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Behind the Scenes of the Mighty Citizen Rebranding

A few days ago, we announced that we are now Mighty Citizen — a complete transformation of our former brand, TradeMark Media.

Here, two of the people most responsible for Mighty Citizen’s existence sit down to reveal the unvarnished truth. Turns out, reinventing one of the fastest-growing agencies in Texas isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs. 

Gardiner Rhoderick & Rachel Clemens led the design and strategic rebranding project, respectively.

Where did the idea for a rebranding of TradeMark Media come from?

Rachel Clemens, Chief Marketing Officer:

In late 2016, TradeMark Media acquired my former company, Creative Suitcase. During our negotiations for the acquisition, Nick Weynand and I talked a lot about TradeMark’s identity. For its first 16 years or so, TradeMark’s brand suited it just fine. But times had changed. And even more, TradeMark had changed with the acquisition — a bigger staff, new services, a growing portfolio of clients.

Gardiner Rhoderick, Creative Director:

Around here, we talk a lot about “brand authenticity” — the notion that your brand should be a heightened combination of who you really are and who your customers really are. At every step of the rebrand, we would keep this balance at the forefront. We needed an identity that felt comfortable and authentic for both us, and our current and prospective customers.

TradeMark Media the company was no longer TradeMark Media the brand. It was time for a change.” Rachel Clemens, Chief Marketing Officer

This would be a complete transformation. Where do you start on a project that’s so large?

Rachel:

I’m a big believer in the power of specialization. For its entire life, TradeMark Media had been all things to all clients. No longer. Now, we would center all of our energies, resources, and expertise around certain types of clients.

Gardiner:

This was exciting for me, because it meant we’d have a clearer story to tell with our design. From a creative perspective, a complete brand transformation is pretty much the ideal. Old thinking is re-examined, and new ideas are embraced.

It’s a designer’s dream. But make no mistake, the creative freedom brings with it enormous responsibility. Rebranding an organization — especially one that’s been successful for nearly two decades — is a daunting mission.

Rachel:

We started where we start with our clients: Data. Data kills opinions. Data gives guidance to a strategy — as opposed to simply running on instinct. We’d let the data lead the way.

First, we looked at our financials to see where we’d had our greatest success.

Gardiner:

But of course, numbers are just one resource. We also talked to our entire staff. We asked them, “What kind of agency would you most like to be a part of?”

Rachel:

And when we sat down with all of our research, a pattern quickly surfaced:

We’re really into mission-focused work.

Gardiner:

TradeMark Media had been a charitable company since its founding. (We’ve had a company-wide Meals on Wheels route for over 3 years.) And back at Creative Suitcase, we gave 5% of our annual revenue to local nonprofit organizations. Both agencies had many charitable organizations as clients — and these were often among our favorite projects.

Rachel:

And just like that! A majority of our clients fell into the “mission-driven” bucket — which we defined as nonprofits, associations, government agencies, and educational institutions.

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The new brand would focus on mission-driven clients. What was the next step in the transformation?

Rachel:

Naming. We had to figure out our new name. And it needed to contain so much — as everything else, from messaging to design, would flow from the name.

Gardiner:

It had to be memorable, unique. The new name should be authentic. It couldn’t be a gimmick or a head-fake. It couldn’t be ordinary. It had to be colloquial and human. And most importantly (to me, anyway) was finding a name that left our audiences with a feeling of wonder, of intrigue. We wanted a name that would make people pause and think, “What’s happening there?”  

Rachel:

Yeah, no big deal. Just find a name that does all of that. And do it in the span of a couple of weeks. Easy breezy.

Can you describe the coming-up-with-a-new-name process?

Rachel:

Lots and lots of brainstorming. Talking. Documenting. Scribbling down ideas at all hours of the day. We wrote lists. We wrote a lot of lists. We scratched out bad ideas, then doubted whether they were bad ideas at all. We glued disconnected words together. Whiteboards around the office were splattered with words. For those few weeks, every single word we encountered was a candidate.

