Building a brand: Part 1, Understanding

I am lucky enough to be part of a team looking to rebrand the UK Labs (though it is closer to building a brand for the UK Labs - having never had much love, its getting some attention now).

Having run a workshop with some of the key stakeholders in order to define the problem we are facing a little more, there were a couple of things that came out of it which are worth talking about.


Stakeholder: The external dev community

It was interesting to note how the people we had in the room all considered the external development community (outside of IBM) to be a key player in how we should be pitching our Labs to internal IBM'ers as well. It was raised that if you walk round Shoreditch or anywhere cool we should be competing with the companies there when it comes to a development image. I think this is especially important when we consider new hires and millenials coming into the company in the next few years - who wants to work for a company who is seen as being "uncool" any more...well not many people, certainly not the best people who we would be looking to hire.

Stakeholder: The potential hire (or new graduate hire)

Which leads quite nicely onto the second stakeholder I wanted to pull out: The potential hire

Its difficult to fully comprehend how different young people (eg Millenials) at this stage are to the lifers that have previously come into corporations like IBM, and it is difficult for those not in that age bracket to empathise too.

Young employees see themselves working with a company rather than for a company.

What does that mean in practice? More attrition, more desire to succeed and the need for more freedom in the workplace. Also speaking from a little personal experience, its unbelievable how a company's image can effect who applies for a job there. Young people want to move around and try new things - accept it, embrace it and move on.

Back down to branding for a moment, lets take a recent example: The MIT Media Lab

What should branding (not a brand) do?

It should be flexible.

It should invoke emotion.

It should be clever.

It should be creative.

The Media Lab nailed the flexible part:

Inside their umbrella organisation, they have a collection of research groups, each gets their own wordmark:

Invoke emotion? I feel like they could have gone one step further here. How do you do that, make everyone feel special:

Whilst they have business cards, why not incorporate each groups mark into them in some way. Make each research group feel like a separate entity.

Clever? Sure, when you're Pentagram then feel free to build a custom algorithm that will generate enough versions of a letter that it will fit with something else no matter what:

It should be creative? Well I want some of their tape on my next shipping crate:

Now to us...

So the question now is how do we do the same thing?

The first push for me is flexibility and scale. Building a workmark is easy, but getting it to scale across a collection of UK Labs, campaigns and ephemera, is in my mind where we should start. Next is the emotional involvement - we need our community to buy into the design, get them feeling like they're part of a family (just a slightly competitive family) get them to feel like they own the brand as much as the next IBMer. Thats no easy task however.

The first concept:

The idea that every Lab has its own brand to rally around is central to this proposition. Making it clever too. If you know morse can read the hidden text, make our users feel special and they will want to know more. Can this scale across different medias/sizes and places? I believe so. How fun would it be to say you work in a lab and on the back of your all black business card is the 3/4 layers of dots?



How does it work with different medias? Lets give it a try:


Also making it work with limited colours was key. We can more or less guarantee that the wordmark we finalise will be printed on a 20 year old black and white laser printer, so lets design for that now.


This is a first iteration, so lets see where it goes :)