AEC Rebranding Murraysmith Case Story

Af­ter speak­ing at the SMPS Pa­cif­ic Re­gion­al Con­fer­ence in Port­land, Iri­na ap­proach­es me say­ing, “I read your ar­ti­cle on AEC re­brand­ing in the PSMJ Newslet­ter.” Up­on hand­ing me her busi­ness card, she con­fess­es, “I know, we need your help.” Irina’s card reads Mar­ket­ing Man­ag­er at Mur­ray, Smith & As­so­ciates, Inc. (aka MSA) an 8-of­fice, 120-per­son civ­il en­gi­neer­ing firm lo­cat­ed in Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, and Idaho.

MSA business card before rebranding

While Irina’s Mar­ket­ing De­part­ment un­der­stands the val­ue and need for brand­ing, many of the firm own­ers are re­luc­tant to in­vest in a re­brand when “busi­ness is good, why should we change?” Plus, an at­tempt at DIY re­brand­ing, and hir­ing a con­sul­tant un­fa­mil­iar with A/​E/​C mar­ket­ing, had both failed.

To help the own­ers make an in­formed de­ci­sion on whether or not to re­brand, I pro­pose they com­mit on­ly to a Dis­cov­ery Phase. This phase in­cludes a re­view of their strate­gic plan, a brand au­dit rat­ing 75 brand touch­points, per­son­al in­ter­views with re­cent hires, and a com­pet­i­tive au­dit. The main de­liv­er­able is a Find­ings & Rec­om­men­da­tions Re­port. Here is my discovery:

The Challenge

The use of two brand names, MSA and Mur­ray, Smith & As­so­ciates, Inc. con­fus­es those un­fa­mil­iar with the firm. The acronym MSA is gener­ic, lost among AEC firm al­pha­bet soup names. With no Mur­ray, Smith, or As­so­ciates at the firm, this name doesn’t re­flect where the firm is head­ed. In short, two names and both are weak.

MSA logos before rebrand

In­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal feed­back re­veal a brand iden­ti­ty that has gone stale. Com­pound­ing the prob­lem are the in­con­sis­tent ver­sions of the lo­go (see above). The hor­i­zon­tal lines be­hind MSA in the lo­go are prob­lem­at­ic at small sizes and when re­versed out (white on dark backgrounds).

Old MSA Website

The on­ly thing that every­one at MSA agrees up­on is that the web­site is ter­ri­bly out­dat­ed (see above). The com­pet­i­tive au­dit (see be­low) re­veals how much the site lacks in terms of mod­ern web­site attributes.

AEC Firm Website Features

A re­cent hire shares, “If I were choos­ing a firm sole­ly based on their web­site, I would nev­er work here.”

I fly to Port­land to share the Find­ings & Rec­om­men­da­tions and Why Brand­ing Mat­ters in a pre­sen­ta­tion to the own­ers. The room is filled with most­ly smiles and heads nod­ding in agree­ment, but there are a few own­ers with fold­ed arms still re­luc­tant to move for­ward. The pro­pos­al to re­brand is ul­ti­mate­ly ap­proved, but for a nov­el rea­son. MSA’s ra­tio­nale for re­brand­ing is not to at­tract new clients, but specif­i­cal­ly to at­tract and re­tain tal­ent. I share that the two are not mu­tu­al­ly ex­clu­sive and that the work we do to at­tract and re­tain tal­ent will al­so ben­e­fit mar­ket­ing and busi­ness development.

Rebranding Internal Launch

The Solutions

Strat­e­gy First

Brand StrategyA strong brand is root­ed in sol­id brand strat­e­gy. This means hav­ing well-ar­tic­u­lat­ed Pur­pose, Vi­sion, Core Val­ues and Po­si­tion­ing statements.

The fol­low­ing al­ready ex­ists from MSA’s work in the book Trac­tion, by Gi­no Wickman:
Pur­pose – Cre­at­ing In­fra­struc­ture So­lu­tions to Help Com­mu­ni­ties Prosper
Vi­sion – grow 10% per year to 250 by 2025

To de­vel­op Core Val­ues and Po­si­tion­ing, I lead a half-day work­shop with the new­ly formed brand­ing com­mit­tee. Par­tic­i­pants ar­rive at the work­shop with pre­vi­ous­ly as­signed home­work com­plete. I ex­plain that a po­si­tion­ing state­ment should de­fine what you do, who for, how you are unique and how this ben­e­fits your tar­get au­di­ence. We de­vel­op a long list of unique at­trib­ut­es and en­gage in group pri­or­i­ti­za­tion ex­er­cis­es to nar­row to the top three shown here:

Just the Right Size
We are large enough to em­ploy di­verse tal­ent to solve your biggest chal­lenges, yet small enough to gen­uine­ly care.

