From MakeSense to makesense: 5 learnings from a community rebranding
Discover the story of makesense’s rebranding with a trilogy of articles: (1) the reason for the change, (2) the methodology we used (this article) and (3) the organisational best practices learnt from our fascinating collective rebranding journey (published next month)!
Article written in 2018 and eventually published in 2022 :)
Back in 2015, I had recently joined the makesense team as our Community Developer for Europe after working for some time in the branding industry.
I quickly noticed that our communication was not clear enough. I was convinced that some work on the brand identity would help us spread the true magic of this community-based organisation. I suggested it to Leila, makesense Co-Founder. After 3 minutes, she said “yes, why not! How do you start?”
As a quick aside, what is makesense?
makesense is a global and people-powered community that connects engaged citizens, passionate entrepreneurs and forward-looking organizations.
We are the catalyst so all players can make a positive impact.
Our road to success has three core components: inspire, enable and accelerate.
In the past 8 years, we have already helped 2800 projects and engaged 35000 citizens and 100 corporations.
This rebranding process has been full of learnings.
We would like to share five main learnings from our journey of going from a blue head to a cool bean.
1) Never stop explaining the objective of the rebranding
Going through a community rebranding may sound like randomly reshuffling the cards. It never should be.
A community rebranding has to serve a specific goal that should be re-explained as often as needed. It is essential to involve the members of the community in this conversation (and process!) in order to build confidence and turn it into a collective journey.
- The reason of the rebranding must be clear and known by all
In makesense’s case, our need was to bring more clarity, to support more people (citizens, entrepreneurs, organisations) in taking action on social issues and, thus, deepen our impact.
makesense’s organic growth over the years had also added layers of complexity to the organisation (blending a not-for-profit and for-profit model) which needed more simplicity, both internally and externally.
- Don’t do it alone, surround yourself with supporters
When the idea of working on the brand had emerged, other people quickly joined the movement and encouraged the change (both from the community and the employee team). These people started to get involved because they could see the future benefit of such a change.
Their role was absolutely essential as they started to spread the word to the rest of the community and within the team. They reassured people, while actively listening to everyone’s concerns. Together, as “rebranding ambassadors,” we could discuss the main points of concerns and address them. Even though this team of rebranding ambassadors evolved with time, we were always vigilant to have a diverse group that could represent the entire team.
- You will (surely) face resistance to change.
The first challenge we faced within makesense was the attachment to the original brand and mostly to its symbol: the blue heads.
These blue heads were designed by Agathe, a member of the community. They encapsulated the core DNA of the community: a playful symbol, that anyone in the community could hack to have their own avatar.
Considering that a rebranding would mean saying goodbye to the blue heads, it caused some resistance and distrust (even though many people were aware that this blue head branding wasn’t doing a great job of highlighting our vision and mission.)
It was by reminding everyone of the “why” behind the rebranding process that the move happened smoothly. People at first only knew what they were about to lose but not what they were going to gain. Trust your intuition. Trust others. Help others trust you.
2) A brand isn’t just a logo. Hence, a rebranding will encourage you to explore your brand’s purpose.
Setting out to revamp your visual identity will also involve exploring your brand DNA.
- We used a very simple analogy to explain the depth of our rebranding work.
You can consider a brand as a human: the heart and the brain compose the brand platform (mission, vision, purpose), the shape of the body is the brand architecture (promises per audience), the clothes worn are the visual identity (the logo, graphic charter, symbols etc.). As a result, you cannot think of just the outward appearance (the logo) without taking into account your DNA.
- Clarifying your purpose
Who are we? Why do we exist? Where do we want to go? What are our core values? The answers to these question often evolve over time.
When we started this work on a new makesense brand identity, we were able observe different visions within the team.
The pro bono support offered by the Merlin Agency in 2016 helped to tickle everyone’s curiosity and was also helpful in pointing out some misalignment amongst us. How could we clarify our offers and ambitions to the world without even being clear about our own vision?
Our organization eventually decided that this brand project had become strategic and unlocked a specific budget to hire a branding agency.
- Building your brand platform
After defining a clear brief and organizing a competition, we chose to collaborate with the agency SoixanteSeize.
Their approach was clearly defined:
1- consolidating the brand platform thanks to a two-day workshop with different stakeholders of makesense (employees, volunteers, social entrepreneurs, partners)
2- redefining the creative brief (using the core elements of the brand platform and the results of the workshop)
3- developing a visual identity
3) Involve your community ambassadors as the main protagonists of the rebranding
makesense defines a community as “a group of people united by shared visions or circumstances and which takes collective action to achieve a common goal.”
At the core of this concept are the people and their sense of ownership of the community.
Rebranding a community will always need to involve the community itself, from the start of the project to the public launch of the brand.