Gardiner:

Because we had a good foundation to the transforming brand — i.e., our new official Messaging Platform — we had some parameters to our brainstorming. In most creative endeavors, restrictions actually have the effect of freeing up your imagination.

Rachel:

Eventually, we picked our Top 5 contenders and presented them to the entire rebranding project team.

In most creative endeavors, restrictions actually have the effect of freeing up your imagination. ” Gardiner Rhoderick, Creative Director

What were some of the rejects?

Rachel:

I’m embarrassed to say. I distinctly remember “Wakey Wakey” being an option at one point! There were hundreds. And if you attend our launch party (in April, invite coming soon) you’ll get to hear a dramatic reading of some of the doozies.

Why did you land on “Mighty Citizen?”

Rachel:

Like everything around here, it was a team effort. Andrew Buck, our Content Strategist, was part of the naming team, and he’d been noodling with the word “Citizen” for awhile. It’s such a powerful word. It has gravitas.

Then I heard a story on Austin’s NPR station about the word “mighty.” They talked about what a versatile word it is. “Mighty” feels very Texan (which we are). And it implies something that does big things without being big itself.

And really, that was it. I’d fallen in love with the word “mighty” and Andrew was in love with “citizen” and when they were put together, the world opened up: We were a collection of citizens trying to do something mighty. Our clients are citizens trying to do mighty things. And their users and donors and members and students — all of them are simply trying to make the world a better, fairer, more interesting place.

Gardiner:

Beyond the exciting design inspiration that stemmed from this new name, Mighty Citizen, it just felt like us. We’re a growing firm that can do big things for our clients, and we’re committed to being helpful neighbors and fellow citizens.

Focus, check. New name, check. What came next?

Gardiner:

Design!

Rachel:

Messaging!

Gardiner: 

Truthfully, everything worked in an agile tandem. While Rachel was leading the new brand’s renaming and messaging work, I was developing visual concepts. There was lots of give and take, lots of “yes and,” lots of deep conversations about how best to stake our new claim in the world.

Rachel: 

And we were on a deadline. Rebranding can be a resource-intensive process. You can’t rush it, but you can’t let it languish either. There’s a balance. Rebrand too quickly and you’re more apt to make mistakes and miss opportunities. Let it drag out too long, and it can come to seem like a chore instead of an exciting transformation. Eventually, Gardiner and his team of designers presented several new brand concepts.

Gardiner: 

It’s interesting: Most projects don’t become real until you can see designs. Before that, it’s mostly just words and ideas. Visuals are powerful persuaders. Presenting my initial brand concepts to the company seemed to reinvigorate the project.

Most projects don’t become ‘real’ until you can see designs.”

Tell us about the design concept you picked — the one we see here.

Rachel:

For starters, it’s not the one you see here. And that’s where this story takes an interesting turn.

Gardiner:

Very interesting — and another lesson in the power of research.

Rachel:

In a nutshell: We fell in love with one of Gardiner’s first concepts, which was based on ancient Greek art. You know — statues, busts, pottery.

The ancient Greeks pretty much invented the western concept of “citizenship,” which fell in line nicely with our brand. Gardiner’s concept was beautiful and moving, and it made sense to us.

Gardiner:

We weren’t going to have a single logo. Instead, we’d have a “logo platform” — i.e., a library of related images that could swap in and out across our entire brand ecosystem. This unusual approach would allow us to use all of the fantastic Greek iconography.

We did, however, select one statue as our “main” logo. It’s entitled Winged Victory of Samothrace and you’ve probably seen it:

Winged Victory of Samothrace” at the Louvre

Rachel:

Such a striking image. It conveys strength, courage, victory. It embodied — or so we thought — everything we imagined Mighty Citizen to be.

But…

Gardiner:

A big “but.”

Rachel:

But when we presented it to a few focus groups — comprising some of our long-time clients and friends — the reaction wasn’t as positive as we’d hoped (or expected). Their consensus was, “Yes, this is an interesting logo, but it’s not you. It’s not who we know you to be.” The whole Greek art concept didn’t feel authentic.