We Keep Great Company
Our peo­ple are like su­per glue. They tend to stick around awhile. And that’s some strong stuff, which means you get a strong team. We take care of our peo­ple so they can take care of you.

We’re In­vest­ed
We are per­son­al­ly in­vest­ed in your suc­cess – for the long term. Not just for your next project. As your projects and chal­lenges evolve, we’ll still be by your side. As an ex­ten­sion of your staff, we’ll work to­geth­er to help our com­mu­ni­ty prosper.

From these three uniques, we de­vel­op the fol­low­ing po­si­tion­ing state­ment as seen on the home page of our new website.

Murraysmith brand positioning statement

Core Val­ues
Our work­shop yields sev­en Core Val­ues that we lat­er ex­pand up­on and man­i­fest as a faux craft beer coast­er for each of the sev­en Core Val­ues. Why craft beer coast­ers? We draw from Just the Right Size, Our Work Goes on the Fridge (Ob­ses­sion with Qual­i­ty) and fo­cus on the North­west. Each of the sev­en Core Val­ues is let­ter­press print­ed (a craft print­ing tech­nique) with the val­ue on the front, and more de­tail about what the value’s mean­ing on the back. To give each val­ue the grav­i­tas it de­serves, and to cre­ate a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion, we rec­om­mend the dis­tri­b­u­tion of one new Core Val­ue coast­er to each em­ploy­ee for sev­en con­sec­u­tive weeks.

AEC Firm Core ValuesWe Make it Hap­pen (Ser­vice)
We In­vest in Us (Im­prove­ment)
Our Work Goes On The ‘Fridge (Qual­i­ty)
Mul­ti­ple Minds > 1 (Col­lab­o­ra­tion)
Work That Works For You (Flex­i­bil­i­ty)
We En­gi­neer Fun (Fun)
We Give a $#!T (Pas­sion)

AEC Firm Core Values AEC Firm Core Values

Brand Per­son­al­i­ty
Be­fore de­vel­op­ing a new firm name and lo­go, we es­tab­lish brand per­son­al­i­ty at­trib­ut­es. These con­straints, along with the brand strat­e­gy, help us ed­it from many op­tions to a few fi­nal­ists. All fu­ture mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion should em­brace at least one, if not sev­er­al of the fol­low­ing brand per­son­al­i­ty at­trib­ut­es. If MSA were a per­son, she would be de­scribed as:


We present over 75 pos­si­ble new firm name op­tions and re­fine to sev­en se­mi-fi­nal­ists. Af­ter a loose trade­mark and URL avail­abil­i­ty search, we whit­tle down to four fi­nal­ists. Ul­ti­mate­ly, with new brand po­si­tion­ing, core val­ues, lo­go, and web­site, the own­ers are not com­fort­able with an en­tire­ly new name at this time. So we pro­pose re­tir­ing MSA and Mur­ray, Smith & As­so­ciates, Inc. in fa­vor of Mur­ray­smith (one word, one com­pa­ny, cap­i­tal ‘M,’ low­er­case ’s’). With the at­ten­tion to qual­i­ty and right size, Mur­ray­smith can be con­sid­ered craft en­gi­neers. The -smith suf­fix sug­gests be­ing thought­ful mak­ers. Much like the hon­ored tra­di­tion of a Black­smith, Gold­smith, or Ale­smith, they are now Mur­ray­smith. While Mur­ray­smith will typ­i­cal­ly be used as a noun (the name of the firm), it can al­so be used as a verb. As in, “Mur­ray­smith that curb de­tail be­cause our works goes on the ‘fridge.”

AEC Firm Naming - Murraysmith

We be­gin sketch­ing rough lo­go ideas, which get drawn dig­i­tal­ly in Adobe Il­lus­tra­tor, then re­fined, and pre­sent­ed as 7 ex­plo­rations in grayscale. Based on feed­back, we re­fine three fi­nal­ists in col­or and show what the lo­go might look like on a busi­ness card.

