenticity. We excel at genuine storytelling. We piece together sell-out events. We amplify brand heritage and legacy. We nail multichannel campaigns. We go further to realise our creative direction (and have the passport stamps to prove it). We’re a collection of outdoor enthusiasts and experts, and form one of the best places to work in all of Europe. Sure, we still do PR – and do it bloody well – but we are not the PR agency you thought we were. It’s high time we made sure everyone knows it. And to get there, we needed to get all that into one set of design assets. Yeah, sure, no problem.
2. TAKE A LOOK AROUND
There’s a simplified definition of adaptive creativity – thinking that makes a scenario better – that I like: when existing solutions, products, or techniques collide with new scenarios or changed conditions (or in our case, a dire need for a rebrand). Basically, we had to start by finding those existing solutions and products, and working with them.
Weeks of local competitor analysis showed us that, despite our growth, we definitely still own our unique outdoor culture niche in the industry, and that our leap forward in strategic campaigns, services, and productions has helped us outgrow most of the UK agencies we once thought of as pitch opponents. The work we’ve done and our capabilities are now aligned with the high-rolling agencies of the global premier leagues.
TL;DR: ACM is ready to take on the world.
Once we’d spied on the UK agencies we respect, we took a look overseas, to the likes of Kamp Grizzly, Monster Children, Nemo, and Mojo Supermarket, to name a few (cheers guys, we owe you a beer). Finally, we landed on some conclusions, including:
- You can’t fake an authentic understanding of a culture – the very best agencies practise what they preach.
- A good agency doesn’t rely on wafty marketing jargon to show its success. A great one avoids it at all costs.
- Creativity is king when you need to stand out in the sea of sameness.
- Behind every great campaign is an airtight strategy.
- Take off those rose-tinted glasses before looking at the über cool agencies. Yep, we were impressed by the boldness and confidence of their minimalist websites, but really, when it comes to finding what you need, they’re a pain in the ass. Most clients want more than a pretty Instagram page.
- You need the confidence to shout about yourself, what you’ve done, what you can do, and who you are. We work as hard as we play. We’re creative nerds. We’re enthusiastic (seasoned, in places) lovers of the outdoors, driven to make our wild playgrounds accessible to everyone, but we’re not gatekeepers – something a lot of agencies appear to be.
“We’d gone full CIA forensics on ourselves, and the results would inform every creative decision that we were about to make.”
3. PREPARE FOR YOUR FIRST FREAKOUT
It’s right here that reality hit: two incredible founders with [censored] years of agency and outdoors experience have entrusted me to totally change everything about the company they started from scratch. It’s a huge part of why they hired me, and I wanted to prove they made the right decision.
It’s here that the opinions started arriving, too. We collaborate as a whole team when it comes to creativity – every voice gets heard, regardless of job title. Strong perceptions of ACM’s identity, future positioning, and how we needed to get there came flooding in. And as amazing, important, and useful as everyone’s input was, getting it into some sort of order showed me the many boxes I needed to tick.
4. CHECK YOURSELF
With the opinions and rational debates sieved through a “does this tie back to our reason to rebrand” filter, and full of the same intuition and confidence that’s helped us grow to the ACM we are today, it was time to go. Go back to marketing school, that is.
To bring our focus into sniper shape, we conducted SWOT analysis; located our priorities in a growth matrix; got our 4Cs in order; had a bunch of heated (and healthy) debates; threw some workshops together; and got valued input from clients. We took what we’d learned from our previous roles at global agencies and fed that into what an evolved ACM should look like while retaining our reputation for cultural knowledge.
We turned back to the team to galvanise what we stand for, both for our clients and as an internal culture. This is where we (eventually) landed on our new overarching mission statement, and inspiration for our design directions: “Take Action To Inspire”.
We’d gone full CIA forensics on ourselves, and the results would inform every creative decision that we were about to make.
5. CALL IN THE TROOPS
As you’ll have gathered by now, we massively value and rely on the input of our entire team. Our stringent recruitment process means one thing – everyone here knows their shit. We’ve got experts in all the cultures we represent, and all the corners of agency creativity. Everyone brings a unique perspective and experience.
The team were to be the judge, jury, and executioner for me, as well as Chris and Daniele – the copywriting and design duo that has been transforming ACM’s output since mid 2022. They couldn’t be more different – one a globe-trotting Italian king of kerning, philosopher of Photoshop, and legend of layouts; and the other a long-haired Cornwall-dwelling writer borne from the biggest lifestyle magazines and outdoor brands in the world – yet complement each other and work together perfectly (some of the ‘inspirational’ references they share in their chats, though, are… out there. The Mr. Bean intro sequence was a particular surprise). They’re two master craftsmen with a deep knowledge of creativity and our cultures, and the team we needed to bring this beast together.
6. HAVE ANOTHER LITTLE FREAKOUT
After sending Daniele and Chris away to conjure up four design options and a new tone of voice bible, and proudly presenting them to the team, we thought we’d nailed it with one of our directions. Job done. Well done everyone, let’s get some sleep. Only, the next day, the important ‘wow!’ factor had dissipated, and the realisation that we had a “try that again” – albeit one with a tonne of useful feedback – was a gut punch. But we knew we couldn’t be creatively satisfied until everyone was buzzing. So we went on. We took our new learnings – go bolder, get braver – and ran with them.
“Everyone, inside and outside of the company, was pumped. We’d captured the ‘Take Action To Inspire’ mantra. We’d actually done it.”
7. GET IT RIGHT
We went back to the Pinterest boards, and onwards with even wilder references from even more unexpected places – 1990s rave posters, dog-eared catalogues, fashion magazines. You’ll be getting a look at Daniele’s references in a future newsletter, so stay tuned for that madness.
We really value a work-life-play balance at ACM, but sometimes inspiration strikes at 2am and you need to fill your iPhone Notes with mad ideas that, in the light of day, read like someone sneezed Scrabble letters onto your screen. It’s a sleep pattern that made our timesheets during the process interesting, to say the least.
Worth it, though, because eventually, we got there. We found a format that is easily adaptable and malleable to every medium and platform we work with; a design that incorporates a subtle printed layer to nod to our heritage, as well as a modern grid system layout that looks towards our future; a bright and brave colour palette inspired by our outdoor playgrounds; and a bold approach to contrast and use of space to make our content shine. Our fonts are one of my favourite bits, though. Daniele nailed it with a custom version of Big Shoulders Display that creatively amplifies our voices without sounding aggressive, and that works perfectly with Space Mono, which sets the pace for our forward-thinking storytelling.
Everyone, inside and outside of the company, was pumped. We’d captured the “Take Action To Inspire” mantra. We’d actually done it.
8. GET IT OUT THERE
Right now we’re in the rollout phase, changing every element of the ACM identity to our new refreshed branding. We’re tinkering, tailoring, teasing, posting, and hype reeling (more on this very soon), and we’re doing it all with immense pride. We’re constantly stumbling across the old logo in places we’ve not seen in years, and scrambling to find login details that’ll let us get in there and blast it from our browsers. Our temporary holding page gives a sneak peek at our facelift, an interim place to show off our work while the full site gets the refresh it sorely needs. There’s a tonne more to come. We’re just getting started. And we’re absolutely buzzing.