Gardiner:

It was heartbreaking, really. We’d poured so much into crafting this brand concept, only to have the wind knocked out of us by the people who matter most to us: the clients we serve.

Rachel:

To them, the ancient Greek motif was too austere for our team. We’re a fun-loving, expressive, creative bunch. To our focus groups, the gravitas of the Greek thing was stuffy. It felt cloistered, uptight, almost dark.

Gardiner:

Despite how disappointing this news was, it was actually a compliment. Our partners and clients were saying that we’re just too much fun to work with to be represented by something so … serious.

So you scrapped that logo concept?

Rachel:

We did. We went back to the drawing board. And keep in mind, this was about five months into the brand relaunch project. We knew that scrapping this concept would set us back a couple of months (or so). But it was something we had to do.

Gardiner:

Luckily, the drawing board wasn’t empty. There were still some of my original pitches there. And while the Greek idea was our internal favorite, another option wasn’t far behind. The focus group said we were fun, so we turned to the fun option: Our hero logo — the one you see here:

Rachel:

The hero isn’t super; the hero is mighty. The hero doesn’t rely on magical powers to get stuff done. The hero uses brains and strength to help save the world.

Gardiner:

I was inspired by the mid-century graphics popularized by the Works Progress Administration. Bold, blocky, powerful — a strong silhouette that can be reproduced in all sorts of ways and anywhere.

Rachel:

Soon, you’ll see our caped crusader everywhere. We’re going to paint her across the front of our offices. She’ll be tucked into every corner of our deliverables — our business cards, our free tools and training, everywhere.

Gardiner:

Really, this logo is our clients. They do mighty acts every day.

What came next?

Rachel:

Then it was just a heads-down sprint toward our launch date. There’s so very much to do to completely shift a 19-year-old brand. We had to audit our current brand — i.e., identify every place, offline and online, where the name “TradeMark Media” appeared. And after 19 years, that’s a lot of hunting.

We have a list a mile-long, which we’ve spent the last few months checking off, item by item. There were legal considerations — like getting our trademark (!!!) secured and changing all sorts of behind-the-scenes documents. The signage on the building, our email signatures, new staff photos and bios, email templates, etc.

Websites are living things … they’re never set in concrete.”

Gardiner:

And of course, the website. Once we locked down our visual brand, we were able to design this new site in earnest. We knew we wanted it to showcase our design and web development chops without becoming bloated.

We often remind our clients that, ideally, websites are living things — that they’re never set in concrete. So, even as we made design decisions, we kept a “Phase II” list going. Which means that over the coming weeks and months, the site we launched with will continue to grow and change.

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What’s one big lesson you learned during this rebranding project?

Gardiner:

I have two. First, you need total buy-in from the beginning. When an organization decides to change how it looks and feels to the world, it simply must get all stakeholders on board as soon as possible — and keep them there throughout. The best way to achieve that consensus? Constant communication.

And two, a new brand should be tiered to match its diverse audiences. Instead of imposing a singular message, a mature brand will offer a platform on which it can build a customized, personalized engagement with its stakeholders.

Rachel:

My lesson is similar: You have to be transparent.

We may be experts in design or marketing or development, but we’re still just people — people trying to do something good. And it turns out that the more transparent you are — with your thinking, your reasoning, your biases and preferences — the more buy-in you’ll typically get.

Last question: Now that Mighty Citizen exists, what’re you looking forward to most?

Gardiner:

I have no idea. And I love that. A brand is not a painting; it’s a mirror. It should reflect both the people who work for it and the people it serves — the staff, the customers, everyone. So I’m looking forward to watching how the Mighty Citizen brand adapts to our growing firm. We hope we’ve poured a solid foundation — and we certainly conducted a bunch of research — but mostly, I’m just looking forward. 

Rachel:

I want organizations to see themselves in our message because, in many ways, they are our message. We believe that, with smarts and experience, any organization can make mighty things happen. We believe that humans are capable of outperforming even their boldest goals as long as they have the right support and direction. 

Our job is to give our clients that direction.

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