The Wellmark brand refresh: more than just a paint job

Candice O'Sullivan
September 19, 2012

There is nothing more paralysing for a brand strategist than being asked to lead your own agency’s brand refresh. I immediately foresaw all my tweets in the near future ending with the hashtag #yourownworstclient.

Not that I wasn’t excited by the proposition. All I needed to do for motivation was to imagine myself answering the office phone; let’s be frank, Wellmark is a whole lot easier to say than WellmarkPerspexa, and not having to tell people that we didn’t sell perspex was going to be a huge bonus. But like anyone who has been through a merger and come out the other side a bigger, better, bolder entity, what excited me most was the opportunity to tell everybody about the company we had become. More about that later. First, let’s talk process, because the process (done well, of course) is what delivers the insights that inform and excite.

The human body, like the best-performing brands, is incredibly receptive, incredibly responsive and, luckily for us, incredibly resilient. Just like an astute brand manager constantly scans the environment to understand what market forces are at play on his/her product offering, the human body relies on a set of exquisite biofeedback systems to respond to stimuli in its environment. These feedback loops make minute adjustments to the way the body behaves every second of every day. It is the ultimate example of how well an entity can endure and survive when it is humble enough and clever enough to listen to its environment and adapt accordingly. Indeed, Bear Grylls – the body and the brand – may well be the ultimate example!

With that in mind, a key part of our rebrand process was to sift through all our recent client feedback to identify what our clients value most from working with us and, perhaps more importantly, why they keep coming back to work with us – after all, some of our clients have been with us for a decade. The process was illuminating. In fact, it was defining. Not in the sense that we let our clients define us; rather, that it was important to understand how our work and the way we work with our clients defined us. It was a brilliant litmus test: what are we are known for and is this how we want to be known?

Brand-defining moment #1: We felt there had to be something in the fact that we had recently won a major account on the basis that the client likened our pitch to having a warm blanket wrapped around him. Helping our clients sleep at night, secure in the knowledge that their project is in expert hands, reflects our core value proposition: to make the complex simple. When your brand or communications challenge seems too overwhelming, too complex, too big – like it did for this client – we’ll clear the path for you, help you see the big picture and put all the details in place to get you (and your audience) from A to B to Z.

Brand-defining moment #2: We are nerds. OK, so the team would prefer I use alternative descriptions such as worldly and informed and knowledgeable but ‘nerd’ really sums up the fact that we get the esoteric jargon that everybody else puts in the too-hard box. Like ‘tyrosine kinase inhibitor’ and ‘acid test ratio’ and ‘parabolic hyperbole’ … OK, so I made that last one up but you get my point. We do our best work when we’re getting our heads around niche topics, i.e. subject matter that doesn’t generally doesn’t figure in day-to-day conversation – so much so that clients frequently tell us that we make their job easier ‘as there is less briefing required’ (read: less explaining). On the other hand, we don’t spend our spare time sketching out maths equations on chalkboards or playing Klingon Boggle (fine, we’ll admit we watch The Big Bang Theory). In a way, we’re actually pretty cool. Not so cool that we drink whisky before midday (although we’d sometimes love to live out the life of our Mad Men alter egos) but cool enough to understand what it is about your highly technical product or service that will resonate at both a rational and an emotional level. Our clients appreciate this duality. There are clear benefits to working with an agency that not only understands the technical side of your selling messages, but can also express that mumbo jumbo, legalese or industry jargon thoughtfully, meaningfully and creatively – and ultimately make those difficult-to-understand concepts campaignable.

So how did these two lightbulb moments play a role in shaping our new brand identity?

Well, the warm blanket analogy really sums up our brand promise. It’s how we want all our clients to feel when they work with us. And we achieve that by making the complex simple. Our job is to bring clarity – in all its forms – to your project and your brand: from guiding you in the right direction strategically; to helping you express your brand clearly and authentically through the written word; to showing you why an apostrophe placed there, and not there, truly makes a difference; to making the most of ‘white space’ on the page/screen. So we set about designing our brand collateral to reflect this brand promise. Take our website, for example: the site navigation is simple, the design interface is clean and uncluttered, the copy is succinct and to the point.

As for having two very different but complementary sides to our personality brought to our attention, this led to the decision to include two distinct fonts in our brand’s new look and feel. The first font – the solid, structured font that features in our logo – reflects one set of brand attributes: the fact that we are capable, reliable, trusted, professional, accomplished and informed. The second font – a cursive, script font – reflects the other side of our personality: the fact that we also strive to be creative, striking in originality, clever, witty, spirited, inclusive and approachable.

And before we knew it, we had come full circle. Like all good branding exercises, once the positioning was clear, the rest was easy. Well, maybe not easy, but certainly a lot easier than it could have been. You see, our new identity was fulfilling a design principle we espouse often: that form follows function. If an entity is recognisable by its expression, it better be sure it is expressing the right things. So are we practising what we preach? We’ll let you be the judge.

By Candice O‚ÄôSullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan.

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