Building a Brand from Ground Zero

Ideally, brand changes are evolutionary: refinements a company makes over time in response to growth or market demands. But extreme circumstances sometimes call for more revolutionary change. Such was the case for Orbit Integrated, a Wilmington, DE-based branding consultancy forced to reinvent its brand after September 11, 2001.

Founded in 1992, Orbit was a strong player in the Philadelphia regional market almost a decade later. Billing $2 million a year and keeping 15 employees busy in a 5,000sq.ft. office, Orbit’s founding partners, Jack and Lisa Harris, enjoyed much success.

Then came 9/11, and the bottom fell out. Orbit’s primary client, a security/identity technology company, pulled the plug on its ongoing projects. Other clients and prospects followed suit, and Orbit’s work ground to a halt.

As the economy worsened, the Harrises realized their business—at least in its current form—wouldn’t survive. “We looked at the marketplace, and the bottom line was that in this new economy, our core business was no longer in high demand,” Jack Harris says. “To survive, we needed to be smaller and more agile—more of a guerrilla outfit than the full-service firm we had been.”

So they made heartbreaking decisions: Downsize staff to three. Vacate their plush office and relocate to a much smaller home studio. Focus on project-based graphic design and illustration, not the long-term strategic initiatives Orbit had pursued.

“We had to regroup,” Harris recalls. “We took a good, hard look at our capabilities and realized that our ideas, and good design based on them, were our strengths. That’s where we’d focus the new business.” Defining that core inspired the company’s new name—Eureka (tag line: Applied Imagination)—and laid the foundation for a new brand platform.

Enlisting the help of several PR firms and ad agencies that were Orbit’s business partners, the Harrises embarked on further soul-searching, asking: Who are we (as individuals and as a company)? Who do we want to be? Are those two things parallel? Those questions led to a seven-step rebranding process:
• Evaluate what you want your company to do.
• Evaluate your firm’s real strengths relative to those desires.
• Reconcile the two (reality check).
• Assess the business climate and marketplace.
• Size up the competition.
• Choose a segment of the market best suited for your services.
• Target your message to that market, ensuring that how you communicate your brand is consistent with who you are.

As they laid the groundwork for the new brand, the Harrises kept in contact with their constituency, announcing the changes gradually. When the office relocated, they mailed a moving announcement to their database of 1,500-2,000 clients, prospects, business partners and friends. They paired it with an email blast that hinted at significant change. Within a month, they mailed postcards that revealed the new company name and services. In another week, they posted the Eureka Web site, a landmark they heralded as the “official transition.”

Pat Matson Knapp is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and editor, and a frequent HOW contributor. Pat’s latest book is Designers in Handcuffs, HOW Design Books.