- Starting off right from day 1
From the first week starting the identity work, we opened the discussion and got the community involved by organizing workshops (and provided a toolkit so they could organize workshops everywhere). In the first workshop, we asked about the values, emotions and experiences conveyed by the brand.
From day one, we also informed our board, composed of representatives of the employees and the community.
- Testing your concept with your community
A key element of our brief to the agency Soixante Seize was to develop a playful and hackable brand concept. As explained, the blue heads were designed by a community member and, since the day they appeared, the makesense community had never stop hacking and adapting the blue heads.
When the agency introduced us to a concept that caught our attention, we decided to organize a “Fight Club”: a secret gathering at the agency’s office, where some community members could discover the brand concept, play with the graphic charter, and hack it the way they wanted. The objective was simple: we would know if the community was having fun. It was indeed a success.
- Building your brand release as a community momentum
Following the Fight Club, we were reassured to see some representatives of the community starting to get hooked by the concept and (secretly) mentioning the new identity.
We then organized our brand launch using our best community building practices.
We created a private facebook group that gathered our most active members and planned a first reveal to this core team of ambassadors on February 28th.
Dozens connected from all over the world, from Peru to the Philippines, to listen to Leila and I explain the whole branding process and present the results! We were so happy and relieved to see and read their overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic reactions. We announced that the official global public launch would happen on March 22nd. Following this call, we provided the community with toolkits to organise their own events and to get ready for the rebranding. Among these tools were new Facebook banners, Facebook profile picture frames, a new pitch, guidelines to organise their own party and more!
The result was beyond our expectations: different chapters organized local events to celebrate makesense in their cities and we observed a wave of cool beans on the internet!
4) It’s an iterative process
Even more than a usual rebranding, the ultimate objective of a community rebranding is to stay as true to the community DNA to possible.
Taking some baby steps, iterating and taking time to get everyone on the same page will surely save more time and energy than doing one big jump!
- Zoom in, zoom out
Before building our brand platform with SoixanteSeize, we had already started to explore our vision, purpose and mission on our own simply by digging in our DNA.
During the summer of 2016, Leila had read about a book chapter presenting a case study from IBM’s rebranding in 2002. After going through deep business changes, the identity of the company was no longer clear both inside and outside ofthe company. Before looking for the perfect new slogan or tagline, they worked on a 5-page essay exercise to sharpen their thoughts. It was in fact somebody from the outside the company who wrote it, but who knew IBM very well and had great writing skills. This 5-page essay later led to the famous “Smarter Planet.”
We decided to give it a try and did the same exercise for makesense. We asked a volunteer from the early days, Julie, to write an essay about makesense.
This exercise genuinely helped highlight some of the core elements of makesense’s DNA (learning process, open environment/playground, journey, enthusiasm etc.) which appear in our brand concept today. This exercise also saved a lot of time of research from the agency.
- You may not know what are the exact next steps
Why did it take so long for us to hire an agency? It took us time to be able to write a proper brief with a complete and precise list of needs.
We surrounded ourselves with people who knew about the topic. As we did not have budget for this project at first, we looked for pro bono help. It did not bring the results we expected but each time helped us to question ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and identify our next step. We are very grateful to these agencies.
5) Build a steady client-agency relationship
- A relationship built on mutual trust
Following the support offered by Merlin and the essay about makesense, the work on our identity had already been going on for a year, and it was clear for everyone that we needed some professional support. We were not in a hurry, but we had to set a good pace.
As makesense, we know what we do, as SoixanteSeize, they knew how to lead us through a strategic process that would end in a visual outcome. At that time, we had no clue what the visual result would be and felt safe and in good hands with their approach. SoixanteSeize also showed some real interest in the makesense project, but without over-admiring us or forgetting to challenge us, too. On our side, we were transparent about our internal decision processes, the challenges we were facing internally and regularly reminding them about our values, objectives and constraints.
- Do not forget Pareto’s Law, be picky!
We chose the agency in September, ran the strategic workshop in October and discovered the first brand concepts in November. The deadlines were tight as we had planned to launch the new brand in February or March at the latest (there are many other projects in the pipeline, amongst them the makesense festival on April 14th in Paris).
From November on, we started a huge back-and-forth process, starting by learning how to share constructive feedback on visual elements. The agency accepted straight away to organize our crash-test evening (the makesense Fight Club) with the community.
When seeing that this rebranding work was coming to an end (after more than 2 years), we had to pay attention to all details on deliverables. We always questioned how the community or the employees would use the content of the brand book. We decided to built toolkits, for each audience, to help members of the community and employees understand the changes and easily embrace them! These communication toolkits were done with the great help of the branding brothers, Avner and Ruben Uzan.
When you get closer to the deadline after months of work, there is a risk to drop your guard as most of the work as been done. Our last deliverable was the brand manifesto video. We were extremely picky with each and every image chosen for our new brand manifesto video.