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.

Posi­tion­ing
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:

Imag­i­na­tive
Dependable/Trusted
Relat­able
Sin­cere
Fun

 


Nam­ing
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


Logo
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

 


Web­site
For sim­plic­i­ty, mem­o­ra­bil­i­ty, and con­sis­ten­cy with the new brand name, the new URL is www.murraysmith.us. The pre­vi­ous URL www.msa-ep.com 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.



Outcomes

The Mur­ray­smith rebrand launched May 1, 2017.

Staff Growth
9 months pri­or to rebrand: +12 employ­ees (net)
9 months after rebrand: +30 employ­ees (net)

Staff Reten­tion
9 months pri­or to rebrand: 88%
9 months after rebrand: 94%

The new web­site is the most impor­tant recruit­ing tool we have. Every can­di­date we talk with at career fairs and inter­views men­tions how impres­sive our web­site is and how they are excit­ed to join the cul­ture that is reflect­ed on the site. In Jan­u­ary, 3 of 10 peo­ple hired sought us out because of our web­site. It makes my job eas­i­er.”
–Mur­ray­smith Human Resources

 

Busi­ness Growth
Gross rev­enue: + 30% since rebrand (9 months)

Earn­ings: + 42.5% since rebrand (9 months)

+12 new clients since rebrand (9 months)

 

Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing
Launch An­nounce­ment: 50.1% Open Rate vs. 15.3% In­dus­try Av­er­age
24.5% Click Rate vs. 1.9% In­dus­try Av­er­age

14,000 web­site vis­its in first week vs. goal of 2500

LinkedIn com­pa­ny page fol­low­ers: + 32% since rebrand (9 months)

Mar­ket­ing team, I have been a part of four rebrand­ing efforts at oth­er firms. All involved a roll­out to offices and clients around the coun­try. I can say that your work has result­ed in the smoothest and best-com­mu­ni­cat­ed roll­out I’ve seen. It real­ly does reflect our core val­ues, and posi­tions Mur­ray­smith as the com­pa­ny of choice.”
–Mur­ray­smith Prin­ci­pal

 


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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