Manchester-based creative agency, The Neighbourhood, has undergone a big rebrand, giving a makeover to everything from its logo and choice of typeface to its website and identity, and in turn refining the values, philosophy and positioning of its brand.
The eight-year-old company's team of 25 work across design, visualisation, moving image and digital, and has worked for many big clients including BlackBerry, Sony and Lexus. But the problem was that, based on The Neighbourhood's website and brand identity, potential clients were not always able to understand what the agency can do, and that's where the enormous rebrand comes in.
To find out more about what pushed The Neighbourhood to make the decision to rebrand and how other businesses could benefit from doing the same, we spoke with the agency's Creative Director Jon Humphreys and the Lead Creative Rob Millington.
"The industry is moving at a rapid pace and we reached a point where our brand story and image didn't fully reflect the way the company had evolved and all the activities we have been engaged with," Jon and Rob told us. "We've always tried to avoid being pigeonholed for a particular output and always remain open to explore new media and communication tools, which of course is a good philosophy for these changing times."
"However, we were finding inconsistencies in the way different clients perceived us because our brand message and image hadn't caught up and articulated our offer clearly enough. We discovered that people saw us in different ways: some clients held the perception that we were purely an animation studio, some saw us as a CGI house, others as an illustration agency," they explained.
It was at this point that The Neighbourhood realised it need to address the issue, and that the best way to do this was to completely rebrand The Neighbourhood to reflect what the company it is, and wants to be.
The art of rebranding: Finding the brand message
The main aim of the rebrand was to clarify perceptions and unify messages about what The Neighbourhood stands for, what it does and what its interests are, with the hopes that this will attract like-minded people that the agency wants to do business with. So how did The Neighbourhood go about starting this mammoth task?
"One of the key moves from a positioning point of view was to feel OK about calling ourselves an agency," said Jon and Rob. "That might sound odd or semantically splitting hairs but we always considered ourselves a creative studio, a place where things get made."
"There's nothing wrong with that in itself, and we continue to pride ourselves on the craft element of our work, but we came to the realisation that perhaps we were underplaying the amount of strategic thinking that we put into our projects, developing and shaping solutions for our clients. We needed to fully acknowledge and express that our thinking had played an equally important role in the making.
"Another key component to the rebrand was to establish clear values and explore what they mean and don’t mean. These are important in terms of inward facing behavioural values and the outward expression of our personality, values that form the foundations for design, stories and find their way in to our approach and philosophy."
"Agency positioning can be fraught with difficulties. While agencies need to be agile and diverse enough to offer new solutions to clients, the notion of ‘full service’ is a bit of a misnomer and very few can actually deliver on it," they added. "Clear focus and authenticity are crucial to any brand positioning, and that goes for agencies too; being true to who you are rather than falling into the common trap of trying to be all things to all people. As companies evolve and grow it is important this is road mapped around a common vision, which feels truthful and real, and sometimes this can be found by re-evaluating the passions the company was founded upon."
The art of rebranding: Redesigning the brand visuals
Once The Neighbourhood had assessed its positioning, core services and philosophy and had a clear vision of the brand message it wanted to carry, it was time to start the visual changes that would reflect this message.
"We decided early on that everything about how we communicate our brand was up for grabs; the wordmark, brandmark, our digital presence, the language we use to talk about ourselves," revealed Jon and Rob, demonstrating just how thorough The Neighbourhood intended to be with the rebrand. "It was clear that there needed to be consistent thought across all brand expression, so we let our core values lead the way and thought about what we could change or refine to more closely align our brand expression to the agency we have evolved."
"One key decision was to articulate our work according to the four key pillars of our multidisciplinary approach: visualisation, moving image, design, interactive. We then developed top line messaging to communicate who we are, how we work and how we think across all brand touch points," they continued, adding that the agency used its core values as a strict benchmark.
Initially, The Neigbourhood had considered keeping its Baskerville logo, but soon discovered that the redesign meant that the logo was no longer the right fit for the way the company was heading. The new wordmark is set in a tweaked version of Brandon, which is designed to be a clean and classic typeface for good legibility at all scales.
The illustrated web banners and characters on The Neighbourhood's old website had become troublesome, too, as potential clients seemed to be defining the brand based on them. "Though lovely pieces of illustration, the web banners and characters were never really intended as "branding" and were beginning to overshadow the different types of work we do," explained Jon and Rob. "For the rebrand, we wanted to reshape the perception of our brand, and so we designed a flexible graphic identity that represents the cornerstones of our agency as four colour-coded pillars."
The art of rebranding: A new website
Before beginning the website redesign, The Neighbourhood carried out research with clients to help get an insight into the way their minds work when visiting an agency's website, and what exactly they're looking for. "One message that kept coming back about the website was the language we used, the way content was organised and the illustrative design approach of the site was causing confusion about what we actually do. This gave us a lot to think about in terms of visual design, and also content design."
"Refreshed and simplified top line brand messaging now heads up all sections of the website, offering clarity on our offer," Jon and Rob told us. "This messaging is a key feature of our new showreel, which, on the front page of the site, acts as our front door to understanding the work we craft and the value of our approach."
"The visual design throughout the site is led by similar principles of clarity, simplicity and responsiveness, with a greater use of whitespace to give our content the space to breathe. We also took the decision to use full bleed marquee images to head up all content (above), which foregrounds the work really nicely and has a greater visual impact overall."