Rough Lo­go Ideas

logo exploration Murraysmith

Re­fined Logos

Murraysmith logo semi-finalists

Lo­go Fi­nal­ist #1 (be­low) in Col­or and Application

Murraysmith logo finalist

Lo­go Fi­nal­ist #2 (be­low) in Col­or and Application

Murraysmith logo finalist

Lo­go Fi­nal­ist #3 (be­low) in Col­or and Application

Murraysmith logo finalist

The fi­nal lo­go de­sign evolves from pri­or­i­tized as­pects of the Core Val­ues, Po­si­tion­ing State­ment, and Brand Per­son­al­i­ty at­trib­ut­es. For ex­am­ple, We Make It Hap­pen, is rep­re­sent­ed by the for­ward mov­ing ar­row shape and right-lean­ing word­mark. With a fo­cus on the North­west, the green “pin” with­in the ar­row points to the north­west cor­ner of the Unit­ed States. Be­ing re­lat­able and sin­cere, we choose low­er­case, sans-serif ty­pog­ra­phy for the cus­tom word­mark that reads “mur­ray­smith.” To re­tain eq­ui­ty from the past, the lo­go us­es lega­cy col­ors in use for the past five years. While el­e­ments of the lo­go have mean­ing, we pur­pose­ly de­sign an over­all ab­stract sym­bol that, as Mur­ray­smith con­tin­ues to de­liv­er on their promis­es, will gain mean­ing over time.

Murraysmith rebrand before and after logo

Sta­tionery & Forms
Now the ap­proved lo­go is ready to be ap­plied to brand touch­points. We start with the busi­ness card be­cause of the chal­lenge to de­sign in such a small space. When the de­sign works as a busi­ness card, it will be suc­cess­ful on oth­er brand touch­points in­clud­ing the en­tire sta­tionery system.

AEC Firm rebranding

AEC Firm branding

All em­ploy­ees re­ceive their busi­ness cards with three dif­fer­ent backs to hon­or the Three Uniques. The cards are ef­fi­cient­ly small­er than con­ven­tion­al busi­ness cards be­cause Mur­rasymith isn’t a con­ven­tion­al firm. Up­on re­ceiv­ing the new card, a prospect, might re­mark, “that’s an in­ter­est­ing size for a busi­ness card.” Mur­ray­smith staff can then proud­ly re­ply, “ac­tu­al­ly, it’s just the right size” with a wink, while hand­ing out the ver­sion of the card with “Just The Right Size” on the back. Em­ploy­ees can then ex­plain how Mur­ray­smith is Just the “Right Size,” or “We Keep Great Com­pa­ny,” or “We’re In­vest­ed” de­pend­ing on the con­text of the pre­vi­ous con­ver­sa­tion with the per­son re­ceiv­ing your new card. If un­sure about which ver­sion to hand out, we rec­om­mend let­ting the re­cip­i­ent choose in play­ful “pick a card, any card” banter.

Brand Positioning - 3 Uniques

For sim­plic­i­ty, mem­o­ra­bil­i­ty, and con­sis­ten­cy with the new brand name, the new URL is The pre­vi­ous URL au­to­mat­i­cal­ly redi­rects users to the new URL and web­site. Go ahead, try it!

Us­ing graph­ic de­sign, col­or, and ty­pog­ra­phy the new site re­flects the new Core Val­ues, 3 Uniques, and Brand Per­son­al­i­ty. Fresh, cus­tom pho­tog­ra­phy by KLiK demon­strates that Mur­ray­smith is a fun place to work. Fea­tur­ing re­spon­sive de­sign, the site re­sponds to screen size to pro­vide an op­ti­mum user ex­pe­ri­ence on desk­top mon­i­tors, tablets, and smart phones. The main nav­i­ga­tion (top of every page) is sim­ple, with on­ly four but­tons and a pow­er­ful search fea­ture to find any­thing with­in the site. As the user scrolls down the page, the main nav­i­ga­tion “sticks” to the top of the page to avoid hav­ing to scroll up and down. The foot­er (bot­tom) of every page con­tains a Site Map list­ing all pages with­in the site to help users find ex­act­ly what they are look­ing for, and dis­cov­er some­thing new. Here are a few key fea­tures of the site, by section:

Great Com­pa­ny – Con­tains a cus­tom de­signed overview in­fo­graph­ic, Cul­ture, News and a page for each of our eight offices

What We Do – Fea­tures our four ser­vices, each rep­re­sent­ed by a new icon. Six “hero” projects for all four ser­vices are dis­played prominently.

Our Team – Since We Keep Great Com­pa­ny, all 129 Mur­ray­smith em­ploy­ees have their own page on the new site.

Join Us – True to our orig­i­nal rea­son for re­brand­ing, to at­tract great tal­ent, the ‘Join Us’ sec­tion con­tains use­ful in­for­ma­tion. Po­ten­tial hires can learn about our ap­pli­ca­tion process, the work we do, our 3 uniques, di­ver­si­ty, why work here, ben­e­fits, our 8 lo­ca­tions, and of course, job openings.

Web­site pho­tograpy by KLik

Tradeshow Booth
The tradeshow booth is de­signed as a sim­ple and bold brand back­ground to com­ple­ment the hu­man ac­tiv­i­ty in the fore­ground. The booth is imag­i­na­tive (less is more) and re­lat­able. It uti­lizes bright, op­ti­mistic col­ors to at­tract. In­stead of the bul­let point lists and small project pho­tos of our pre­vi­ous booth, we pre­fer to let our peo­ple in the booth tell our story.

AEC Firm Tradeshow booth design

Print Ad­ver­tis­ing

Brand Style Guide
The Mur­ray­smith Mar­ket­ing De­part­ment ap­pre­ci­ates the Brand Style Guide be­cause it helps main­tain con­sis­ten­cy across the eight of­fices. It al­so trans­fers the brand el­e­ments and their guide­lines, em­pow­er­ing the mar­ket­ing de­part­ment to take own­er­ship of the brand for on­go­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs.
Murraysmith brand style guide 1

In­ter­nal Launch
An of­ten over­looked, but crit­i­cal, com­po­nent of launch­ing a re­brand is first build­ing sup­port with­in the firm. Hav­ing an en­tire firm of brand am­bas­sadors to evan­ge­lize the firm’s mes­sage is con­sid­er­ably more ef­fec­tive than the mar­ket­ing de­part­ment work­ing alone.

2.5 Months Un­til Launch
Two and half months pri­or to the May 1 launch date, I fly to Port­land to present at an all firm meet­ing. Em­ploy­ees trav­el from all eight of­fices to take part in a half-day Strate­gic Plan Up­date. The Mar­ket­ing De­part­ment and I are on­stage in an au­di­to­ri­um shar­ing the why and how of our re­brand­ing project to date. We present the brand strat­e­gy and un­veil the new lo­go and web­site pre­view to the en­tire firm. Change is scary and we know that not every­one will in­stant­ly love the new brand­ing. But we ask every­one to trust the ex­perts and pri­or­i­tize the good of the firm over their per­son­al opinion.

Branding Discovery PhaseNobody cares how engineers look?

5 Days Un­til Launch
For the five days pri­or to May 1, a dai­ly email is sent to em­ploy­ees prepar­ing them for the re­brand launch. This 5…4…3…2…1…launch ap­proach al­lows us to an­swer fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions and re-en­gage the en­tire firm as brand am­bas­sadors. The emails are timed to co­in­cide with the dis­tri­b­u­tion of new busi­ness cards and oth­er mar­ket­ing col­lat­er­al. Or­ga­nized as FAQ, here are some sam­ple ques­tions we answer:
Why did we rebrand?
Why do brands mat­ter, can’t we just do great work?
As of May 1, what will be new about our firm?
What can I do to sup­port the re­brand launch?
Where do I get the new lo­go files?
What do I do with my old busi­ness cards and col­lat­er­al with the old logo?
What do I have to do to use my new email ad­dress and signature?
How is the re­brand be­ing com­mu­ni­cat­ed to our clients?
On May 1, do I do any­thing differently?

Ex­ter­nal Launch
On May 1, past and present clients re­ceive an email ex­plain­ing the re­brand. The email con­tains an im­por­tant call-to-ac­tion but­ton to view the new website

Re­brand Launch Postcard
To re­in­force the email mes­sage, we mail the post­card be­low to past and present clients.


The Mur­ray­smith re­brand launched May 1, 2017. Here are some ini­tial out­comes. Check back to see more results.

Launch An­nounce­ment Email
An­nounce­ment sent to 668 Subscribers
50.1% Open Rate vs. 15.3% In­dus­try Av­er­age per MailChimp
24.5% Click Rate vs. 1.9% In­dus­try Av­er­age per MailChimp

Services For This Project

Strat­e­gy – Core Val­ues, Po­si­tion­ing, 3 Uniques, Launch Consulting
Brand­ing – Per­son­al­i­ty At­trib­ut­es, Nam­ing, Vi­su­al Iden­ti­ty (Lo­go), Style Guide
Web & Dig­i­tal – Web­site, Email Marketing
Print – Tradeshow Booth, Post­card, Ad­ver­tis­ing, SOQ Pack­age Tem­plate, Project Re­port Tem­plate, Sta­tionery & Forms























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